The Power of the Press

Muza Gondwe, TropIKA Reviews & Malawi Medical Journal

The importance of the media in achieving wider coverage of research was captured by Thulane Cele, public relations officer for the Africa Centre, when he said “Media is a very powerful tool for disseminating information, influencing public opinions and educating the public”. His was one of four presentations on media engagement that took place on Wednesday, 3rd December. Thulani described strategies that he has used to engage media that include media conferences, media partnerships, live broadcasts, and podcasts.

Luisa Massarani, Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Coordinator of Science and Development Network (SciDev.Net), spoke of the journey of SciDev.Net and David Dickson, Director of SciDev.Net, being the driving force for its current international status. The SciDev.Net free access website is a highly recognized platform for disseminating science and technology information. 70% of its 40,000 registered users come from developing countries. The site gets 250,000 page views per month, and has 100 collaborators around the world. SciDev.Net’s work extends beyond the web platform to capacity building. They have conducted science communication workshops around the world for journalists, scientists, and parliamentarians.

A little can go along way with support and collaboration, this was implied from Dan Kaye’s (Makerere University) and William Odinga’s (Ugandan Science Journalist Association) presentations. Dan with funds from the Wellcome Trust’s International Engagement program, is soon to embark on a project that will build a critical mass of science communication trained journalists (90) and young researchers (150) over a 24 month period. William Odinga, Chair, of Uganda Science Journalist Association is just coming off the first ever Ugandan Conference on Science Communication. The idea started in February with a team of science journalists that had no funds but gained support from several local and international stakeholders including government organizations, scientists, media associations, and research institutions. Thanks to collaborative efforts the conference was able to take place on November 24th to 26th, 2008.

The challenges of engaging with the media are numerous but are similar in both developed and developing countries. These range from translation of scientific language, getting the interest of the media, poor funding for communication activities, and research institutions not recognizing the role of media. Two key questions on media engagement challenges were posed in this session. How do you can make science appealing to the media and how do you judge the success of your engagement? Suggestions were made on the former: giving science stories a human face, advocating for daily science and health sections in the newspaper, scoping the media and identifying missed opportunities for editors, and forming media partnerships. Judging success and evaluating impact still remains unanswered. One starting point could be defining the outcome or the end point of the engagement. Do you use metrics e.g. the numbers of articles published on research? Or the quality of the article? Should the engagement outcome even go beyond that, to behaviour change and influencing of policy. Hopefully these questions can be answered in the second session on media engagement on Thursday.


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