Personal reflections on the state of science journalism—from the World Conference of Science Journalists

| August 19, 2019

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Patrick Kahondwa is the program manager at Radio Universitaire ISDR (Institut Superieur de Developpement Rurale) in Bukavu, DRC. After reading an Opportunity in Barza Wire, he applied to attend the World Conference of Science Journalists, and was successful. He shares his experience.

The city of Lausanne, Switzerland, welcomed the 11th World Conference of Science Journalists from July 1-5. This conference brought together about 1,200 participants from all continents. This was, for us, an opportunity to meet science journalists from other places and to share our respective experiences working in science journalism. As an African journalist, it was a chance to learn about the work of science journalists outside of the continent, outside of the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular, where science journalism is not valued as much as in Europe or North America. It is thus my responsibility to put into practice what I have learned from this conference to promote science journalism in my country where too many journalists are focused on political news and sports.

One of the interesting parts of this conference, for me, was the francophone workshop that brought together journalists and researchers. In the francophone world, science journalism is not at the same level as in the anglophone world. That is why it was important to think about how to set up a network of French-speaking journalists and to think about the challenges of science journalism in French-speaking Africa.

Although I have little experience as a science journalist, the World Conference of Science Journalists has made me open to producing science programs. My observation is that many studies are conducted by researchers in Africa, but the results that could serve communities remain hidden, rather than being promoted. Normally, I only report on general information, but in March 2018, I started to be interested in climate change and tropical diseases. I produced some small reports and then entire programs on these topics, and I started to make climate and health issues my favourite subject matter.

I am always looking for new knowledge to improve my journalistic work and deepen my understanding of the issue of climate change, its consequences on community life, and on diseases that touch African populations. This is how I learned about the work of Agathe Petit, editor-in-chief of the program Le Labo des saviors (Laboratory of knowledge), a radio program that discusses news items and invites researchers to analyze problems. After following this program, I was inspired to do something similar in my region. I started to meet some scientists, research centres, hospitals, and faculties of medicine. In October 2018, I learned from Barza Wire that the World Federation of Science Journalists was offering travel bursaries to attend its conference. This was a golden opportunity to progress in science journalism. I completed the application, and in January I was told I was a winner of this bursary.

Having received additional knowledge through the conference, I find it important to make this knowledge available to other journalists interested in scientific issues. This makes it possible to contribute to the development of scientific journalism and to meet the challenges in this field. I am also seeing how to organize, in collaboration with the university radio station for which I work, a meeting of journalists and scientists to discuss how to improve the level of collaboration between researchers and journalists.

I am also looking for ways to rally the Congolese Association of Science Journalists so that we can organize a training for those interested in science in order to equip them with new knowledge in the media coverage of scientific news. In this way, we can develop a standard for professional scientific journalism.

A fellow freelance journalist based in the DRC also pledged to focus on scientific issues after the World Conference of Science Journalists. Many Congolese journalists deal with scientific issues in the field of climate change, health, and agriculture without really digging deeper.

The World Conference of Science Journalists was, for me and for other science journalists, a time for meetings, reflection, and exchange on the work of the scientific journalist. As a journalist, I encourage other journalists in my country who want to learn about science journalism to apply for opportunities from different organizations to learn from the experiences of other journalists.

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