B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N


of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 31, No. 1    October/November 2004

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Editor's Note: This paper was among those submitted to the ASIS&T 2003 SIG/III International Paper Competition.

Involving Journalists in Innovative Information Dissemination Strategies: The POPLINE Contest for Journalists in Senegal
by Modou Fall Sall

Modou Fall Sall is head of the Information and Documentation Center/African AIDS Research Network in Dakar, Senegal. He can be reached by email at rarsida@refer.sn or mfsall@refer.sn.

Most African countries are characterized by the following problems:

  • Scarcity of well organized libraries and information centers
  • Ignorance of the most appropriate reference tools
  • Lack of training in how to effectively utilize Internet and other resources.

In health and related subjects fields, African countries need to make great efforts, as shown in the following table, to inform people about the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Region

Estimate of PVVIH (Living persons infected with HIV/AIDS)

North America

  950,000

Caribbean

  420,000

Latin America

 1,500,000

Western Europe

  550,000

North Africa & Middle East

  500,000

Sub-Saharan Africa

 28,500,000

Eastern Europe & Central Asia

 1,000,000

East Asia & Pacific

 1,000,000

South & South-East Asia

 5,600,000

Australia & New-Zealand

  15,000

 TOTAL

 40,000,000

Source: Global estimates of HIV/AIDS epidemic as of end 2001: In Report on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic.- Geneva: UNAIDS, 2002.

Because of the severity of the problem and the lack of resources, Africa is a region where appropriate strategies for supporting sustainable development are a real necessity. Initiatives to encourage the availability of relevant information tools and their utilization in development research and programs could have a substantial impact.

Information Access for STI/HIV/AIDS Issues in Senegal

Even if Internet access in Senegal can be officially dated from March 1996, libraries and research and information centers began to use international networking services in the 1980s. CD-ROMs are also widely used in research institutions in several fields. POPLINE, an important database on reproductive health and STI/HIV/AIDS, is available on a CD-ROM, which is used by the general public in Senegal to access scientific literature related to health.

The Information and Documentation Center of the African AIDS Research Network is the POPLINE Support Center in Senegal. Some of the main activities developed by the POPLINE Support Center/Senegal include the following:

  • distribution of the POPLINE database to individuals and organizations involved in reproductive health and STI/HIV/AIDS issues in Senegal;
  • technical support and training to enable people to better use the database to satisfy their information needs;
  • promotion of the database through the production of materials (bibliographies, leaflets, etc.) and other appropriate activities;
  • collection of appropriate publications to submit for inclusion in the POPLINE database; and
  • information research for users and support to enable them to gain access to primary documents.

Following a one-day introduction to POPLINE use for seven Senegalese journalists, the Information and Documentation Center of the African AIDS Research Network and POPLINE Digital Services of Johns Hopkins University, in collaboration with the Senegalese Journalists Network in Population, decided to organize a three-day POPLINE national workshop for Senegalese journalists from all regions of the country who were involved in reporting on reproductive health and population issues. The main aim of this training was to enable these communication professionals to better understand the database in order to make judicious use of it.

At the end of the training POPLINE and the African AIDS Research Network organized a contest designed to encourage journalists working in population issues to understand and use POPLINE and other relevant resources related to the topics it covers.

Methodology of the Contest

The contest was launched at the end of the national journalists' training. It essentially consisted of two elements: encouragement to journalists to write articles and feature stories to be published in national, regional or international journals based on information found in POPLINE or other relevant tools; and encouragement to journalists to produce radio or television reports using information found in POPLINE and related resources.

To publicize the contest launch, the sponsors distributed a message about the contest on the African AIDS Research network email list and on SAFCO, the email list of UNAIDS in West and Central Africa; sent leaflets to journalism schools in Dakar; and distributed leaflets to individuals who use the Information Center.

The following rules were devised for the four-week contest:

    • All papers and/or radio/television segments submitted had to focus on reproductive health, population, STI/HIV/AIDS or related health topics.
    • All submitted materials should have been based on information available in POPLINE.
    • The length of submitted materials was not limited.
    • Two or more journalists could submit a work produced as a team.

A jury of researchers and communication professionals with experience in reproductive health, population, and STI/HIV/AIDS judged the submissions.

Results of the Contest

By the end of the contest, 14 articles and reports six videos, four radio reports and four newspaper articles from three African countries (Ivory Coast, Madagascar, Senegal) were submitted.

The participating journalists worked in private and public radio, for independent and public journals, and in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) active in population issues. Some of the journalists were trained in POPLINE use during the national workshop. Others came into the Information Center at the African AIDS Research Institute where the librarian conducted research in POPLINE for them.  

A five-member jury judged using these criteria:

    • Relevance of the subject in African development
    • Information value
    • Technical treatment
    • Utilization of POPLINE as a resource

After examining the submissions, the jury decided to award two prizes:

    • For radio-reporting to Ms. Joel Sambou, journalist for a private radio station in Senegal (Ms. Sambou died before the end of the contest);
    • For television reporting to Mr. Alexis Don Zigre, communication professional working for an NGO in Ivory Coast.

Dissemination of the Results

The results of the contest were disseminated at both the national and international levels.

Dissemination at national level. A press release, which explained the purpose of the contest and described the two winners and their productions, was distributed to newspapers and to the national press agency. Articles were published in five daily newspapers in Senegal. Letters of congratulation were sent to the winners and to all other candidates who participated in the contest.

Dissemination at international level. A press release was also sent to PanAfrican News Agency (PANA) and to French Press Agency (AFP), both of which published articles related to the contest.  A message was published on the SAFCO list. Results of the contest were also put online by POPLINE at www.popline.org with photos from the ceremony where the awards were distributed to winners and their representatives.

Lessons Learned

This activity, which included both promotion of resources and user training, enabled Johns Hopkins to fulfill the following goals:

    • Promotion of the African AIDS Research Network Information and Documentation Center as a resource for local journalists
    • Promotion of the POPLINE database as a tool for journalists
    • Improvement in the research abilities of journalists
    • Contribution to the increased availability of science-based information on reproductive health and STI/HIV/AIDS in Francophone West Africa
    • Increased interest of West African journalists in topics related to population, health and African development

Conclusion

The POPLINE contest enabled the librarians involved to play a more effective and proactive role in information sharing and in building the skills of journalists to conduct effective research. In very much the same way, other groups such as medical students, nursing students, graduate and undergraduate students, health professionals and the general public could also receive training in how to use resources like POPLINE more effectively as part of a research strategy. 

Similar training activities, combined with library support services, can enable others, in the same way that it helped these journalists, to make effective use of appropriate information resources and to become more actively involved in understanding African development issues.


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