In October of 2021, the HJN hosted its first health journalism 101 training session for journalists in Ghana and surrounding countries. This session was spearheaded by HJN Ambassador Gideon Sarkodie Osei, a journalist from Ghana who sought to offer a crash course-type training session on health journalism to journalists within his own professional network. Working with Gideon, we identified three unique trainers for the session and focussed on the basics of health journalism, mobile journalism and reporting on regional health issues with a focus on malaria. Attendees of the session also received a digital resource packet, filled with HJN resources as well as resources from each trainer. Here are some highlights and key takeaways from the session!
The Basics of Health Reporting
Mia Malan, Editor in Chief, Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, South Africa
“Overnight, COVID-19 forced many [journalists] to report on health issues. COVID is a great way to tell stories that show how science and policies shape people’s lives,” says Malan. “Health journalism is social justice journalism, it’s not just about medical issues, that’s just one part of it. It’s also about women’s rights, gender-based violence [and] climate change.”
What skills do you need to tell powerful health stories? The most important skill, says Malan, is the ability to break down complex information in a way that makes people understand how it influences their lives.
- As a journalist you need to make sure you have access to information (documents, contacts, and trust). “It is incredibly valuable to have policy makers and to have scientists as close contacts,” says Malan.
- You also need a good understanding of science and policies (you don’t need a science degree!).
- And, you need to have the ability to stagger information and create suspense in stories
Mia’s golden rules:
- Never ever use a second-hand source for a fact or statistic
2. The power of a case study’s voice is irreplaceable, but it’s of little use if you don’t know how to create suspense.
3. A story without a focused statement is almost always unfocused. What is a focused statement? Once sentence: subject, verb, object. For example: Covid vaccines protect pregnant women against pregnancy-related complications.
4. The ending of a story is as important as the beginning: first paragraph determines if people will read further and the last paragraph determines how and if consumers will discuss your story.
Want a definition? Mayo Clinic
Want a study? PubMed
Check out some of Bhekisisa’s resources for journalists!
Mobile Journalism 101
Michael Salzwedel, Internews Pandemic Media Mentor, Mobile Journalism Expert
Why and how to use a smartphone to gather, edit and package social-friendly multimedia content so you can reach bigger audiences with your journalism, mojo wizard Salzwedel, shares his trade secrets!
Using a mobile phone to shoot video
- Very accessible and quick prep time for in-the-moment shots
- People don’t feel intimidated
- Portable size, easy to access small places
- Lots of affordable add-on equipment
- Low light
- Battery life
“Tech is just a means to an end. You can have the best phone, the best mic but if you don’t know how to tell a story, you’re not going to succeed,” says Salzwedel.
Making MoJo content step-by-step
- Plan your content
- Shoot your video and gather information/interviews/sound
- Share (WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook etc.)
Video and Photography tips
- Put phone in airplane mode to avoid interruptions
- Generally shoot in landscape
- Aim to get a variety of different shots
- Keep the light behind you so that you’re subject is well lit
- Think about mobile users with small screens- keep the subjects large in the frame.
- Hold still! For extra stability use a selfie stick or tuck your elbows into your body
- Avoid zooming, experiment with cropping for tighter shots or, if you need to get closer, move your feet, not the Zoom.
“MoJo content is almost like making a cake in that you need a vision for it and a reason for it, to make a cake you need ingredients and to make MoJo content you need ingredients, shots, interview, some audio, theses are all elements. Then when making a cake you need tools like an oven or a mixing bowl, same with making content, you need tools like a tripod or a light or a mic, and you need certain apps to use. Then you need a method or a recipe, when making content you also need a method that you use or else it won’t be effective,” says Salzwedel.
The ‘ins and outs’ of Malaria Reporting
Dr Charity Binka, Executive Secretary, African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN)
What does AMMREN do? They train journalists to report on malaria, publish their work, collaborate with journalists and scientists, and educate. “We felt that the journalists must go to the field, that is where the story is, that is where the people are,” emphasises Binka.
Key strategies for malaria research and reporting
- Thorough background research must precede every good story on malaria
- Packaging relevant, timely and accurate information on malaria issues is very important to rein in the disease among vulnerable groups such as children
- Avoid spicing stories to make them sell, at the expense of education the public
- Avoid misleading the public with unverified information, data or figures
- Avoid complicated data and figures in news reports
- Figures paint pictures and tell vivid stories, so simplify figures and data when informing the public to promote better and easy understanding of issues
- Information and news on malaria should be told in intelligent, simple language, so that even children can understand the issues
- Remember that malaria is a common community disease and simple messages to educate are always better
Possible areas for investigation and ideas for stories
- Malaria control programmes and policies
- Prevention strategies
- Treatment and access to efficacious and low-priced drugs
- Diagnostic testings/T-3 strategy
- Availability to malaria commodities and tools
- Malaria and environmental factors
- Malaria and behavioural/social factors
- Fake malaria commodities (e.g. antimalarials, RDTs)
Hear what HJN Ambassador Gideon Osei had to say about the session!
A special thank you to all of our trainers, and HJN Ambassador Gideon Osei, who helped make this first of its kind session a major success! Interested in working with us to host a similar session for journalists in your network or region? Let us know!