The work of journalists covering science in developing countries is largely about the development of aid-related programs. Most of the time, journalists report on the establishment of research centers and the implementation of science-related projects sponsored by private donors and/or non-profit international organizations.
As explained by Carl-Gustav Lindén, a freelance communications specialist, journalists are usually covering the implementation of new aid programs—or the scandals involved. However, one of the most challenging tasks is to report on issues such as the real impact of foreign aid. “Where does it go? Does it achieve what it set out to? And does it make a tangible difference to the lives of local people?”
Lindén suggests that there are ways for foreign aid reporters to support science and, at the same time, provide more accurate information about the impact of aid. Development aid can be a complex subject to report, especially due to the number of moving pieces involved. Often these are political, such as the role of donor nations and recipient countries or the fact that the bulk of foreign aid comes from taxpayers’ money. Aid can also come from private organizations with specific agendas, such as religious groups or NGOs that work towards supporting democracy promotion.
One of the primary focuses of science-related projects is to build capacity in poor countries and to incentivize economic growth, job expansion and welfare. Beside the typical laboratory research and development setting, many “aid for science” projects involve educational programs that promote learning and knowledge exchange.
When it comes to the topic of the effectiveness of foreign aid, there is no shortage of heated debates. However, science-related programs get the least amount of attention from journalists and editors, who often shift focus toward the stories that contain scandals about the corruption or inefficiency of foreign aid.
In devising how to best report on the outcomes of foreign aid, Lindén suggests that it is useful to stay away from “yes or no” answers, especially when it comes to science development. As such, it is more productive to report on the specific plans and developments within a project, rather than generalized outcomes.
Moreover, other reporting strategies could target the benefits of new donors’ involvement in specific knowledge development projects. This would also involve investigating whether there are other reasons driving funding, beside pure altruism.
While journalists often sell stories by focusing on the bad and ugly within foreign aid or on the excitement of a new project, it is necessary for them to remain committed to reporting knowledge driven initiatives and the slow moving advances generated through foreign aid, as well.
– Sahar Abi Hassan