By Ida Jooste, Country Director, Internews in Kenya
Journalists are in the business of communicating, but increasingly, scientists too.
“It’s no longer business as usual”, said Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Co-director of the Centre for the Aids Program of Research in South Africa, Caprisa. “We scientists used to publish our work in academic journals, with not much thought if the public understood any of it”. However, Abdool Karim said increasingly, scientists have come to realize how important it is to have media allies, journalists who know how to communicate positive (or negative) science news, without losing the nuance of the story, the complexity of the science.
Abdool Karim made these remarks at a workshop and launch of a toolkit for scientists to communicate HIV prevention research results at the International Aids conference in Washington DC.
Workshop participants, who included scientists and journalists, discussed the dangers of results being communicated by word of mouth or in an oversimplified form through tweets. In breakaway sessions, the group discussed how social media had brought the public closer to science and health news, but said they needed to ensure proper interpretation was not lost.
“There are important science stories to be told, and some of them are very nuanced. Also, sometimes results are not good, but we can still learn from them”, said FHI President Ward Cates. The challenge was how to get this news out to communities, who deserved to know more, but who did not have a background in science.
“Involve journalists and other stakeholders, like the government from the beginning”, said Isaiah Esipisu, who is attending the Aids conference with Internews support. He was giving feedback from his group, who found that “wobbles may come up in science, but if you have a good communications strategy, the news will be communicated in a way which informs the public about what it means and what to do next”.
The four-year Health Media Project (HMP) launched in January 2013. It builds on the success of Internews’ Voices in Health media training program (2003-2012).