Video by Andrew Aijuka
InfoNile holds Investigating Water Stories: a cross border training for journalists from 4 East African countries
In October 2021, InfoNile brought together 16 journalists for a weeklong physical training held in Uganda focused on using data and science for investigating water stories.
The journalists, including editors and reporters from different media houses in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda built their capacity in reporting data-based biodiversity stories around Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and the second largest freshwater lake in the world.
A study conducted by InfoNile earlier in 2019 revealed that the number and depth of environmental stories varied amongst media houses in the Nile Basin. It also revealed that many journalists had zero to basic skills to produce stories using science and data. Few collaborations between scientists and journalists were also noted as a reason hindering the coverage of environment and biodiversity stories.
It is with this background that InfoNile facilitated this workshop in order to bridge the gap between editors and reporters, science and journalism, and promote cross-border collaborations amongst the different countries and media platforms – which is critically important when reporting about a transboundary water body such as Lake Victoria.
“Environment stories are not taken as a priority. They are expensive and take a lot of time. Most editors report on breaking news that will drive numbers like politics or accidents,” remarked Gerald Tenywa, senior environmental journalist from New Vision, Uganda while setting the stage for the workshop by discussing How the Media is Covering the Lake: Issues and Stories on Threats to Biodiversity
Water and environment researchers and scientists also attended the workshop, presented recent research about threats to Lake Victoria and explored ways that scientists and journalists could work together. It was noted that scientific concepts are often in complex language that journalists can help scientists simplify and report to a non-technical audience.
“People cannot take action if they do not appreciate something. They do not appreciate it if they are not aware of it. Our role as journalists in sustainable development is to inform the public of these science data and knowledge for them to take action,” emphasized Gerald.
While discussing Lake Victoria Through the Eyes of Science, Dr. Nkambo Mujib, a Senior Research Officer from the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFiRRI) Uganda, highlighted biodiversity loss, habitat degradation, land coverage change, algal blooms, and species introductions as some of the major threats facing Lake Victoria.
Dr. Mujib’s session revealed the zeal and eagerness of journalists to engage with scientists and researchers on water science as he responded to the numerous follow-up questions by the journalists.
“We (scientists) are often very willing to share new knowledge on ongoing research. However we may not always have the best channels to share these. Connecting with journalists and being able to answer their questions is a great opportunity for us to share our research,” remarked Dr. Mujib after the workshop.
“We (journalists) need to tell stories of Lake Victoria with more vigour than before because the threats facing the Lake continue to take a different shape with every dawn,” commented Sharon Atieno, reporter Science Africa.
In addition to science reporting, the workshop also offered practical data training of the journalists on how to source, analyze and visualize data for their stories. These sessions were spearheaded by Code for Africa and introduced the participants practically to data and knowledge tools including Google spreadsheets, Flourish, Data Wrapper.
“I write to express sincere gratitude for the training. Coincidentally, when I got back, I found an email that required me to use Google Spreadsheet. While I need more practice, I had some ideas. If I hadn’t attended the training, I would have had to look for somebody to help me out.” wrote Fred Mwasa, editor at The Chronicles Rwanda, a day after the conclusion of the workshop.
“I have been introduced to a new way of including data to my stories. This workshop has empowered me to even take up a course on data journalism, so that I can fully understand it and even teach my colleagues in Tanzania,” said Neville Meena, from the Tanzania Editors Guild.
In addition to data journalism, the workshop also incorporated knowledge sharing and a practical session on Investigative Journalism facilitated by Solomon Sserwanja, a top investigative reporter in Uganda and founder of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ,), one of the workshop partners. While sharing his award-winning investigative documentary, Solomon shared practical skills on best practices for undercover reporting, highlighting the risks and opportunities of this type of reporting.
At the end of the training, the journalists pitched their story ideas around biodiversity in Lake Victoria. Remarkably, all the journalists formed cross-media and cross-border collaborations, pitching stories with other journalists from different media houses and countries.
Over the next weeks, InfoNile will provide grants and mentorship for the production of these stories that will be published on InfoNile as well as the journalists’ media houses.
InfoNile will also bring together the stories into a comprehensive data-driven investigation on the threats to freshwater biodiversity in Lake Victoria, along the lines of its past award-winning cross-border investigations such as Sucked Dry.
As a networking and bonding activity, InfoNile organized a field trip to Jinja, where the participants visited the source of the Nile River, Itanda Falls, an island on Lake Victoria, and NaFiRRI headquarters.
The journalists were also introduced to NaFiRRI’s open access FreshWater Biodiversity Portal for Uganda, a centralized data-sharing platform with data, maps, red list status, publications, and biodiversity information on the fish in Uganda.
“Journalism today is not about competition, but collaboration. Environment and water stories especially on shared resources like Lake Victoria require that journalists have the right skills to report and work together,” said Fredrick Mugira, InfoNile co-founder.
Finally, all the journalists and scientists signed up and joined the pilot group of InfoNile’s NileWell. NileWell is an online platform that connects scientists and journalists and seeks to bridge the gap between science and the media.
“Scientists will not usually communicate directly to the media. Working together with journalists gives scientists a platform to share their knowledge and findings,” commented Matthew Cassetta, JRS Biodiversity Executive Director via Zoom where he implored the journalists to use scientific research and show the community and the leaders’ solution-based climate stories.
This workshop and the development of NileWell have been facilitated by JRS Biodiversity, an independent grantmaking foundation that awards grants to increase the access to and use of biodiversity information in sub-Saharan Africa.