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Tips for reporting on early development: Find the children behind the data

Tips for reporting on early development: Find the children behind the data

Jerri Eddings | September 19, 2016

Global experts report that a child’s early years are critical to the rest of life. Proper nutrition and brain stimulation improve physical growth and learning ability, while the absence of proper care and feeding in the first 1,000 days can lead to stunting, poor school performance and lower earnings as an adult.

What is the role of journalists in bringing these stark facts to light? How can reporters best translate the available data into compelling stories that show what can be lost or gained through decisions made in a child’s first few years?

Two leading experts on early childhood development shared insights and tips for journalists covering these issues during a September 8 webinar hosted by the International Center for Journalists and the World Bank’s Strategic Impact Evaluation Fund (SIEF).

The experts: Roger Thurow, a former Wall Street Journal correspondent who is now a senior fellow with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs specializing in global food and agriculture; and Sophie Naudeau, Global Solutions Group Lead for Early Childhood Development at the World Bank Group.

Thurow, whose new book “The First 1,000 Days” was published in May, drew on his experience to offer these tips during his presentation:

Personalize the data

Data can be a journalist’s good friend — because statistics and data points represent people. Go out and match some of these statistics and reports with people on the ground. For instance, find out what it means that 40 percent of children in Uganda suffer from anemia. What’s the impact of that? How are people overcoming it? What are the government programs to overcome it? What are businesses doing? What are NGOs doing? As readers come to care about the people that you’re reporting on, they also come to care about the issues.

Keep track of your subjects

If you have the ability, follow people and issues over time. With early childhood development, that’s really critical. If you’re meeting moms, dads, children and families at this time of early development, go back and visit them over months and years and say, here’s how that intervention mattered. Or here’s how it didn’t matter. Or with lack of intervention, here’s what’s happening. What’s the situation in this village, or in the schools where the kids aren’t learning? Stunting is a sentence of under-achievement and under-performance. How can you illustrate that? There are so many issues that you can illustrate by following people.

Naudeau, who has worked on early child development in Africa, East Asia and the Middle East for the World Bank, offered the following advice to journalists:

Keep an eye on both quantity and quality

For example, scaling up pre-school education is a great thing to do but only if the quality is good. We know that poor quality pre-school education does not generate positive impacts for children. Quality is fundamental. So when you report on the quantity of services being provided in a community or country, look at the quality of those services and reflect that as part of the story.

Don’t just write about the problems; write about solutions, too

These are two sides of a coin. On one side, if you don’t do anything – don’t invest in proper nutrition, don’t empower parents to engage in early stimulation – then you get dramatic negative consequences. On the other hand, if you do invest in proper nutrition, stimulation and protection, those children are set on a much more promising trajectory and they can reach their potential in life. It’s good to keep the balance between the two stories – the dramatic and the positive – and keep those two sides of the coin in sight.

To see their full presentations, watch this video of the webinar:

To learn how you can enter ICFJ's reporting contest on early childhood development, click here.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Nevil Zaveri.

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