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Kenyan journalist discusses science and environmental journalism

Kenyan journalist discusses science and environmental journalism

IJNet | September 01, 2010

An association in Kenya gives environment and science journalists in the country a platform for professional development and networking. The Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association (KENSJA), formed in 2007, was recently admitted to the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ).

In an interview with IJNet, Kenyan journalist and KENSJA chairman Ochieng' Ogodo spoke about the association. Ogodo was a 2008 regional winner for the Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting, and has a distinguished international career as a science and environmental journalist. He has written for publications including The East African Standard, Biosafety News and Doctor News East Africa.

IJNet: Tell us about KENSJA. Why was KENSJA formed? Ogodo: The Kenya Environment and Science Journalists Association (KENSJA), a non-political, not-for-profit professional association, draws its membership from practicing environment and science journalists in Kenya. It is a volunteer organization led by elected leaders who meet at least twice a year to conduct KENSJA business and formulate policies for its members. The organization is supported by member-paid dues and through partner organizations. One of the most important reasons for its founding was to bring together members, and get them to discuss and debate ideas and trends on where environment and science communication is going.

Could you tell us about KENSJA’s history? KENSJA was seeded on February 2, 2007 in Nairobi by journalists who were attending the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU) Environmental Reporting Training Course. It was founded on the belief that journalists practicing environment and science journalism had no platform where they could share and talk about their own developments as journalists. However, it did not pick up immediately for various reasons. But in late 2008, some of the founders decided to revamp the organization and give it a new direction. This saw the entry of some of the most outstanding environment and science journalists in Kenya today. Since then it has been making dramatic strides.

Did any organization exist specifically for science journalists in Kenya prior to KENSJA? There are several organizations dealing with specific areas, like health journalism. But until KENSJA came into existence, there was no association that truly represented science journalists in Kenya. The formation of KENSJA as an all encompassing national body for science journalists came after very careful evaluation. There are many associations of different types in the country, but ultimately their credibility is determined by how much support they have among journalists and the credentials of their members. What we are certain about is that up until the time KENSJA was formed, there was no single association that fully understood and strove to raise the profile of science journalism.

Since KENSJA’s inception in 2007, what has been the group’s impact? In its short life, KENSJA has achieved tremendous impact, but a lot still needs to be done. It has grown from just a few members to 32 fully paid senior and upcoming member journalists today, but that’s still not that many. We have had training and collaborations with reputable organizations. We organized a capacity building workshop on climate change reporting with Panos London in Nairobi from August 21 to 27, 2009. From July 6 to 10, 2010, we collaborated and organized a climate change reporting workshop in Arusha, Tanzania. Attendees have produced some very interesting reportage on climate change. We also have members who hold senior editorial positions in the country's mainstream media, which means they can influence editorial content and act as role models for upcoming journalists.

How do you fulfill your three main goals -- firstly, improving the quality of environmental and science reporting? We improve quality through capacity building, linking up journalist with relevant scientific institutions and encouraging them to write quality stories.

Promoting standards? Here we also train them on how to build accurate, factual and balanced stories. In science reporting, the beauty of a story is reporting truthfully and accurately. Finances allowing, we intend to produce toolkits to promote this.

Supporting environmental and science journalists in Kenya? We support them by linking them up with news sources. I have on several occasions responded to journalists looking for news sources and/or organisations to talk to while doing stories. Some of our collaborators have also sponsored journalists to go out in the field and do reporting. We also have a website -- currently under reconstruction -- where they post their stories. And to ensure quality we have one of the senior editors go through stories submitted for editing. We also keep an eye on the international scene and circulate links. We keep them informed of international opportunities where there are scholarships or fellowships.

Do science journalists in Kenya network through KENSJA? Yes, through our website where we post association news, and through an annual general meeting we plan on holding this year. There is also the chairman’s brief sent out to members regularly.

You were recently admitted into the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ). What will this mean for the future of KENSJA? The admission to the WFSJ was one of the best things to have happened to KENSJA. We are now part of an excellent community of global science journalism. This will raise our profile in the global arena, and members will enjoy opportunities allowed by KENSJA being a member of the WFSJ. It will give us the opportunity to participate and make useful contributions in the global science journalism arena, which we are really enthusiastic about.

What are the biggest challenges facing science journalists in Kenya at present? Lack of space for science stories, as some of the editors do not give them much thought. Some of the journalists still lack the capacity to understand the complex nature of science reporting, and the importance of writing both easy-to-read and factual stories. There also is the lack of financial resources. Most stories here are generated by correspondents who are paid per story and they end up earning much less than their counterparts in other areas like politics, business and sports. Their requests for facilitation to go out and do stories are considered last in their newsrooms.

