Background: The mass media have excellent potential to promote good sexual and reproductive health outcomes, but around the world, media often fail to prioritize sexual and reproductive health and rights issues or report them in an accurate manner. In sub-Saharan Africa media coverage of reproductive health issues is poor due to the weak capacity and motivation for reporting these issues by media practitioners. This paper describes the experiences of the African Population and Health Research Center and its partners in cultivating the interest and building the capacity of the media in evidence-based reporting of reproductive health issues in sub-Saharan Africa.
Methods: The paper utilizes a case study approach based primarily on the personal experiences and reflections of the authors (who played a central role in developing and implementing the Center’s communication and policy engagement strategies), a survey that the Center carried out with science journalists in Kenya, and literature review.
Results: The African Population and Health Research Center’s media strategy evolved over the years, moving beyond conventional ways of communicating research through the media via news releases and newspaper stories, to varying approaches that sought to inspire and build the capacity of journalists to do evidence-based reporting of reproductive health issues. Specifically, the approach included (1) enhancing journalists’ interest in and motivation for reporting on reproductive health issues through training and competitive grants for outstanding reporting ; (2) building the capacity of journalists to report reproductive health research and the capacity of reproductive health researchers to communicate their research to media through training for both parties and providing technical assistance to journalists in obtaining and interpreting evidence; and (3) establishing and maintaining trust and mutual relationships between journalists and researchers through regular informal meetings between journalists and researchers, organizing field visits for journalists, and building formal partnerships with professional media associations and individual journalists.
Conclusion: Our experiences and reflections, and the experiences of others reviewed in this paper, indicate that a sustained mix of strategies that motivate, strengthen capacity of, and build relationships between journalists and researchers can be effective in enhancing quality and quantity of media coverage of research.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011) 9 (Suppl 1): S7 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S7]