Africa needs more science writers
Mandi Smallhorne, President of the South African Science Journalists’ Association (SASJA), has been elected as the President of the African Federation of Science Journalists (AFSJ) – and has set some important priorities for her five year term of office. Speaking from Nairobi, where the AFSJ meeting was held in October, Ms Smallhorne says the AFSJ meeting which elected her had expressed a united determination to back an African bid to bring the next World Conference of Science Journalists to Africa.
This will be her first priority as AFSJ President: “There’s a wealth of talent, skill and experience in Africa, all of which will be brought to bear on making this bid a success. This is not just about it being Africa’s turn to host the WFSJ Conference (which it is); it’s about enhancing the respect in which science journalists are held on the continent.”
Boosting respect for science journalists is important because they play an increasingly critical role in interpreting some of the most important issues of our time, Ms Smallhorne says: think climate change and its impact on agriculture and food security, think Ebola, think energy, think water issues.
“In the light of the urgent challenges facing this continent, support for good science journalism has become a critical need in newsrooms everywhere,” she says. “Science media practitioners are the interface between both policymakers and scientists and the public – we are the people doing the interpreting and explaining of issues that are hard to understand, yet absolutely vital. That’s why we have to be very good at our jobs!” While Africa has some exceptionally good science journalists and a number of countries have strong editorial standards around science communication, we need more support and resources for those who work in isolation, she adds.
Ms Smallhorne sees her role as creating a network of resources for high-quality science journalism that will inform the public on key issues and help to drive development in the continent.