After two years of ongoing mentoring, 58 science journalists from the developing world have graduated from the World Federation of Science Journalists’ (WFSJ) largest science journalism training programme.
SjCOOP, which is the WFSJ flagship activity, twins budding science journalists from Africa and the Arab world with established science journalists from leading science outlets, such as Nature and Science. This is the second round of the project.
“During the programme we worked with some 80 journalists but not all of them made it through to the graduation,” says Olfa Labassi, the programmer’s coordinator. Only 58 science journalists from the Arab world, English-speaking Africa and French-speaking Africa are graduating.
Through the programme, each mentor works directly with four or five science journalists, offering advice, criticism and evaluating their work. They exchange experiences and help them improve their work and find better opportunities. The project aims to create stronger science journalism in the developing world, teaching the journalists to be more critical and hopefully to boost the role of science in policy-making.
“It has been quite an interesting journey over the past two years,” says Deborah-Fay Ndhlovu, a mentee who works at Research Africa and, through the programme, went on to intern and freelance for Nature. “After two years on the course I have learned that learning on how to report science is an ongoing process and there’s still much to learn,” adds Bibi-Aisha Wadvalla, a freelancer from South Africa who writes for Nature Middle East.
In preparing for the next phase, SjCOOP 3, the organizers are now evaluating the successes and shortcomings of the programme. “Part of the idea behind the programme was to form closer collaborative connections between the mentees, so they can in the future work together and help each other. We have seen strong connections forming within each of the three different language groups. But this isn’t happening across the groups as much as we had hoped,” says Labassi.
The selection criteria of both mentees and mentors also needs to be tightened, adds Labassi. “We need really reach the people with high potential.”
For the next phase, which should start in 2013, the WFSJ wants to use the programme to strengthen local science journalists associations, making them a primary partner in the training course.
“This is a capacity building project for both science journalists and their associations,” explained Labassi. “One of our biggest achieve to has been joint projects and support we gave to five science journalists associations in Africa to expand and have their own activities.”
The WFSJ is also supporting the formation of Egyptian and Jordanian science journalists associations. “Through our partners, we would like to work more closely with Arab Spring countries” to strengthen science journalism there and give it a more prominent role in the future of their countries, says Labassi.