Skill, resources, time, mistrust and a reliance on third-party coverage are just some of the hurdles to overcome when reporting on local health-science stories in Southern and Eastern Africa.

These issues, coupled with the growing pressure of producing engaging and relevant local media content in the region, helped to catalyse ‘Bridging the Gap’, a health-science journalism workshop in Kigali that ran from the 24-29 September.

Journalists at our Kigali workshop. Image: Kristian Porter
Journalists at our Kigali workshop. Image: Kristian Porter

With support from the Wellcome Trust and our member the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, the PMA workshop was geared towards Rwandan journalists from a variety of news outlets. Its main aim was to teach skills that would help to breakdown the barriers that exist between journalists and the science community whilst empowering them to engage audiences with dynamic science stories.

Training included interview techniques, story development and practical media skills. Moreover, the workshop embraced the contemporary media landscape by teaching participants techniques to compliment their stories with multi-media and engage audiences that are increasingly turning to digital and social media for reliable information.

Alongside journalism training, PMA offered local scientists an opportunity to attend the workshop, which helped to foster understanding and build trust between the two groups. This was achieved by using interactive focus group sessions, a role-play and a mock interview between a trainer and a participating scientist. A recent UNESCO report – amongst other research – has shown that interactions are often fraught between scientists and journalists due to the use of complex language and the misinterpretation of data by journalists. Other issues arise due to interview techniques or the lack of probing questions. With this in mind, the interaction and exchange of experiences in the workshop proved extremely popular, giving the journalists a new perspective with which to approach interviews and research.

Filming at Rinda Ubuzima. Image: Kristian Porter
Filming at Rinda Ubuzima. Image: Kristian Porter

The second part of the workshop moved the journalists away from the classroom and into the field with a visit to the brilliant Rinda Ubuzima, a clinical research lab that specialises in women’s and reproductive health. It was here that the journalists applied the skills acquired to practice producing engaging radio and TV interviews, vox pops and photo stories. The visit was highly beneficial in the way that it exposed journalists to a working laboratory where they could interact with scientists and researchers without the pressure of producing a paid-for news piece.

Based at Rwanda’a Media High Council and run by three highly experienced media trainers – radio producer and Winston Churchill Fellow Siobhann Tighe and regionally based science journalism trainers Rachel Jones and Pius Sawa – ‘Bridging the Gap’ was designed as both a workshop and scoping project to test whether this type of workshop could be replicated in the future.

Overall ‘Bridging the Gap’ was a great success. It helped to foster new relationships and empower journalists to approach science interviews in a more dynamic way. It also equipped participants with the skills to engage audiences with science stories, in terms of relevance (culturally and socially) and the use of investigative and multi-media tools to make health-science a more mainstream and accessible news topic. Furthermore it empowered journalists to go in search of science topics in a region that boasts a high number of general reporters with few specialists.

Bridging the Gap preceded the annual meeting of the Southern African Broadcasting Association where there was a recorded radio debate about the need for locally produced, locally relevant science media content.

You can listen to feedback from three workshop participants in our vox-pop below.

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Thank you

Our thanks goes to the Wellcome Trust for their support and to our hosts, the Rwanda Broadcast Agency and the Media High Council of Rwanda. A special thanks also to Rinda Ubuzima for allowing us to practice interview techniques and capture content.