photo
Journalists from 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean made a field visit to La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica during a regional workshop organized by InquireFirst. Photo by José Diaz/Agencia Ojo por Ojo

Making a difference Zika workshop focuses on international collaboration

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica – Science and health journalism should not be limited by international borders. Complex new health threats such as Zika virus that occur in a “noisy” media environment require a new model of reporting, Andrew Revkin, strategic adviser on science and environmental journalism for The National Geographic Society, told reporters and editors at a regional science journalism workshop organized by InquireFirst in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica.

Revkin was one of several prominent science and environment editors from major U.S. media organizations who traveled to Costa Rica for a March 4-8, 2018, workshop to help journalists hone their science and health reporting skills on public health coverage such as Zika and vector-borne diseases.

Also joining InquireFirst at the Costa Rica workshop were Gary Stix, senior editor of Scientific American and Manuel Canales, senior graphics editor at National Geographic, who provided the journalists with new techniques for reaching people with crucial public health information.

As public health risks cross borders, Revkin said journalists need to conduct transnational reporting to keep their audiences informed. He encouraged journalists to “be courageous about avoiding overstatement, and to test assumptions – even your own.”

Revkin also underscored the effectiveness of starting and sustaining a conversation with the public and health experts. By building communication channels with the public on social media and radio call-in shows before a public crisis such as Zika occurs, journalists can more effectively communicate critical information about an outbreak, he said.

The regional workshop titled “Informing About Risks and Prevention of an Epidemic” was attended by 37 science and health journalists from 12 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

These journalists report on the most urgent science and health issues in their countries for national media organizations, including national television networks, national radio stations and the largest daily newspapers in the country. They were awarded scholarships based on their experience in the areas of science and health coverage, and also on their decision-making role in their news organization and/or their leadership in founding their own science journalism news organizations.

Journalists attended the workshop from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica.

To ensure that journalists from these countries, all of which face a serious health risk posed by Zika and other vector-borne diseases, had the opportunity to attend the workshop, InquireFirst Executive Director S. Lynne Walker turned to her region-wide network to invite science journalists to attend.

Among the journalists invited were: the news editor of La Prensa, a national newspaper in Managua, Nicaragua; the founder of an online science/environmental news site in Guatemala who has attended three biennial meetings of the World Conference of Science Journalists in the UK, Qatar and Finland; the founder of an online science news site in San Salvador; the news director of a regional radio station in Estelí, Nicaragua; a science/environment reporter for Prensa Libre, the largest daily newspaper in Guatemala; a science/health reporter for the daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario in Nicaragua; the managing editor of El Sol de Hermosillo in Mexico; and a science/environment correspondent for the national news network Guatevision.

Walker also invited officials from health departments in Latin America who are charged with developing a communication strategy on Zika and other vector-borne diseases. Representatives from Mexico and Panama participated in a panel discussion, which included an M.D. from Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health, on effective strategies and challenges in reaching a mass audience with information on the risks and prevention of Zika.

Journalists heard a superb presentation by Dr. Gisela Herrera, a specialist in infectious diseases, who is conducting a Phase 2B Zika vaccine trial in Costa Rica in collaboration with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) and medical professionals in countries such as Mexico, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil. The presentation by Dr. Herrera offered a regional context for research being done on Zika and clinical trials led by the United States to develop a vaccine.

A highlight of the workshop was a presentation on the relationship between the environment and vector-borne diseases by Carlos de la Rosa, Ph.D., director of La Selva Biological Station run by the Organization for Tropical Studies, which was founded by a consortium of scientists from U.S. universities and the University of Costa Rica. After hearing Dr. de la Rosa’s presentation, the journalists made a day-long field visit to La Selva learn about the interdependence of health and biodiversity during a two-hour hike in the tropical rain forest.

