In my six years as a writer in one of the newspapers in Kenya, I did not write any stories related to the environment or climate for that matter. It did not interest me. Being on the weekend Features desk, such stories were not of interest to the desk either. Would I have taken an interest in climate/environmental reporting had someone mentored me into it? That’s a question I ponder during training by University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism in collaboration with Hivos East Africa on reporting on renewable energy. I am not alone though. Out of the 17 journalists present at the training, only two have ever pursued stories related to climate and environment.
You must have heard before that environmental/climate stories are boring or technical and do not interest the audiences or the journalists. That’s debatable as we could argue it is the media which has failed to package and interest its audiences to such stories. Dr James Oranga, the lead trainer at this forum is quick to emphasize that Kenyan journalists are not any better than the general Kenyan who time and again has been accused of perpetuating a non-reading culture. True to it, only one of the participants confirmed having recently read a book.
That said, lack of professional capacity on specialised reporting cannot be underplayed as most universities in Kenya do not offer specialised topics in media/Journalism. Journalists lack specialized interests too because media houses do not have dedicated sections on environment or climate. Dr Oranga reminded the journalists that it is the work of the media to set agenda – influence what audiences are watching, listening and reading. “When media gives something a priority, people associate it to importance,” said Dr Oranga.
Dr Oranga further advised journalists to look for human interest angles when pursuing stories on renewable energy. “You can popularize benefits of renewable energy by demonstrating the benefits and consequences of not adopting renewable energy. The other would be to correct misconceptions such as that solar panels and biogas are not affordable”. The School of Journalism lecturer also encouraged journalists to take up citizen journalism as an alternative platform in cases where censorship and preference for advertisement denied them a platform to air or publish their stories.
Hivos East Africa -through the Green and Inclusive Energy Programme– and the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Nairobi aims to increase the frequency and quality of reporting on green and inclusive energy issues in Kenya. This will be done in a number of ways, including building the capacity of journalism and development communication students in renewable energy and working with media practitioners in sub-national areas.