World Federation of Science Journalists

Wide support for African institutional science news service

June 14, 2012

There is wide support to set up a research institutions’ based African science news service, concludes a United Kingdom and UNESCO commissioned report, published last month. The proposed African science news service would receive press releases from African research institutions and distribute them to the African (and international) media.

According to one of the co-authors of the report Julie Clayton, “The purpose of the report was to support the effort to build capacity in science communication in Africa.”

“A survey to identify the gaps in science communication seemed like a good starting point,” observed Clayton. Conducted over a six-week period in January and February 2011, the survey sought the views of more than 35 journalists and representatives of 30 scientific institutions either based in Africa or working from Europe but involved with African organisations. The responses of journalists and scientists, in writing and through telephone and face-to-face interviews, revealed their enthusiasm for the development of an African news service as a way to help overcome many of the challenges that they face.

Currently, African science journalists have more difficulty obtaining information about research being carried out within universities and other institutions on their own continent than about research in the developed world. Consequently, African newspapers, and other media, tend to carry lengthy descriptions of research emanating from the United States and Europe, often provided by wire services and without any effort to adapt them to local circumstances. Yet, these media seldom report on the achievements of African researchers on their own continent.

To help address this problem, the report suggests creating a science information service for African universities and research institutions. Such a service could distribute press releases and other materials on behalf of African scientists and science institutions to the media in Africa and world-wide; this would considerably increase scope and quality of media coverage of African science. Such a news service could also play a role in introducing journalists to relevant experts and pro-actively provide information on topical issues, as well as track major stories involving African scientists and create press releases around these.

Some of the barriers African science journalists face come from a lack of infrastructure, scarce training opportunities, poor communication and lack of media awareness at scientific institutions, and poor access to local relevant sources of information.

The report also identifies some of the challenges in implementing an African science news service, chief among them are negative attitudes, institutional barriers, poor understanding of how media work, scant resources for training, as well as funding.

The co-authors of the report did not have the mandate to explore funding for an African news service. They recognize that a separate scoping study would assist in identifying potential partners and possibly planning a pilot project to test the feasibility of the idea.

To find out more about the survey, consult the report online.