MESHA Mentorship in Science Journalism Program

About Mesha
Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture in Kenya (MESHA) is an association of communicators who are specialized in science, environment, agriculture, health, technology and development reporting.

MESHA is a non-partisan and not for profit making organization whose vision is to create an informed and empowered population conscious of emerging issues in agriculture, environment and health issues in Kenya and the region.

About the Mesha Mentorship in Science Journalism Program
MESHA seeks to match established Science Journalists with upcoming journalists within Kenya in an effort to improve the quality of science reporting in print and electronic media in Kenya for a period of one year.

Role of Science Journalism in Kenya
Science and technology (S&T) can be powerful tools for achieving development. But first, people must be aware of available innovations. They then must reach consensus on which S&T tools should be used to resolve their most pressing development needs.

The media, and particularly science journalists, play a major role in creating a dialogue on current challenges and what S&T can offer. Science journalists shape the work of scientists and experts (including those with traditional knowledge) into information that policymakers, and people in general, can use to reach better-informed consensus and decisions.

Science journalism has an important role to play in building the capacities of national research and development programs. By communicating the status of scientific research in Kenya, science journalists can give more recognition to the work done by scientists. This can help maintain or increase funding for research programs; play a role in holding scientists accountable for the funds they receive; and point out areas of deficiency where policymakers should focus their attention regarding national research and development programs.

This is the reason why science journalists in Kenya need to develop a tradition of association, peer-support, and continuous professional development. This has been lacking among science journalists in Kenya and other developing countries.

The role of the science journalist is to engage and inform, to talk about reality, not to teach science terminology and science. Journalists are the eyes of the common person looking for the truth. As such, they must be humble enough to question scientists and to admit they do not understand.

Effective science writers use scientific terms only after the common term has been used, made good use of analogies, and always strive for clarity. Their role is not content but communication.

To develop science journalism in Kenya therefore MESHA seeks to pair established science journalists with their upcoming colleagues in a mentorship program.

Goals of the MESHA Mentorship Program
 Enhance professional development of science journalists
 Establish local associations of science journalists
 Encourage participation in the World Federation of Science Journalists
 Foster communication among scientists, the media, and decision-makers

Mission of the MESHA Mentorship Program
Supported by the commitment of its members, Mesha’s mentorship program seeks to form a network of professional science journalists in Kenya to provide training for individual science journalists and also enjoin them into a worldwide community of science journalists. It will provide a framework to sustain a long-term relationship between experienced science journalists and aspiring science journalists. The project makes accessible to science journalists in Kenya the resources (such as sources, training, exchange opportunities, and scholarships) already available to their colleagues around the world.

Vision of the MESHA Mentorship Program
Equipped with the necessary skills, a critical mass of journalists in Kenya will cover science in aid of sustainable development. These journalists will play an influential role in strengthening, analyzing and criticizing local and regional S&T systems.

Professional science journalists are integral to any professional media organization. Because of their work, science stories are given suitable space and time to provide the public, policy makers, industry, and the scientific community with the information they need to make better decisions.

MESHA Mentorship Program Elements
The mentorship program encourages lifelong learning, and inspires up-and-coming science journalists to define their role, in society’s development of science in the national agenda.

The mentored journalists will have an opportunity to find their voice and to mentor each other. This empowerment builds bridges and combats isolation, increases diversity of ideas, and advances understanding of scientific and cultural issues.

The goals of the mentorship project are to push the envelope for science journalists, make science journalism stronger, and develop a better kind of journalism. To achieve these goals, the mentored journalists will be provided with opportunities to develop better sources and improve their use of available resources. They will also given guidance on how to get a better picture of the scientific landscape by developing strategic approaches to finding science stories and relevant information and by establishing contacts with experts and scientists.

Mentors and Mentees
Mentors answer key needs of mentored journalists. Over time, they develop respect and become respected by their mentored journalists, become better trainers, and develop peer-to-peer long-lasting productive partnerships with the journalists they mentor.

The key is for mentors to have an “unconditional positive regard” for their mentees. These expectations are achieved by building trust, awareness, and future opportunities with mentees.

