By Enoch Sithole: Around 300 participants at the Sustainable Journalism in Practice conference decided to work on research, the development of teaching modules and new partnerships to develop the concept in an African context.  

The conference was held at the Aga Khan University (AKU) Graduate School of Media and Communications (GSMC), in Nairobi, on 23-25 March.

Sustainable Journalism in Practice, Nairobi

The conference brought together journalists, academics and media professionals from various African and European countries to “discuss new ways of doing journalism, that is constructive, sustainable and grounded in an African context and based on the core values of independent, public interest journalism”.

Hosted by the GSMC, Fojo Media Institute and Wits Centre for Journalism (WCJ) the event discussed various aspects of ensuring the sustainability of journalism, especially from a financial point of view, considering that the sector was facing financial challenges in several countries.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, president of the Sustainable Journalism Partnership, Lars Tallert, said journalism was faced with three challenges of climate change, deepening polarisation and media businesses under financial stress. This, he said, necessitated that those working in the sector looked at ways of doing their work to ensure sustainability of the sector and the globe.

To illustrate these challenges, a presentation on a study on climate change journalism in South Africa was made by Enoch Sithole, highlighting the fact that while reporting on the climate crisis had improved in the country, it remained inadequate given the climate vulnerability the country and the continent faces.

Another report on an European Broadcasting Union (EBU) worldwide study on climate change journalism was presented by Dr Alexandra Borchardt, who told the conference that “the climate crisis will define our future more than any other issue. But we’ve found evidence that audiences are turning away from climate coverage because it’s simply not delivered well. News outlets can – and must – do better – and we have constructive recommendations that, if utilized, could be game-changers for them and for how audiences engage with this complex subject”.

The financial challenges facing media organisations dominated discussions, leading to suggestions that academic institutions should work with media entities in researching ways to ensure viable media businesses.

It was also suggested that efforts should be made to get telecommunications companies to compensate media businesses for the data bundles that are used to access media content. The conference heard that paywalls were not as successful because people found it costly to pay for data bundles to telecommunications companies and subscriptions to media entities. Therefore, it was suggested, legislation should be explored to compel telecommunication companies to share revenue earned in accessing media content. 

The gathering agreed on action points under six themes:

  • Content/business octopus media

Everyone who is interested can participate in developing a new start-up pilot. The development of the idea will be made on the sustainable journalism community platform. The expertise that exists within the Media Innovation Centre at AKU can be leveraged – they have supported media start-ups with training, coaching and mentorship. When the concepts have been finalized an application for funding can be made to donors.

  • Gender/research/business: “Gender journalism that works” 

The meeting decided to work on a report on what kind of gender-sensitive journalism engages the audience and provides revenues. GSMC is currently working on the initial stages of a project to support media houses by strengthening their gender desks and training journalists on gender-sensitive reporting.  Ways of incorporating sustainable journalism modules in university short courses will be explored, and additional resources from other donors will be sought to conduct research on the relationship between gender and sustainability.

  • Education

Sustainable journalism courses for Master of Arts (MA) courses, undergraduate courses and training modules for working journalists will be developed. Universities such as Tampere, Linnaeus (including Fojo) and Umeå, Wits, AKU and Pula may co-operate in the development of modules. The universities may also incorporate sustainable journalism modules in existing programmes. 

  • Climate/content/business

Recommendations contained in the EBU report will be tested in East and Southern Africa

  • Research

Journal articles on sustainable journalism will be written, for publication in the Journalism in Practice Journal‘s special issue on sustainable journalism. The researchers’ group in the Nordic countries could be opened up for new participants. A research partnership could be developed between media and academic institutions.

  • Communication

Additional examples of sustainable journalism will be sought. The partnership plans to work with the African Journalism Educators’ Network, the East African Communication Association and The South African Communications Association to reach educators across the continent and pursue joint research projects while leveraging their conferences/meetings to showcase sustainable journalism models that work in different parts of the world. 

WCJ director, Dr Dinesh Balliah, said: “The main goal of the sustainable conference is to learn what is being done on the African continent and make a commitment to sustainable journalism. Success will be measured by examining the actual reporting of bloggers, podcasters, writers, visual journalists, and multimedia journalists to see what has shifted in their work since the conference and what new elements related to sustainability have been incorporated.”