The world is facing increasing environmental, social, and economic changes thus creating the need for journalism that addresses the sustainability challenges faced by society. It is in this regard that the Aga Khan University’s Graduate School of Media and Communications (GSMC) co-convened Africa’s first Sustainable Journalism in Practice Conference. The conference brought together global and local professionals, policy makers, civil society, and scholars to discuss new ways of practising journalism that is constructive, sustainable, and grounded in an African context.
Prof. Nancy Booker, Interim Dean, GSMC, in her opening remarks noted that the conference was an opportune time to ask what journalism should be in the current era of immense environmental, social, political, and economic challenges being experienced at the local, regional, and global arena. She also said it was important for journalism to be inclusive and diverse and to create content that contributes to sustainable societies.
“Journalism today cannot afford to be blind to the realities of environment and climate change and it has a role to play in shaping public discourse about climate change and how society responds to it. That shaping power can usefully build public support to accelerate climate mitigation,” she said.
Expounding on this, Dr Dinesh Balliah, Director Wits Centre of Journalism challenged the media to practice engaged journalism by listening to the issues of the day. “This will ensure that it becomes socially sustainable and impacts the plant and daily human activity.”
The Kenya Editors Guild President, Churchill Otieno, using Kenya as an industry example, said that the biggest symbol of the state of the health of the industry which is in decline could be summarized by the human resource capabilities of newsrooms. He also expressed the need for credible media sources to distinguish journalism from other content producers.
“There has been the proposal that the key benefit for investors should be profits but it is time that we also found ways to make sure that those journalism entities that deliver more to the citizens are able to use that same benefit to grow and become more attractive,” he said.
The President of the Sustainable Journalism Project and Senior Advisor at Fojo/Linnaeus University, Lars Tallert, advised that the definition of sustainability in journalism should focus on news as a product that influences sustainability in society as opposed to viewing the concept through the prism of stable profits.
Dr. Alexandra Borchardt, Senior Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, noted that all of journalism could profit from great climate journalism by learning to be constructive and solutions oriented. She challenged journalism practitioners to become creative in finding formats that work with different audiences and adopting a learning mindset that reflects its own practices.
While delivering the keynote address, Prof. Bruce Mutsvairo, Professor at the Utretcht University added that the citizens have a crucial role to play in promoting sustainable journalism. “Without ordinary people there can be no sustainable journalism and there is need to avail new spaces for discussion and debate at the local journalism level.”
Other presenters at the conference included the Media Council of Kenya CEO, David Omwoyo,Royal Media Services(RMS) Director, Strategy and Innovation, Linus Kaikai, Nation Media Group’s Editorial Director, Joe Ageyo and Climate Editor Zeynab Wandati and the Deputy Digital Editor and President of the Standard Group Women, Queenter Mbori.
GSMC partnered with Wits Centre for Journalism and Fojo Media Institute to plan and host the conference which was convened at a time when climate change and gender conversations are taking shape globally. The conference, hosted at the University Centre in Nairobi, provided an opportunity for GSMC to position itself as a thought leader in sustainable journalism in practice. It brought together over 140 delegates from more than ten different countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
The conference presented an opportunity for synergy between practicing journalists and academics studying the industry as both parties participated in conversations to find solutions towards a media ecosystem that contributes to sustainable societies. GSMC sees the conference as a starting point for several initiatives towards this and as an example, the school is working on a GAC funded project to support media houses by strengthening their gender desks and training journalists on gender-sensitive reporting. This will address the need to build the capacity of journalists to practice sustainable journalism.