REASONS WHY I AM APPLYING
I have been a board member of the South African Science Journalists Association since 2013 and was elected President in early 2014. In October of that year, I was also elected President of the African Federation of Science Journalists.
In 2015 I attended the WFSJ Conference in Seoul and presented a very successful panel there; I will be presenting two panels at the San Francisco Conference in October 2017.
I believe that the skills of science journalism are rapidly becoming essential in newsrooms across Africa. More and more, the focus of news stories is topics that have a science base: drought, wild fires, water scarcity, conservation agriculture and soil science, energy issues, health (from Ebola to malnutrition) and climate change, to cite some examples. And the lack of training in understanding and interrogating science is evident in much of the reporting on relevant stories.
So I have put a great deal of energy into training on science journalism. I have done training sessions across South Africa, under the aegis of SAASTA (the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement) and the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism, and in Namibia and Botswana at the invitation of local media-related organizations.
I am currently in confidential discussions with a major media organization in South Africa about providing training in science journalism skills to their newsroom staff, offering sessions regularly over several months.
I have also developed and driven an initiative to create financial support and mentorship for science journalism across four countries in Africa, which is very close to finalization.
In addition, I am currently working with an agency and a funding organization to hold an African Federation Conference early in 2018. One of the benefits I would bring to the WFSJ Board is obviously a network of contacts in science journalism across the continent.
Africa is undoubtedly a hot-spot for science-related issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and soil degradation, but the trend I have mentioned, for newsrooms to need more science journalism skills, is not unique to this continent.
And science journalism skills are not only valuable in terms of covering specific topics, they have a wider value in a world awash in ‘fake news’ – we are good at asking the right questions, at sniffing out clever fakery, at connecting dots beyond the political. A small but significant surge in demand for authentic, trustworthy journalism provides, I believe, an opportunity for us to make a place for science journalism in a range of media, to make the media world aware of the value of these skills, and to share them with others in media.
This is what I would hope to achieve on the board of the WFSJ, through outreach to targeted media organisations especially in the Global South, through training of journalists, creating a more secure position for our members, and hopefully working on new models for funding science journalism in a world where money for media is shrinking – but science journalism has never been more needed.
Mandi Smallhorne – President, African Federation of Science Journalists and South African Science Journalists Association
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