Behind the news: The climate journalist training African media practitioners on climate reporting
After observing the challenges journalists and editors encountered while covering and editing climate articles, Tendai Guvavombe decided to offer training for media professionals, an initiative that is quickly spreading across southern African countries.
By Alois Vinga, bird story agency
After graduating as a journalist in 2012, Tendai Guvamombe's desire to engage with climate-sensitive citizens led him to pursue environmental reporting. Unable to land a job in the media industry in Zimbabwe, he began working as a freelance journalist.
"Only a strong passion for climate change kept me going. I didn't even mind that after putting so much effort into producing my pieces, several publishers I sent out my work to could not pay me. Occasionally, one or two would offer payment, but the amounts were small. Despite this, I continued to persevere," he said.
In the process, Guvamombe discovered that many journalists in his country, even the most experienced editors, struggled to understand basic climate change terminology. As a result, they frequently made errors while editing his articles.
"What broke my heart one day was when a much-respected editor at (name withheld) informed me that he could not publish the article because it was unimportant for the local readers.
He said climate change content is meant for upmarket readers hence the story had to be spiked. It was unfortunate to come face to face with such levels of ignorance. That day I vowed to create an organisation that explicitly educates media practitioners on climate change," Guvamombe said.
So, after six months of research, he established a Non-Governmental Organisation called Early Day in 2018, registered as a Youth Media Association under the Zimbabwe Youth Council.
Early Day now works to impart environmental reporting skills to media practitioners to improve the quality of climate change reportage in Zimbabwe and beyond. The organisation also provides a mentorship program for young environment and climate change reporters.
"It was imperative to focus on young journalists and inspire them to develop an interest in climate change reporting early in their career as this would maximise the impartation of knowledge and coverage of climate-related stories.
The idea of targeting young journalists was also inspired by the realisation that the country has several youths who are not employed, so using journalists of their age range will encourage them to contribute towards climate change and possibly see green job creation opportunities," said Guvamombe.
According to Early Day's information department, the NGO has trained almost 600 journalists directly and indirectly impacted nearly 5,000 college students.
They have also trained another 150 mid and senior career journalists through the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists.
The organisation has managed to solicit expert knowledge in rolling out several projects working in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the government of Zimbabwe agencies like the Environmental Management Agency (EMA), and the Climate Change Management Department.
Tafadzwa Muranganwa, a journalist who participated in the Early Day organised training and tree planting exercise held last year in Harare Gardens, commended the programs for leaving lasting impressions on his career.
"I have benefited from the NGO's training programs, and I also participated in a tree-planting event. After noticing that the event involved the youth and persons with disabilities, I became aware of climate change's impact on vulnerable groups of society.
"I am now sensitive on the need to cautiously select and identify the rightful sources who are hardest affected by climate change as opposed to the past when I used to reach out to prominent sources," he said.
Tinashe Mangosho, country director at Sustainable Climate Action Trust (SCAT), acknowledged Guvamombe's unique approach.
"As an environmentalist, I rate this as an excellent initiative. It has managed to impart knowledge and raise awareness amongst the community and media by sharing solutions that build sustainable development.
Early Day has managed to capacitate the media fraternity to unpack the technical aspects of climate change and the environment for robust information dissemination to society. It uses a whole inclusive approach by bringing together various organisations and leaving no one behind in line with the SDGs," he said.
He added that the organisation has created a platform for technocrats in the environment to transfer knowledge to journalists, who then simplify it to their readers for widespread national impact.
Early Day has also begun to spread into other regional countries in Southern Africa, with work already in progress to set up a similar movement in Botswana, South Africa and Malawi after successfully launching in Lesotho.
Liapeng Raliengoane, a journalist serving as the Early Day executive director in Lesotho, said he found Guvamombe's work in Zimbabwe exciting and decided to join the movement by bringing the concept to her country.
"Looking at his work through Early Day, I was inspired to bring it to Lesotho for the same impact.
"So far we have managed to bring media practitioners together to empower them in areas of environment and climate change. We are also writing about climate-related issues in different social media platforms," she said.
Raliengoane said that going forward, the Lesotho chapter aims to hold events and public gatherings to scale up youth media empowerment in sustainable development, environment and climate change across communities in the country.
"We also aim for our journalists to attend COP and other global climate-related conferences," she added.
Guvamombe's work has also attracted recognition from climate change activists beyond Africa.
"Last year, after coming across my works in climate change, United States lawmaker Lisa Cutter conferred me with the opportunity to lead Eco-Ethics in Zimbabwe," he said.
Eco Ethics is a global climate change movement founded by 11-year-old climate activist Madhvi Chittoor, with backing from American senators and legislators.
"My appointment to lead Eco Ethics in Zimbabwe was announced during a Climate Change Media Summit held virtually," said Guvamombe.
Guvamombe is looking to ensure that Eco Ethics combines forces with Early Day across the region.
bird story agency