By Ekpali Saint

As a freelance journalist, Sophie Mbugua had the opportunity to produce environmental stories for both local and international media outlets including Mongabay, Climate Homes News, and BBC Science Radio.

But when she started digging deep into climate change issues, especially from the African perspective, finding editors that would be interested in these stories became a major challenge.

Mbugua also faced a similar challenge in her home country. She said editors were more interested in political stories. “As a result, I noted there was a specific and important conversation for the continent that was lost in between that needed to be told,” Mbugua, an environmental journalist based in Kenya, said.

This then led her to start the Africa Climate Conversations (ACC) in June 2020. The ACC is a multimedia news platform telling the climate change story from an African perspective. In addition to text reporting, the ACC also produces podcasts with a focus on the environment and climate change.

A podcast is a digital media file, or a series of such files, that is distributed over the internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and personal computers, according to Cindy Yamaguchi, media specialist at the University of Hawaii’s Office of Technology and Distance Learning.

For Mbugua, “Digital media has become an essential part of our modern lives. It’s a new way of making a story, an effective way of distributing the story, and getting feedback from a diverse audience globally.”

Embracing podcasting

Podcasting is new to most newsrooms in Africa. But Mbugua believes that embracing this form of storytelling would help newsrooms to reach a wider audience with impactful stories.

With climate change causing increased heat, drought and increasing flood risks, Mbugua said telling stories to create awareness of climate change and how human activities contribute to the global climate crisis, was now more critical than ever.

“I believe humans cannot separate themselves from the environment: it’s the source of food, air, water, medicines, and pharmaceutical needs,” she said. “As nature gives, it’s our responsibility to care for it to fully benefit from these services.”

In order to tackle the global climate crisis, Mbugua said countries around the world must place more attention on conservation and reduction in greenhouse gases. That is why “I use podcasting to do my beat: to remind ourselves of the responsibility passed on to us by past generations,” she said.

To produce podcasts, Mbugua first researches the topic, contacts relevant experts that will provide insights, and then goes to communities for field work – where she engages locals. After the fieldwork, she comes back to edit. She has been consistent with this approach and so far, she has produced 120 episodes of podcasts.

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Reaching a larger audience

Mbugua is encouraged by the impact. She said the listenership base has grown beyond her immediate environment to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and that she frequently gets feedback “even from audiences who will e-mail when I do not produce an episode. It goes to show that Africa is waking up to the realities of the impacts of climate change and why we need to protect the environment we live in.”

Chidera Aneke, a freelance health journalist based in Nigeria, said her passion for telling health stories and ensuring people have easy access to them inspired her to start producing podcasts.

“I use podcasts for my stories because I find it an easily accessible platform. This means that anyone no matter who they are or where they are in the world can access my stories,” Aneke said.

She adds: “Podcasts are important because you can reach a younger and a global audience with your podcasts and they can consume your content at their leisure.” Since she started in January 2020, Aneke has created 35 podcasts.

However, journalists using podcasts to tell stories still face some challenges. For example, Mbugua said lean financial resources limit her from going for field work which requires traveling to communities.

Another challenge for Mbugua is not being able to set up a bigger team due to finance. “I have had to do much by myself, from research, finding sources, conducting interviews, producing content, and, most of the time, managing our social media,” she said.

But she is not discouraged. She believes telling these stories is “critical to driving action, policy implementation, and behavior change.”

Besides producing podcasts, Mbugua also trains journalists in podcasting. For example, the ACC collaborated with the Future Climate for Africa and Resilient 40 Media for Climate Justice, to train and mentor 52 African journalists, storytellers, content creators and writers reporting on climate change. On her own, she has trained and mentored 10 environmental journalists in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

With the advancement in modern technologies which has changed the way news content is created and consumed, Mbugua said African journalists and newsrooms should embrace podcasting to reach the audience, including those in rural communities.

“With social media and a mobile phone, fewer audiences are buying newspapers and consuming content while on the go, making podcasts a great tool to engage an audience as one does not need to sit and listen.”

Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab


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