While engaged in the project, the mentees produce more, and improved, articles, reports, and programs. By so doing, they are assigned fulltime or part-time to cover the science beat, and become respected by scientists.

Choosing Mentees
As much as practical, the best match is based on a mentor’s media expertise and availability. This will offer the good opportunity to provide a positive environment with plenty of encouragement.

Desirable Traits and Competencies
MESHA seeks for journalists who have demonstrated they are engaged, responsible, passionate, and hard-working.

In addition, bilingualism (Kiswahili and English), technical accessibility, and training are important, as are ambition, availability, commitment, and a healthy dose of curiosity.

Dealing with Employers
The initial step in the process is a letter to the mentee’s producer or editor, written on a Mesha letterhead that explains: the purpose of the program; the selection criteria; and the need for occasional travel.

The initial correspondence indicates that evaluations are not available to the mentee’s employer because this is a matter of mentor–mentee confidentiality. A disclaimer is included to reassure the employer that the mentoring program will in no way interfere with the editorial process. The letter stresses the benefits of the program, which include the mentee’s access to excellent journalistic resources, and the employer having a journalist mentored free of charge. There is no interference by the mentor with the mentee’s employer.

Protocol for First Encounters

Mentors are provided with guidelines to help them manage and get maximum benefit from their initial meetings with mentees. This helps to mitigate future mentorship challenges. The guidelines include:

 Establish clear goals at the onset: discuss mentee’s expectations and what mentoring could realistically achieve
 Do informal needs assessment — some initial questions could include: What are the main challenges facing science journalists in your region? Is there a dedicated science reporter working at your local newspaper, radio station, television news? Do any of these outlets have a regular science page or science program?
 Share problem areas
 Set up realistic deadlines
 Set up contact times (how often and when)
 Specify why and when this arrangement could be changed
 Ask your mentee if they would like to see some of your work
 Ask for a self-critique of strengths and weaknesses
 Be positive about short-term goals and committed to long-term ones
 Develop a task-based project
 Keep a record of contacts
 Consider sending a sample of your work and a photo

Ongoing Dialogue
Throughout the project, mentorship occurs through email, online discussions, and occasional phone conversations, two mentor/mentee workshops per year, face-to-face meetings, joint field visits, and facility visits. Mentors and mentees communicate at least once a week during the first 6 months of mentorship, and at least twice a month for the last 18 months.

The schedule for these dialogues is agreed upon during an initial telephone conversation at the beginning of the program between each mentor–mentee.

To establish a strong base for the ongoing relationships, the goals and objectives of the mentorship program, as well as the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to the mentored journalists’ science journalism career is discussed during their first discussion. These objectives are revisited throughout the mentorship to ensure that the necessary guidance is given and that mentors will not put in more time than necessary.

On average, mentors provide 1 hour of mentorship a week for the duration of the program.
Their commitment include direct contact time by telephone or email as well as other supporting activities.

Practical Considerations
Building Trust
Trust is a fundamental element of any good relationship; mentorship relationships are no different. Trust is established by:
 Creating a connection
 Understanding the story
 Using active listening and empathy
 Reflecting on themes

Building Awareness
Awareness among partners is enhanced by:
 Agreeing on goals and outcomes
 Offering constructive feedback
 Using dialogue to explore issues
 Reflecting on recurring themes

Building a Future
Mentors help mentees develop their careers by:
 Developing alternative goals
 Being committed to a plan of action
 Encouraging, supporting, and celebrating their achievements
 Helping them plan career goals

Assignments are submitted by mentored journalists to their mentors four days prior to their agreed-upon weekly meeting.

Contact Times
Mentors meet with each of their mentored journalists on a weekly basis on an agreed-upon day and time for a one hour on-line or telephone dialogue.

Record of Contact
Mentors and mentored journalists are required to keep track of contact.

Contact Changes
This arrangement is modified, if agreed upon by both parties, to another day and/or time should the weekly day or time no longer be convenient for one or the individuals, or if a new method of communication would be easier.

Work Sample and Photo
Mentors are invited to send a sample of their work and a photo to journalists they are mentoring.

Mentored journalists send several samples of work that they would like to share with their mentors.

Click below this link to see pictures of journalists taking part in media training workshops organised by MESHA