World Federation of Science Journalists

SjCOOP on a roll

November 4, 2010

The SjCOOP project of the World Federation of Science Journalists is now in full activity.

During September 2010, more than a hundred science journalists from across Africa and the Arab World participated in a first series of three workshops in Abuja (Nigeria), Bamako (Mali) and Beirut (Lebanon).

These three meetings were the first major step in a two-year journey for some 75 African and Arab journalists from 38 countries who will be mentored (the mentees) by 15 experienced science journalists from 12 countries. The 75 mentees are divided in three groups: anglophone, arabophone, and francophone. It was their first opportunity to meet their mentors. They were also joined by presidents of associations of science journalists, scientists and politicians.

SjCOOP offers a unique opportunity for journalists who want to improve their skills at reporting science related issues, particularly in health, environment, and agriculture, through extensive and sustained distance mentoring. It also is an opportunity to become part of the international network of professional science journalists.

In Bamako, the 25 African francophone mentees from 12 different countries interacted with their mentors for the first time. They had been looking forward to this meeting since last July, when they were selected following a pan-African competition. The mentors include experienced science journalists from Belgium, Canada, Côte d’Ivoire, France and Senegal; they also learn a lot from their mentees, who are all journalists.

Workshop in Beirut Lebanon
The Abuja and Beirut workshops were structured exactly like the Bamako workshop. In Abuja, the 25 African anglophone journalists from 12 countries met their mentors from The Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, and the United Kingdom. In Beirut another 25 journalists from 14 countries met their mentors from Egypt and France.

On the very first day, news conferences from local researchers and ministers (Abuja) provided material for a first series of stories, written on that same day, and commented by the mentors the following morning. The goal was to work toward a consensus on what makes a good science story. Field trips to labs (Abuja and Bamako) and a nature reserve (Lebanon) provided another opportunity for a second series of stories.

Disseminated throughout the four and half days of workshop were introductions to the World Federation’s online course in science journalism and discussions of case studies in investigative science reporting. Consultants presented the extensive monitoring and evaluation activities that will track progress of the journalists, on their way to become science journalists, and of mentors, on their way to become trainers in science journalism.

But the most important thing was the establishment and consolidation of the crucial relationship between mentors and mentees. There is no guarantee that a professional journalist will immediately accept to learn from a colleague, particularly when the colleague is from another culture, younger and of a different gender. For a very few exceptions, the journalists rapidly struck a very positive relationship with their mentors, realizing that two years of interactions with a seasoned professional committed to invest in their professional development was an opportunity not to be missed.

SjCOOP is committed to mentor successfully only 60 journalists but the strong interest and commitment from the mentees was such that mentors could not accept to let go any of their mentees; so much so that by November there were still some 72 journalists in the program.

“The workshop was indeed a great experience; an opportunity to meet and interact with great minds. Looking forward to working hard to live up to expectations, said Kingsley Hope, a mentee from Ghana, who participated in the Abuja workshop.

Expectations, as says Mr. Kingsley Hope, are very high and a lot of hard work is required from all the mentees and the mentors. SjCOOP first phase mentors and mentees have made great achievements, from making a living as a freelance science journalist in Africa, to launching a successful monthly pan-African science magazine, and organizing an international conference.

Below are three articles, one giving more details about the Abuja meeting, in English; one about the Bamako meeting, in French; and a third article, in Arabic, which is a mentee’s recollection of the Beirut meeting.

Abuja (Nigeria)
Bamako (Mali)
Beirut (Lebanon)

Abuja (Nigeria), 13 to 17 September 2011

By Roger Bird

Deep inside the swanky Bolingo Hotel and Towers, in Abuja, Nigeria, a group of reporters were finding out how they had done after writing up a news conference presented by Nigerian agricultural and medical scientists.

Sitting around U-shaped tables with white tablecloths, they were getting to know each other, and from their perspective, the man doing the talking, Martin Enserink, was way ahead of their league. Based in Amsterdam, Enserink writes for Science, for Foreign Policy (the Carnegie Endowment publication in Washington) and many other outlets, with a focus on the Benelux countries and France.

The session was part of the September launch of Science Journalism Co-operation (SjCOOP), Phase 2, a project of the World Federation of Science Journalists that links veteran science reporters acting as mentors to less experienced colleagues.

The tradition was for the mentors to discuss stories but without naming names, so as not to offend anyone,” Enserink says. “After all, we were all just getting to know each other.”

“But then I was discussing the first story – about a project to introduce genetically modified cowpeas – which had a very nice lead: it had a lovely opening sentence, it gave you all the most crucial facts in the first three graphs, and drew you right into the story …. I just thought: why not say it is Jennifer’s story [Jennifer Dube, who works for The Standard newspaper in Zimbabwe] and give her some public recognition for that nice intro?

