Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Science journalism can still flourish despite difficulties

By Ochieng’ Ogodo


[NAIROBI] Establishing space for science journalism has potentially off-putting experiences for a science journalist. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially in some parts of the developing world.

In most circumstances, it is more discouraging than rewarding to those budding as freelancers and folks in mainstream non-specialised media. Often, it requires one to be an intelligent, tough go-getter.

It is mostly affected by the dearth of space for science-oriented stories, lack of understanding and appreciation of the role of science journalism within the media fraternity, mutual mistrust between scientist and journalist, low returns for correspondences and freelancers. Well, the odds are many.

But there are several ways, I reckon, with which this can be overcome, though not overnight. Science journalists need to have a discussion with senior editors to learn how the existing media covers science. No doubt, for a journalist, they are the first audience of any story idea or a written piece.
A science journalist needs to convince editors that most science stories are, in fact, stories about important aspects such as people, society, politics or the economy.

They also need to have meetings (introducing themselves) with the key persons at leading science based organisations. This does not necessarily mean that you have to report the way they want, but in so doing you get credible sources of stories.

Top officials at the government ministry responsible for science and technology should also be in the loop. Researchers and government officials will, for instance, keep the journalist updated on the latest development or upcoming meeting.

Equally important is the creation of opportunities for scientists and journalists to meet, learn about each other and understand how each works. This guarantees new story ideas for a science journalist.

Persuading editors, scientists and authorities to appreciate the role science plays in economic transformation for the betterment of a country is critical to creating the much needed room for science journalism.

For instance, a science journalist in Africa needs to find it imperative to clearly explain that the bulk of current initiatives aimed at lifting the continent out of the backwaters of development require research and development as a tool to overcome, among many other ills, poverty and disease choking it.

Only through appreciating the potential that science has in socioeconomic development can owners of publications and authorities understand why science journalism needs space in the media.

Collaborating with key persons at the leading science based organisations makes the journalist trustworthy and reliable. It helps create a good environment for covering science as both parties see each other as key partners in sustainable development.

The benefits of collaboration are enormous; you do things as a team and the need for collaboration between journalists, researchers and government officials cannot be emphasised enough – it is of paramount importance to achieve development.

Society at large can benefit from the fruits of science but for this to happen people need to understand and support science, and journalists act as a bridge between science and society. This does not only inform the public but creates interest and respect for science. An association of like-minded individuals is critical in the fight for space for science journalism.

But in all of these, a journalist has to strive to remain independent and must not be sucked into becoming a handmaid of those in the science world. Difficulties not withstanding, it’s a journalism branch worth taking.

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