What is your vision for the future of KENSJA?My vision for KENSJA is that it will be a formidable outfit that gives environment and science journalists and communicators a platform for professional development, and local and international networking. We want KENSJA to be a professional body that will make effective contributions to sustainable use of the environment and science.

For more information, visit WFSJ or e-mail Ogodo at ochiengogodo@yahoo.com. A new KENSJA website will be available soon.

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Comments

KENSJA- Welcome to the World

KENSJA- Welcome to the World Federation of Science Journalists. You will love it.

It is good that this

It is good that this association has been formed are environmental issues are now very pertinent across the world. Once you have some funds it would also be good to organize local trainings for those journalist who cannot attend international forum. Kudos KENSJA!

Two wrongs...before KENSJA

Two wrongs...before KENSJA there was the Kenya Science Writers Association, and then the Media for Science, Health and Environment Association, MESHA....so first lie, KENSJA is not the first. Secondly,
KENSJA is a one-man show----the man who one would be atribute for the death of predecessor organizations for the coveted price of being a chairman of something...So when will his term end now that he is in his 3rd year...? or is it for a life-time presidency or chairmanship?

KENSJA is a strong science

KENSJA is a strong science journalists association and led by an active board of practicing seasoned journalists. It will not be distracted from its chosen path by idle talk. If the person trying to cast aspersions on KENSJA has facts why is he/she remaining anonymous. It is also not in our practice to comment on other associations. KENSJA is the first true national science journalists association in Kenya. And such comments, to me, is a clear indication of our progress eliciting jealous. It is healthy to have doubting Thomases. KENSJA never had a predecessor. It was founded in 1997. We are moving on and we will not look back. It does not matter what a non-member says about us. We have our work well cut and we are equal to the task. Period.

I refer to the above comment

I refer to the above comment alleging that KENSJA is a one man show. my friend I m a member and we are all journalists look at the membership.....

The above negative comment

The above negative comment against the positive development of Kenya's Science Journalism is indeed unfortunate hence calling for my reaction.

Sometimes in 2005, I and a group of some jorunalists including the unanymous writer sat at the Journalist Press club in Chester house and thought of coming up with a science association and landed at Kenya Science Association. I was made interim secretary but this outfit did not move anywhere as members kept on not attending the meeting. It was not even registered for that matter.

Secondly, mesha was born and I was involved at the initial stages upon which I was elected in the board at a meeting that was held at Ambassadeur hotel in Nairobi untill 2008 when I pulled out from the outfit due to personal reasons. The current Kensja chair never joined mesha as the enemy of science journalism development in kenya claims.

In 2007, John Vidal, the London Guardian Environment Editor came to train and trained journalists on environment reporting and I was one of the trainees. He asked us to have a fully fledged science and Environment Association to help foster trainings for more journalisms in the country. All agreed with him and Kensja was born.

We decided to have interim officials to fast track the process where someone suggested that I become the Acting Chair but I declined citing my involvement in the board of Mesha. Thereafter members chose the current chairman to act and help put things together. Unfortunately things did not work out as other interim officials failed all through to attend meetings.

Sometimes in 2009, the current chairman and a number of us thought of reviving the association in a strong way and thereafter we held a meeting at Serena hotel and elections were held where our current chair amd several others were elected as per our constitution. Todate, the officials are fully in office and are busy with the association programmes.

The membership is open to stricktly trained science and environment journalist and before becoming a member one has to be vetted by a committee.

It is therefore wrong to claim that the Kenya Science Writers existed. It is also wrong to claim that our chair is to blame the death of mesha. Mesha is a registererd association and is existing. It is also wrong to say that the chair's term in office has expired. Our constitution tells it all and all our members are aware.
It would be wise for this person to shut up and think of what best he can do as we have no business interfering in his affairs. Long Live Kensja!

Rent Seekers

KENSJA, MESHA are all rent seekers who want to continue globetrotting. Journalism associations never work in Kenya and they never will. There always a selfish person in that associaton.

KENSJA- a boost to proper journalism

environmental journalism encompasses the entire community of co-existence in life generally thus it affects everyone,hence it should be heavily be given priority to spur to higher levels,training opportunities should be offered to journalists and editors assessment to be done to keep check in balances.lets give it a chance. BY FRED OJODE-fredojode@yahoo.com