By Calistus Bosaletswe 

A cohort of journalists who have been part of Space for Giants African Conservation Journalism Programme is shining a light on the much-neglected environmental and conservation news in newsrooms locally and internationally. 

Journalists in Botswana are part of a network of journalists in the SADC region who have been drilled and supported with funding to capture and amplify the voices of people who reside along African landscapes and policymakers tasked with protecting landscapes that host a diverse wildlife species.

Through the programme journalists continue to publish stories with local media while amplifying African voices through their stories that are republished with The Independent in the UK  for a global audience.

With the dwindling advertising revenue, the media budgets for environmental and conservation news assignments are not a priority given the hefty budget that comes along with field reporting in the far-flung areas of the country.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of the journalists came at the right time for them to learn and grow their brand as media start-ups, and existing brands while their personal profiles are also elevated through their stories that are published internationally. 

The programme drilled and empowered journalists since 2021 in Botswana while journalists from countries such as Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique came on board in 2022.

Among the cohort of journalists who were part of the non-profit environmental organisation programme was Sunday Standard reporter Thabo Motlhoka. 

Motlhoka hailed the programme for enhancing his reporting skills and knowledge of environmental and conservation issues.

“Through the programme, I received specialised training and mentorship, enabling me to tackle these complex topics with greater depth and accuracy. The programme also provided access to valuable resources and networks within the conservation field, further enhancing the quality of my reporting,” said Motlhoka. 

Motlhoka concurs that environmental and conservation issues are not given attention in the mainstream media in Botswana.

He said that the mainstream media give little attention to environmental and conservation issues while focusing more on other news topics that come along with little budget.

“Programmes like the Space For Giants African Conservation Journalism Programme play a vital role in raising awareness and encouraging media outlets to prioritise these critical subjects by equipping journalists with the necessary skills and knowledge. The programme empowered them to cover environmental issues more effectively and advocate for their inclusion in mainstream media coverage,” he added. 

Motlhoka could not stop emphasising how the programme offered invaluable opportunities for field reporting which is a critical element in environmental reporting. 

He emphasised that the programme recognised the importance of firsthand experience in understanding and reporting on environmental issues. 

“I had the chance to engage directly with conservation projects and experts, conducting interviews, observing wildlife, and witnessing conservation efforts in action. This immersive experience not only enriched my reporting but also allowed me to share authentic and compelling stories with my audience,” said Motlhoka. 

He said that the programme availed other opportunities to work with other non-profit environmental organisations in Botswana.

He said the programme has availed an opportunity for collaborations with non-profit environmental organisations such as Cheetah Foundation Botswana and CLAWS Conservancy. 

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Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB) is a non-profit organisation aimed at conserving the cheetah population in Botswana while Communities Living Among Wildlife Sustainably Conservancy (CLAWS) collaborates with communities to come up with innovative ways to promote human-carnivore coexistence.

Motlhoka wrote multiple stories that were published on Sunday Standard while they were republished with The Independent in the UK.  

Among his stories published with The Independent newspaper in the UK, he chronicled how CLAWS and the community along the iconic Okavango Delta deployed GPS collars on lions that help send messages to herders when collard problematic animals come close to their livestock, therefore, reducing human-lion conflict.

“These partnerships proved highly beneficial as they provided access to experts, data, and on-the-ground initiatives. By working closely with these organisations I gained valuable insights and access to exclusive information. Building relationships with non-profit environmental organisations strengthened my reporting and allowed me to contribute to their conservation efforts through impactful storytelling,” added Motlhoka. 

He is convinced that republishing stories with a publication that targets a global audience elevated the reach and impact of his work, allowing it to reach a wider audience both within Botswana and globally. 

“The Independent’s platform provided increased visibility, amplifying the message of conservation and environmental protection to a broader readership. Republishing my stories with The Independent and targeting a global audience significantly contributed to growing my recognition as a writer and our media house Sunday Standard. The exposure gained through reaching an international readership allowed me to establish credibility as a journalist reporting on environmental issues in Africa. This recognition has enhanced my professional profile and expanded my opportunities for future collaborations and assignments,” said Motlhoka.

He further indicated that republishing with international media outlets like The Independent offered an excellent chance to grow his media brand internationally. 

He said that it allowed him to reach new audiences who may not have been previously exposed to his work, attracting their attention and interest. 

He is adamant that this exposure has opened doors for potential collaborations, increased readership, and ultimately expanded his influence as a journalist reporting on environmental issues in Botswana.

 Mothoka said that the reception from the international audience has been positive.

“I have received a few calls through our office because of some stories I have done. The stories resonated with readers who were interested in environmental and conservation topics, and they appreciated the unique perspectives and insights offered through my reporting. This positive reception indicates a significant opportunity to further exploit the international readership and attract more individuals who share a passion for environmental issues. It presents a chance to build a loyal readership base and potentially increase engagement and support for conservation initiatives,” he added. 

He said that reporting environmental stories comes with its own set of challenges which include among other things, limited access to accurate data, the complexity of scientific concepts, the need for expert sources, and the potential for backlash or opposition from various stakeholders.

 He noted that environmental stories often require significant resources and time for field reporting. 

“Outside the programme, there may be challenges in securing funding for in-depth reporting and overcoming limited awareness or prioritisation of environmental issues by media outlets. However, through the Space For Giants African Conservation Journalism Programme, many of these challenges were mitigated by the support and resources provided, allowing for more effective reporting,” said Motlhoka.

 Meanwhile, Nhabe Insight Press founder, Solomon Tjinyeka indicated that the programme helped him understand and report better on environment and conservation stories. 

He concurs that environmental and conservation issues are not given enough attention or priority in most of the local media. 

“The programmes offered by Space for Giants have assisted me personally as a journalist to give me the platform to cover environment stories as they provided mentorship and drilled us on how to cover environmental stories for a local and international audience,“ he said. 

He said the programme allowed him and other journalists to do field trips as they sponsored journalists to cover news in remote areas. 

“Remember, for us living in a tourism area in Maun, it was hard to cover stories in the Delta but through the assistance of Space Giants, they provided a travel stipend where they paid for transportation either vehicle hire, public transport, accommodation and other logistics to cover our stories,” added Tjinyeka.

He further indicated that the programme also availed the opportunity to work and establish a relationship with other environmental NGOs in Botswana. 

“The programme allowed us an opportunity to republish our best stories with the UK Independent one of the most followed newspapers in the world telling our African stories to the global audience. There was also a stipend paid for publishing such stories locally and internationally,” he said.

He believes that publishing his stories internationally has grown the brand of his social media news start-up. 

“It has also opened more opportunities for us to do work as correspondents for other international media houses,” said Tjinyeka. 

The Giants Club African Conservation Journalism Fellowships are underway after the first masterclass was held in Kenya. This pioneering programme is the first of its kind in Africa that is managed and run by a conservation organisation. Its aim is simple: to work with professional local journalists in the four African countries where they operate, to increase the frequency, sophistication, and reach of media stories about conservation. 

Meanwhile, Mike Pflanz, media advisor at The Nature Conservancy, indicated that the programme, which has been going for three years with funding from USAID VUKANOW, is currently facing financial challenges. 

He said that the Space for Giants African Conservation Journalism Programme supports, empowers, and mentors professional reporters working for African national print, online, or broadcast media.

The programme is supported by the Giants Club patron Evgeny Lebedev, who owns newspapers in Britain and is a passionate supporter of both journalism and conservation. 

Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab


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