African Conference of Science Journalists 2014 – Reflections from the secretary
By Aghan Daniel
NAIROBI, 3 SEPTEMBER 2014 - At the end of 2005, I returned to Kenya from Tanzania after nearly a year of an environmental journalists’ exchange program. What I learnt from Tanzania was that a well run journalists network could work. I was attached to the Journalists of Environment Association of Tanzania (JET) who somehow made it happen in the world of environmental journalists.
In the meantime, many communication officers in Kenya, were feeling very frustrated that they could not bring themselves to network effectively with science journalists. Not only were there few science journalists but the few who were there had a lot of shortcomings in terms of effective reporting. Something had to be done and after few email exchanges, we decided to meet as communication officers and a few journalists active in the media.
The meetings culminated into formation of the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA). The major objective of MESHA was by then to provide a platform where journalists and communication officers could meet and talk professional matters. To kill professional loneliness. We wanted to go out and tell scientific institutions that to him/her that little is given, little is expected. They had to invest in science journalists if they wanted to turn around the standard of reporting science in the country.
And how time flies, it is now nearly ten years since this giant network was born. Of all the achievements that we have had, bringing science journalists from all over Africa, now two times in two years really stand out. The journey to hosting these conferences has not been smooth either. Tired of holding annual general meetings, the membership decided in 2010 that moving forward, they would invite scientific organisations to talk to them during their annual gathering on what research they do that touch lives.
Today, we are proud to have hit the more than 100 mark in membership, up from 12 in 2006. We also need to remember that in 2007, we partnered with Panos South Africa to bring together 40 journalists from Eastern and Southern Africa in Lusaka, Zambia to discuss issues of climate change and reporting water issues. It is in 2007 that we changed the way science journalists’ conferences are done. We took the approach of making the conferences busy, by ensuring that each journalist published a substantive story. We organised and took journalists to a radio station and worked overnight on stories that were sent to radio stations in the morning. Basically our conferences are not talk shops, they are busy and rewarding.
As we hold the 2014 second Conference of Science Journalists from Oct 13 to 15, we want to reflect on where we want to go as a network that is growing each day. Just how busy will the participants to this Conference be? Each day we will be sending clips to TV stations and sit well past midnight doing a daily bulletin. Besides, we expect every participant to send at least ten tweets per session. Given that we have 8 sessions per day, we expect a total of 800 tweets per day from the Conference and over 50 posts on facebook and 10 blogs per day.
To our members and partners, I must confess that mobilising resources for this year’s conference has been the biggest challenge for our secretariat. First, we have been greatly been destabilized by the change of venue from Mombasa to Nairobi. We not only lost time but also lost a great host in the Kenya Coast Development Program. They had big plans and support for the conference, but once again, science journalism has been shaken by terrorism. We are everyday grateful to the partners who have always trusted us and believed in us. All their logos will be on our website shortly.
For 2015 and beyond, we look forward to greater partnerships to allow us train our members on skill based areas such as writing effective commentaries; resource mobilisation for science journalism; photography and advocacy journalism.