A prestigious panel of scientists and medical professionals worked with the journalists during an interactive session on effective preparation and interview techniques for science and health stories. On the panel were: Dr. María Luisa Ávila Agüero, former Minister of Health in Costa Rica; Dr. Pedro León Azofeifa, president of the National Academy of Sciences in Costa Rica; Dr. José Vega-Baudrit, Director of the National Laboratory of Nanotechnology in Costa Rica; and Dr. Henriette Raventós Vorst, professor and researcher at the Center for Biological Celular and Molecular Research at the University of Costa Rica.

To date, 16 news stories based on presentations during the workshop have been published in national newspapers and science news websites, or broadcast on national news networks in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The journalists’ feedback on the workshop was overwhelmingly positive.

“I appreciate the opportunity that you have given independent journalists to participate in your workshop,” wrote participant Lucy Calderón, founder of EcoCienciaGT, an online science/environmental news site in Guatemala. “Your support, provided through training programs, encourages us to continue offering quality journalism to our audiences in addition to strengthening our credibility with our public.”

Wrote another journalist, “The quality of the speakers and scientists was excellent.
Thank you for opening and creating spaces to share the realities faced by journalists around the world.”

Gabriela Salido, executive editor of El Sol de Hermosillo in northern Mexico, said, “I have the moral obligation to take the information from this workshop to my newsroom, and with the motivation that I have received during this program it will not be difficult to do so.”


READ MORE ABOUT OUR SYMPOSIUMS

Mérida, Yucatán
MERIDA, Mexico – “There’s no more important work than the work being done by journalists,” said Brian O’Donnell, director of Campaign for Nature, during a February 2020 environmental investigative journalism
Continue
Medellín & Cali, Colombia
MEDELLIN, Colombia – InquireFirst Executive Director Lynne Walker met with journalists in Medellín and Cali, Colombia, July 29-August 3 to discuss new techniques for conducting investigative reporting. During the programs
Continue
Lausanne, Switzerland
LAUSANNE, Switzerland – We’re pleased to announce that InquireFirst has awarded our first reporting grants to a team of Latin American science writers to support their work on a cross-border
Continue
Mexico City
MEXICO CITY – “Writing is music…language can be used in so many creative ways,” Deborah Blum, director of the Knight Science Journalism Program at MIT, told almost 30 science and
Continue
Fullerton, Calif.
FULLERTON, Calif. – Top U.S. journalists joined InquireFirst as speakers at our  “Transparency and Investigative Reporting” workshop Feb. 25-March 1, when Latin American journalists traveled to Southern California to attend
Continue
Guayaquil, Ecuador
GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador -- S. Lynne Walker, President and Executive Director of InquireFirst, traveled to Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador, in January 2019 to instruct a series of interactive workshops titled “Investigative
Continue
group photo

PALO ALTO, Calif. – Latin American science journalists were presented with a host of new professional development opportunities during the Jack F. Ealy Science Journalism Workshop at Stanford University.

The
Continue

México City
MEXICO CITY – Prominent Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui said the internet presents “a great light and a great shadow ” for journalism in an era of fake news On the
Continue
La Paz, Bolivia
LA PAZ, Bolivia – These were the last days of class for a committed group of journalists who had been studying and reporting and writing all year to earn a
Continue
San Francisco, Calif.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The 2017 Latin America edition of the Jack F. Ealy Science Journalism Workshop sparked a commitment by more than 70 journalists from 15 countries to begin
Continue
Asunción, Paraguay
ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – It’s been two years since Paraguay’s access to information law went into effect and reporters say they are often turned away when they use the law to
Continue
Honduras & Guatemala
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – InquireFirst Executive Director Lynne Walker traveled to San Pedro Sula in June 2017 to meet with investigative journalists who cover crime, corruption and gang warfare
Continue

InquireFirst is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Your donations are tax deductible and will be used by InquireFirst to offer professional training to reporters and editors in the United States, Latin America and the Caribbean in the areas of digital reporting, ethics and freedom of expression, investigative journalism and journalist safety, and science and public health coverage.
Your support will also help us fund in-depth reporting that examines complex national and international issues and explains why they are of vital importance.