Science storytelling in the spotlight ahead of Science Forum SA

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The art of storytelling – telling a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) story in a manner that ordinary citizens will understand – came to the fore on Tuesday when journalists from across Africa discussed science journalism in the fourth industrial revolution. 

And it was the innovative storytelling of two journalism interns – Realeboga Makganya from Moutse Community Radio in Siyabuswa, Mpumalanga and Lihle Dlova, who has a science and technology slot at Kumkani FM in East London in the Eastern Cape -- that captivated the awe of all in attendance. 

Both the interns, who are part of the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement, took a decision to cover science news for their respective community radio stations in their indigenous languages and in the process – sparking a lot of interest from their listeners. 

Dlova and Makganya were among several media practitioners who participated in a media workshop on the sidelines of the Science Forum South Africa (SFSA), which starts today.

The forum, which will take place until Friday, is expected to attract 3 000 researchers, scientists, policymakers and students from all over the world to discuss issues such as opportunities that could be exploited to advance communities marginalised by previous revolutions, preparing young people to participate in the fourth industrial revolution and the role of government in this regard. 

Said Dlova: “I started my reporting in English and boy was I ignored. I would go in my English accent and ask callers to dial in and nobody would call. That is when I understood why it was important for me to report in IsiXhosa. As soon as I started [reporting in an indigenous language], that’s when they started participating,” she said. 

Makganya said convincing her station manager to cover the science beat took some persuasion and eventual interest from listeners.

“When I started this year with [the community radio station I work for], they did not have a science slot at all. When I [joined] and I spoke to them about having a science slot, they said we can give you about 15 or 20 minutes,” she said.

She said as a counter proposal, she asked the station manager to give her brief slots in different shows – breakfast show and afternoon drive – to be able to reach out to a wider audience during peak hours.

Makganya said her station manager later went back to tell her that what she was doing was so amazing that it captured the attention of listeners. 

“With that, he said how about we give you a full show with a full hour focusing on science and technology and innovation. What I saw was that the show had an impact on the media house itself. Before, media houses were focusing on entertainment – making money – because they don’t have money but now, they are also looking at education and science,” he said. 

Though in different area codes, Makganya and Dlova said they have come to discover that communities have interest in science and that they were not clueless. 

The topics they cover range from genetically modified foods, health, modern science versus traditional practices, innovation and technology, among others.

In a panel discussion, Professor George Claassen, the Director of the Centre for Science and Technology Mass Communication at Stellenbosch University, said what Makganya and Dlova have managed to do as interns is innovative and impressive. 

“You can’t use ivory tower language to talk science to common people,” he said. 

In a presentation earlier, under the topic ‘Communication in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, Claassen said communicating science, especially for journalists, had become a challenge given the advent of social media and fake news. 

He said science reporting requires journalists to possess certain attributes such as being avid readers and being explorers and discoverers of new knowledge, as well as being analytical thinking skills. 

Citing veteran science writer, editor and author Boyce Rensberger, Claassen said producing a balanced story was not necessarily about given an equal weight to both sides of an argument. It meant appropriating weight according to the balance of evidence. –