“I then mentioned some of the other mentees’ names as well as I discussed the other stories,” Enserink says.

One of them was Hope Mafaranga, a reporter in Fort Portal for The New Vision, a Uganda daily in Kampala, 300 kilometres to the east. Her story followed a news conference about cowpea research, an African food staple since ancient times, with Nigeria being one of the leading producers today.

She incorporated the feedback from Enserink and her own mentor, Delcan Okpalaeke, and the story was published in ScienceAfrica , a monthly published by Otula Owuor, who was a mentor in the first phase of the SjCOOP project. Four more published stories soon followed.

All of this was evidence that the feedback, “helped me learn and improve my work,” Mafaranga says, who was “not embarrassed at all” by being in Enserink’s brief spotlight
WFSJ’s Olfa Labassi, the project manager for SjCOOP 2, says everyone, mentors and mentees alike, had soaked up the conference mantra that “feedback is to make sure you go forward.”

Or as Enserink says, the point was “to show how you can discuss journalistic work in an open atmosphere without people feeling threatened.”

Labassi and her colleague Augustin Denis, both from WFSJ headquarters in Gatineau, Canada, worked with NGO and local partners to make sure logistics, transportation, accommodation, and links with scientists went smoothly. France’s Fondation Mérieux helped at the convention centre in Bamako, the Development Communications Network was the partner in Nigeria, and St. Joseph’s University was the local partner in Beirut.

When Denis touched down in Bamako, he was returning a second time to a continent that was part of his childhood. He says the Mali experience was “very smooth,” compared to the brand new, make-it-up-as-you-go situation when he was on hand as WFSJ launched the first phase of SjCOOP.

Denis, the WFSJ webmaster, set up a private social networking site so conference participants could stay in touch. “Nobody wanted to lose the synergy of being together,” he says. Less than a month after the workshops, within a 24 hour period, the site’s forum had 9 different ongoing conversations with about 23 comments and replies. And this is without taking into account the flow of emails between mentees and mentors, Denis reports.

As 2006 mentee, now 2010 mentor, Théodore Kouadio (Ivory Coast) said: “Now I have friends almost everywhere. If I go to Senegal, there’s no way I’ll go to a hotel. I’ll stay with my SjCOOP workshop friend from Senegal instead.”

Bamako (Mali), du 13 au 17 septembre 2010

par Christophe Mvondo, président de l’Association des journalistes scientifiques du Cameroun SciLife, et mentoré dans la phase un de SjCOOP.

Vingt cinq mentorés présélectionnés dans le cadre de la deuxième phase du projet SjCOOP et leurs mentors se sont retrouvés à Bamako au Mali, les 13 au 17 septembre 2010. Pour prendre le départ du projet.

Parée aux couleurs de la célébration des 50 ans de son indépendance, la capitale malienne a aussi accueilli les journalistes scientifiques venus d’Europe, d’Amérique, et de l’Afrique dans le cadre du premier atelier sous-régional du projet SjCOOP.

La cérémonie d’ouverture, au Centre Charles Mérieux de Bamako, présidée par le Secrétaire générale du ministère de la santé, a été une occasion pour les autorités maliennes de s’engager à apporter tout l’appui nécessaire au projet.

Les travaux, suivis de bout en bout par le directeur général du Centre Charles Mérieux, le Pr Boubacar Sidiki Cissé, ont permis aux mentorés de prendre la température du projet et aux encadreurs de baliser le long chemin d’un apprentissage qui va durer deux ans.

Et le Pr Gervais Mbarga, Coordonnateur Afrique Francophone, en a profité, au cours de son adresse à l’ouverture de l’atelier, de présenter les avantages de la science dans le cadre de la lutte contre la pauvreté en Afrique. « La science et la technologie, a-t-il souligné, ont été partout des instruments qui ont libéré les populations de l’ignorance, de la peur, de la superstition a fourni des armes pour résister à la maladie qui dévorait les populations, à la famine qui semait la désolation, à l’environnement qui se détruisait inexorablement, à l’inconnu qui consumait les talents. Bref, elle a, partout, depuis des siècles, combattu la pauvreté. » Sa vulgarisation à travers une pratique excellente du journalisme scientifique est d’un intérêt capital.

