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WASH Journalists get matching orders: Keep Asking questions

By Babatope Babalobi

“Keep asking questions. Sanitation and hygiene are not glamorous issues that you can easily get into the front pages of the media. You have an incredible role to play in terms of transparency, in terms of ensuring there is public accountability. You need to ask great questions that will put service providers and regulators on their foot. Use your expertise, professional skills, and enthusiasm to keep asking questions on how Sanitation and Hygiene services can be effectively delivered to the people.”

This was the charge given to Journalists  by Amanda Marlin, Programme Manager, Advocacy and Communications, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) during the recently held Global Forum on Sanitation and Hygiene (GSF) in Mumbai, India.
Journalists who attended the one week event, had an opportunity not only to report the event to their audiences locally, but also participated in a training workshop  designed to make them better reporters of water, sanitation and hygiene issues.
Perhaps, the priority accorded to the media in global efforts to overcome  sanitation challenges was exemplified  by the fact that the training workshop, though a closed meeting was the first event of the 6 day forum. Participants included a dozen Journalists from the West AfricaWater and Sanitation Journalists Network,, about ten Journalists from the South Asia WASH Media Forum, and other Journalists from South and East Africa.
The objectives of the training workshop was to provide a platform for interaction between West Africa and South Asia WASH Media networks on their objectives, daily functioning, structure, challenges and to learn from experience and apply best practice in the running of both networks;  to sharpen the skills of participating in reporting WASH stories using new media mobile reporting tools like photos, videos and mobile phones; and to lastly to prepare the Journalists for the coverage of the GSF.
Setting the tone for the training, Dave Trouba, Communications Officer, of the WSSCC emphaised that the GSF was the  “not only the first, only and Global Forum on Sanitation, but they conference is being attended exclusively WASH professionals”, and congratulated Journalists attending the meeting urging them to use the opportunity to build stronger WASH networks.
Speaking in the same vein, Isoke Davidson, of the WSSCC said the training workshop offered a strategic opportunity for participating WASH journalists to forge a strategic partnership for better reporting of WASH issues. Welcoming the Journalists that were drawn from Anglophone, Francophone and Portuguese speaking countries, Davidson said ”we may not share a common language but we share common interests , share common a passion, and speak on common sanitation topics.”

Our professional calling therefore offers us a good opportunity to act as advocates of safer sanitation facilities for the common man in the African and Asian continent, where the sanitation challenge is most pandemic.
The opening inspirational messages were followed by presentations by Babatope Babalobi  and Alka Pande on the activities and challenges of the West Africa WASH Journalists Network and the  South Asia Media Forum respectively; thereafter members of both networks gathered in groups to deliberate on the presentations and share experiences.
The highlight of the training workshop was a presentation by  Dr. Mona Khanna, of the Fox Chicago News on ‘Media advocacy: how to influence policy and challenge politicians?’.
“It is so important for Journalists to tell the story and tell in from the people’s perspective. Journalists have to become advocate for your cause, and you can only do that by becoming experts in your field” said  Dr Mona Khana.
She itemised common  pitfalls experienced by Journalists in reporting stories to  include the following:
•       Not knowing your audience
•       Framing the message poorly
•       Choosing the wrong venue
•       Including/allowing distractions
–     Having a mismatch with literacy, health literacy, culture, and Language
•      Being boring!
She added that every sector including the WASH sector has its own terms and lexicon and it is important for Journalists to use appropriate language to tell the story. This according to her can only be achieved by increasing ones knowledge and expertise in the sector.
Concluding her presentation, she showed participating examples of stories that are catchy, arresting and dramatic and listed five ingredients of a telling a story effectively:
•      Show don’t tell
•      Provide context
•      Use metaphors
•      Keep it simple
•      Make it matter
Mr. Wale Ajibade of Nigeria’s Water and Sanitation Media Network rounded up the day’s presentation with a lecture on ‘How to give prominence to WASH stories in a news desk”. He gave participating Journalists five tips towards ensuring their WASH stories get published.
  • Embark on In house capacity training of line editors to ensure they understand Sanitation challenges and why WASH stories should be given prominence.
  • Time your stories. Present WASH stories to the editorial management when there is a scarcity of stories in the newsroom.
  • Ensure the Headlines and Intro of your stories is dramatic. Mention the figures behind the facts and the facts behind the figures. Draw analogies to explain the implications of lack of access to sanitation facilities.
  • Encourage your media to establish WASH desk and specialise reporting of WASH issues. Lobby them to ensure you are not transferred from the beat, as the longer you stay, the more expertise you acquire.
  • Market your pages. If Editors know that WASH stories can bring in revenues through advertisement, they will devote more pages for WASH stories.


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