Will groping for sustainable journalism redeem newsrooms?

Journalists and media stakeholders gather at The Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications on March 23-25 for a conference on sustainable journalism. PHOTO/The Aga Khan University.
Journalists and media stakeholders gather at The Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications on March 23-25 for a conference on sustainable journalism. PHOTO/The Aga Khan University.
  • The conference was a time of reflection on challenges facing the media and what can be done to solve them.
  • Climate reporting and its funding were termed essential.
  • Online courses on journalism and reporting were also introduced to the journalists.
  • Aga Khan University is set to have more courses on journalism.

The concept of “sustainable journalism” encompasses all aspects of the media industry, including business, product and distribution, organizations that promote gender equality and inclusion, education, and research. 

The premise behind this concept is that to create a media ecosystem that is both commercially successful and helps create sustainable societies, we must work toward sustainability in all of the various domains.

Local and foreign journalists worldwide gathered on March 23-25, 2023, at The Aga Khan University’s (AKU) Graduate School of Media and Communications.

The university organized the conference in collaboration with the WITS Center for Journalism, Fojo Linnaeus University, and Sustainable Journalism Partnership to dissect the pathways to sustainable journalism.

At the same time, AKU was celebrating its 40th anniversary, and they hosted the conference as part of their 40th-anniversary celebrations.

“Life begins at forty; at forty you pause, reflect, celebrate and then resume your daily rhythm, but most importantly, you ask yourself what the rest of your life should look like,” Prof. Nancy Booker, Dean, Graduate School of Media and Communications at Aga Khan University said during her welcoming address.

She called the session an opportunity for journalists and media stakeholders to ask themselves what journalism is. 

Prof Nancy Booker delivering her keynote speech. PHOTO/AKU.
Prof. Nancy Booker delivering her keynote speech. PHOTO/AKU.

“It is my hope that over the three days we get a chance to pause, reflect, celebrate but also ask ourselves what journalism should be in an error of immense environmental, social, political, and economic challenges at the local, regional and global arena,” she added.

“This conference is a gesture of an international commitment to make journalism sustainbale financially, socially and culturally. We are deeply committed to sustainability and to journalism that is shaped by Africa and its everyday realities,” Dr. Dinesh Balliah, Director of Wits Centre for journalism, remarked in his welcoming note.

Many media organizations are experiencing audience turbulence, which then affects their financial accounts. 

The majority of these turbulences are attributed to citizen journalism and online news platforms, with the three days serving as little more than reflections of what is going well and poorly in the media industry as a whole.

Whe did things fall apart?

In a panel discussion, Queenter Mbori, the President of the Standard Group Women Network and a digital editor, invited the participants to a moment of soul-searching to know when things went wrong. 

In retrospect, it is true that Kenya’s media situation became apparent during the pandemic, but by then, it was already raining. 

With the emergence of more separate television and radio stations back in 2014, it is thought that the conventional media houses experienced upheaval, particularly during the digital migration. 

A break-out discussion during the conference. PHOTO/AKU.
A break-out discussion during the conference. PHOTO/AKU.

Yet, this did not cease right away because internet radio and television stations also increased their speed, sweeping some audiences along.

Everybody with a phone and an internet connection is now a possible competition for journalists due to digital migration. 

As technology develops daily, more citizen journalists emerge, creating an even greater threat to earnings.

“People still believe in the power of media, and I wouldn’t want to even downplay its power despite what we are currently facing. I think the rain started beating us way before covid-19 because majority of us were not able to anticipate the future of media,” she remarked.

Creating a successful media

Churchill Otieno, the Chairperson of the Kenya Editor’s Guild, asked the audience, “Is it journalism that we should be redefining, or its benefits?” to get the industry’s perspective on the need for sustainable journalism.

A viable medium solves a problem for the user, is preoccupied with meeting her wants, doesn’t spend resources on unnecessary information, involves the user in the creation process, and, most importantly, makes each step valuable.

Running concurrently with the conference was a Twitter poll that asked users to vote on whether media companies should employ full-time journalists to provide TikTok news. 

A majority of respondents said yes. 

MCK Chair, David Omwoyo, addressing the participants. PHOTO/Courtesy.
MCK Chair, David Omwoyo, addressing the participants. PHOTO/AKU.

For Kenya to fully utilize its media venues, coordination with consumer evaluation is necessary.

Climate reporting

Although many media organizations are reluctant to address it and local stations frequently rely on climate reporting from international groups, climate journalism does, in fact, support sustainable societies and media survival. 

According to the Nation Media Group’s Zeynab Wandati, the desk is supported by the Gates Foundation, making it the only mainstream media outlet in Kenya with a climate desk. 

This is a clear indication of the need for funding for climate reporting. 

She urged other editors to concentrate more on climate-related articles because they are always environmentally friendly and deal with humanity, which is a vital aspect of existence.

While there has been some coverage on climate change, it is insufficient because much of it has focused on conferences and other events. 

According to a recent study by Enoch Sithole, who spoke about climate reporting at the Wits Centre for Journalism in South Africa, the majority of climate stories are not pertinent to the climatic difficulties that Africa is facing. 

Most of them explicitly call for a reduction in gas emissions in their publications, despite Africa producing less of them than any one nation in the Global North. 

Lars Tallert wrapping up presentations. PHOTO/AKU.
Lars Tallert wrapping up presentations. PHOTO/AKU.

This means that the majority of climate news is based on the direct reporting of foreign news organizations.

As climate issues now affect every aspect of human life, there is a need for training local and regional journalists to report on them effectively.

Climate-related courses

Initiatives have been made to establish online modules that journalists with busy schedules may complete. 

An online course on climate journalism, specifically designed for journalists, was presented to the audience by Dr. Mateleena Ylikpski, a journalism researcher at Tampere University’s sustainable journalism Master’s program.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway in Kenya to incorporate climate and environmental reporting studies for Kenyan journalists. 

“We currently are running an environmental and climate change repartee fellowship where we are currently giving story grants to cover stories and we also offer a short course on environmental repartee. 

We are also going to offer an environmental communication course. We are starting another master’s program, hopefully, next year in strategic communication, and it’s going to have courses in the environment,” Prof. Booker responded in an interview with Scholar Media Africa.

Climate journalism challenges humanity with truths, as Alexandra Borchardt has stated. 

Participants pose for a photo after the event. PHOTO/AKU.
Participants pose for a photo after the event. PHOTO/AKU.

It must look into wrongdoings and hold those in authority accountable. The success of climate journalism depends on media freedom.

Newsroom re-organization

Only by taking a step back and restructuring the entire media ecosystem to fit a socially and economically viable society will there be sustainable media in Kenya and the rest of the globe.

During his talk, Patric Hamsch, the editor-in-chief of Nya Wermlands-Tidningen, provided a practical example of how a local newspaper was organized into premium teams in a Swedish company.

By holding contests and allowing its audience to actively participate in the process, Premium Tears has reformed the local newsroom. 

Just a few of the stories it has told with complete audience interaction include #thecouchpotato and #myurgliesttattoo.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: Journalists hang by a thread amid lay-offs, appeal for government intervention

Engagement is one of the traits of sustainable journalism; this type of journalistic approach listens intently to the issues of the day and, after establishing a niche and making sufficient investments, opens pathways to sustainable journalism.

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Ms. Loise is a Communication Specialist with a bachelor's degree in Publishing and Media Science from Moi University, Kenya. She is a dedicated web developer and a climate change and environment writer. She also owns diverse skills in social media marketing. Her contact: loiselenser@gmail.com

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