World Federation of
Science Journalists

Mentors get ready for SjCOOP, phase two, in Torino workshop

July 12, 2010 posted in SjCOOP
Photos taken during the SjCOOP Mentors workshop
Gervais Mbarga teaches communications and journalism at Université de Moncton in Canada and recently found himself heading up a team of “mentors.” These experienced science journalists will help general-assignment journalists in Africa, and the Middle East become better able to report on science.

Mbarga, who came to Canada from Cameroon, was in Torino in late June meeting where the mentors from several continents met for training at the campus Lingotto of the Politecnico.

And he summed up why the world needs more, better, science journalism:

“Africans, said Mbarga, “ask themselves questions like: Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the West? They then have answers from school – but school is not accessible to all. There are answers from specialists – who are largely inaccessible. And there are answers from tradition – which has a limited capability at explaining. So mass media and newspapers therefore play an important role.”

Helping reporters play that role is what mentoring is all about.

The 15 new mentors will be leaders in the three-year SjCOOP program of the World Federation of Science Journalists. Now in its second phase, SjCOOP mentoring will help 60 journalists from Africa and the Arab World to specialize in reporting on health, the environment, agriculture and technology.

In September, mentors and mentees are scheduled to meet face to face for the first time in Lebanon (for Arabic speakers), Mali (for francophones) and Nigeria (for those working in English).

In Torino, the mentors selected their mentees and started going over stories and broadcast tapes already produced by their mentees in their ordinary, general reporting.

Torino was also the opportunity for WFSJ to collaborate with one of its founding member association, the Italian Association of Science Journalists. Its president, Paola de Paoli, opened the training session, and science journalist Adrianna Giannini was part of the discussions.

The four day workshop included discussions on science journalism and how it could thrive in Africa and in the Arab World. Some see SjCOOP as an opportunity to invent a new science journalism in the African and Arabic context.

Talking about story choices, Esther Nakkazi from Uganda said, “This issue about maternal health is coming from the West.” Nakkazi (a mentee in the first phase of SjCOOP turned mentor for the second phase) continued, “Instead we should tell ourselves: What is it that I must do and write about?”

The World Federation of Science Journalists learned a lot organizationally and practically from the first phase of SjCOOP and Torino was a fine start for phase two, made possible by the project’s donors: the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of The Netherlands, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.

The money covered travel expenses, including a meeting between the project team and Christoph Spurk and Michael Schanne from Zurich University’s Institute of Applied Media Studies, who will be SjCOOP’s external evaluators.

Three new mentors joined the team during the June meetings. Waleed Al-Shobakky is a freelance science writer in Arabic and English for regional and international publications including Emilie Martin, an editor at Ciel et Espace, a science magazine in France and Marie-Pier Elie, a freelance science reporter in print and TV, including Télé-Québec and Québec Science magazine.

WFSJ received 343 applications from journalists who wanted mentoring in the SjCOOP project. There were 147 from the Arab World, 110 English-speaking journalists and 86 francophone journalists.

Those that made the short list submitted three of their stories and wrote a one-paragraph comment on what they considered the best of the three. Finalists were selected in late June, and here’s the geographical spread:

English-speaking group

  • 2 journalist from Cameroon;
  • 1 journalist from Ethiopia;
  • 2 journalists from Ghana;
  • 3 journalists from Kenya;
  • 1 journalist from Liberia;
  • 2 journalists from Malawi;
  • 1 journalist from Mozambique;
  • 4 journalists from Nigeria;
  • 1 journalist from Rwanda;
  • 2 journalists from South Africa;
  • 1 journalist from Zimbabwe;
  • 1 journalist from Ghana;
  • 1 journalist from Uganda;
  • 2 journalists from Zambia.

Arab world group
  • 1 journalist from Algeria;
  • 1 journalist from Bahrain;
  • 3 journalists from Egypt;
  • 2 journalists from Iraq;
  • 2 journalists from Jordan;
  • 1 journalist from Libya;
  • 1 journalist from Mauritania;
  • 3 journalists from Morocco;
  • 1 journalist from Saudi Arabia
  • 2 journalists from Sudan;
  • 2 journalists from Syria;
  • 2 journalists from Tunisia;
  • 1 journalist from Yemen
Francophone group
  • 2 journalists from Benin;
  • 3 journalists from Burkina Faso;
  • 1 journalist from Burundi;
  • 4 journalists from Cameroon;
  • 2 journalists from Côte d’Ivoire;
  • 1 journalist from Gabon;
  • 1 journalist from Madagascar;
  • 4 journalists from Mali;
  • 2 journalists from Niger;
  • 3 journalists from RDC;
  • 1 journalist from Senegal;
  • 1 journalist from Togo.

For more information and follow-ups on SjCOOP, see


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