Le cadre ainsi situé ne répond pas toujours aux préoccupations des uns et des autres; pourquoi faut-il se spécialiser en journalisme scientifique? Ou encore, le journalisme scientifique est-il un journalisme spécial? À ces interrogations, Gervais Mbarga a levé certaines équivoques. « Le journalisme scientifique n’est pas un journalisme spécial. Mais il est un journalisme spécialisé ! C’est un journalisme centré sur la démarche, sur la méthodologie. Il se méfie des urgences parce qu’il doit respecter les zones d’incertitudes et les limites de validité des concepts et des faits, des questions irrésolues, des estimations, des approximations. »

Après la cérémonie officielle de lancement, le programme est déroulé : trois chercheurs de renom au Mali ont donné une conférence conjointe sur la santé, l’agriculture, et l’énergie. Aly Kouriba, directeur de l’Institut de l’économie rurale, Arona Coulibaly, responsable du Laboratoire de thermique appliqué de l’École nationale d’ingénieurs, et Boubacar Sidiki Cissé du Centre Mérieux ont entretenu les journalistes sur ces trois secteurs qui sont en crise au Mali.

Le reste du programme a été consacré aux exposés, discussions de groupes et travaux pratiques des mentorés sur le terrain.

C’est évidemment la tête bourrée des données de la nouvelle expérience, et la peur dans le ventre, de figurer parmi les 5 mentorés d’avec lesquels le programme va devoir se séparer que les 25 amateurs du journalisme scientifique ont quitté Bamako, capitale du journalisme scientifique, le temps d’un atelier.

اختتام ورشة تدريب إقليمية عن الصحافة العلمية في بيروت

طارق الحميدي

اختتمت في العاصمة اللبنانية بيروت أول من أمس ورشة إقليمية لتدريب الصحفيين العلميين ضمن مشروع «sjcoop» الذي ينظمه الاتحاد العالمي للصحفيين العلميين. وشملت الورشة التي استمرت 5 أيام وأقيمت في جامعة القديس يوسف في بيروت جلسات عمل ومحاضرات ولقاءات جمعت المتدربين بمدربيهم إضافة لوضع خطة للعمل خلال المراحل القادمة من عمر المشروع التدريبي الذي يستمر عامين ونصفاً. ويهدف مشروع «sjcoop», لتعزيز الصحافة العلمية في إفريقيا والعالم العربي, ورفع كفاءة التغطية الإعلامية لدى الصحفيين العلميين في كافة المجالات العلمية في الصحافة مثل القضايا البيئية والصحية والتكنولوجية والزراعية وغيرها. ويسعى المشروع أيضا لتعزيز الهياكل الإقليمية والمحلية الممثلة للصحفيين العلميين, ومساندتهم لتقديم تدريبات مشابهة في مجال الإعلام العلمي, إضافة لمساندة المتدربين بتوجيههم للكتابة بوسائل الإعلام الدولية. وقام المشاركون في بداية الورشة بتقديم عرضٍ عن واقع الصحافة العلمية في البلدان التي جاءوا منها, إضافةً لمناقشة أفضل السبل للنهوض بها من خلال تنمية المهارات لدى الصحفيين العلميين, وتمكينهم من تغطية القضايا العلمية بمهنية عالية. وناقشوا أهم المشاكل التي تعتري الصحافة العلمية والمعيقات التي تعترض طرق تقدمها في بلدانهم وكيفية توظيف المعارف والمعلومات والمهارات التي سيكتسبونها من المشروع لتخطي هذه المشاكل. ونظم القائمون على الورشة جولة لمحمية أرز الشوف للتعرف على النظم البيئية الموجودة فيها إضافة لأهم المهددات التي تحيط بالمحمية وطُلب من المشاركين كتابة تقرير حول الزيارة الميدانية. وأولت الورشة الجانب العملي اهتماما خاصا حيث قام المتدربون بمقابلة خبراء في المواضيع العلمية المختلفة في لبنان لكتابة تقرير صحفي عن موضوع علمي اختاروه في لبنان. وسيقوم البرنامج بتدريب الصحفيين عن بعد من خلال تواصلهم مع مدربيهم ومراجعة الدروس الالكترونية المنشورة على موقع الاتحاد الدولي للصحفيين العلميين إضافة لكتابة التقارير الصحفية بشكل دوري ومراجعتها مع مدربيهم والعمل على تحسين مهاراتهم. وقدمت مديرة المشروع ألفة اللباسي ومنسقته راغده حداد شرحاً عن مراحل المشروع كاملة, إضافة للأهداف المرجو تحقيقها في نهايته وأهمية التدريب العملي الذي سيتلقاه المشاركون خلال مراحل المشروع كاملة. كما قدمت الصحافية حنان الكسواني تجربتها عن التدريب في المرحلة الأولى من المشروع والتي اختتمت العام الماضي وعن أهم المكاسب والمهارات التي حققتها من خلال التحاقها بالمشروع.