Science Journalism: Maximising Outreach, Impact, and Understanding

Moderator: Ms Caroline Southey, The Conversation
Panelist: The Minister of Communications, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, Minister of Communications
Panelist: Ms Marina Joubert, Stellenbosch University
Panelist: Mr Khathu Mamaila, Independent Newspapers
Panelist: Ms Mandi Smallhorne, African Federation of Science Journalists
Panelist: Ms Sarah Wild, Science Journalist

South Africa’s Vision 2030 as articulated in the National Development Plan (NDP) (2012) highlights science and technology as one of the key drivers of development and that technological and scientific revolutions underpin economic advances, improvements in health systems, education and infrastructure. Further, the NDP posits that to promote technological advances, developing countries should invest in education for youth, and should ensure that knowledge is shared as widely as possible.

Science communication is an important feature of any National System of Innovation. Accordingly, the South African National Research and Development Strategy (NRDS, 2002) advocated for extensive investment in science promotion specifically to make science attractive, accessible and relevant through media, public engagement and promotional programmes. Similarly, the White Paper on Science and Technology (1996) acknowledges that building a strong NSI requires science engagement programmes which amongst others will foster ability to use science and technology to enhance personal, economic and community development.

However (Wild, 2015) warns that application of novel technologies, products and services is a complex affair and therefore there needs to be a will to take action. Further, she illustrates the failure on the uptake of innovations that has fallen short for a number of reasons, including public perception and awareness. The use of sterile male mosquitos to combat malaria is a good example of an effective technology that may fail in application if insufficient attention is not given to public understanding and awareness.

In South Africa, none of the mainstream media have a structured and organized science desk, managed by a designated science editor. Similarly this status obtains in Europe and American media as cited by Knip (2005:35). This is further confirmed in the study by Loaiza-Escutia in EurekAlert (2013) who posits that European scientists have difficulty connecting with the general public and journalists due to lack of institutional support, pressures of work and not having any training in communication.

Claassen (2011) states that the status of science news reporting in the popular local media is reflected in the fact that most of these media do report on science, it does not occur in a structured media environment where science editors in the news process. Critical will also be to ensure that institutions of higher learning and media houses through the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) collaborate on training for journalists on science communication.

In addition, audiences have shifted to mobile technology platforms for using and consuming science journalism. These and other forms of learning include participatory knowledge i.e. how a citizen can get involved and have a say in decisions related to a scientific topic (Eveland & Scheufele, 1999).

We need to consider amongst others, the role of South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) on building capacity and research through two-way engagements between the scientific and non-scientific community and also driving research in areas of science communication and public understanding of science. Mouton (2014) states that the research chair on science communication “aims to develop new knowledge and skills that will promote evidence-based communication of research to ensure that society can become involved with relevant and meaningful public dialogue about science”.

The role of South African Advancement in Science and Technology (SAASTA) in pursuance of science communication should be informed by the DST Science Engagement Strategy (DST, 2014). Further, the revision of the NRF Act to formally incorporates science promotion and engagement as a mandate of the SAASTA within the National Research Foundation should be finalised.

There are initiatives from universities that are having an impact with regards to science communication, such as the Imbovane Outreach project run by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for Invasion Biology (C.I.B) at the University of Stellenbosch. Iimbovane which means, “ants” takes biodiversity to schools in the Western Cape, in particular schools in communities with little or no previous exposure to biodiversity science.  This initiative of taking public participation in research activities is one way of increasing awareness of and appreciation for biodiversity. Du Plessis and Turner (2015) refer to this as citizen science. Further, it states this provides members of the public or non-scientists opportunities to get directly involved with scientific research and to help create knowledge. Through initiatives such as Iimbovane, learners become aware of conservation and wider environmental issues such as climate change and sustainable development.

 The Science Forum should also consider how “big science” projects such as the Square Kilometre Array and Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) can be utilized to create awareness about science, technology and innovation drawing lessons from the space race between the USSR and USA during the Cold War.

Ms Caroline Southey, The Conversation
Previously Caroline was editor of the Financial Mail in South Africa. Prior to that she worked for the Financial Times in London and Brussels in various roles over 17 years including as World Desk Editor and as a foreign correspondent covering European Union agriculture and social policy.




Minister of Communications, Ms Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane

Ms Mmamoloko Tryphosa Kubayi is currently serving as the Minister of Communications. She is a member of parliament of the African National Congress. Former Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Telecommunications and Postal Services. She is a member of the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL), PEC member in Gauteng Province.MsKubayi holds a Project Management Diploma from Damelin in 2002.She has a BA Degree from Vista University enrolled between 1998-2000.

  • She served as the Whip of Parliamentary Committee on Basic and Higher Education and Training;
  • Served on the Standing Committee on Appropriations.
  • Former Minister of Energy of from 31 March 2017 to 16 October 2017.


Marina Jourbert, Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology Stellenbosch University

Marina Joubert is a science communication researcher at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University (SU) in South Africa. After working as a science communication manager and consultant for two decades, she joined SU in 2015. In addition to coordinating and presenting an online science communication course with a focus on Africa, she teaches science communication within an MPhil programme on science and technology studies. Her research interests focus on scientists’ role in public communication of science.

Marina serves on the scientific committee of the global PCST (Public Communication of Science and Technology) network and the editorial board of Science Communication, as well as the global advisory board of the online, open access Journal of Science Communication. In July 2015, she won the (South African) National Science and Technology Forum Award for her contribution to promoting science communication and outreach in the country.

She holds a BSc Food Science (Honours) degree, as well as a Journalism (honours) degree from Stellenbosch University, as well as an MSc (Agric) from University of Pretoria. Marina submitted her PhD dissertation on the science communication behaviour of publicly visible scientists in South Africa during October 2017.


Khathu Mamaila

KhathuMamaila is a veteran journalist who has been in the industry for more than 25 years.

He is currently an independent TV documentary producer and a media consultant.

He hold a BA , majoring in Communication and Politics, from UNISA. He also holds an MBA from GIBS, a business school for the University of Pretoria.

Has has occupied senior positions in the media industry including the following:

  • General manager of Independent Newspapers in Gauteng
  • General manager of City Press
  • Editor of City Press
  • Deputy Editor of City Press
  • Executive editor of The Star
  • Political editor of The Star
  • Bureau chief of Sowetan
  • He also served an a trade unionist, becoming the president of Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA)


Ms Mandi Smallhorne, African Federation of Science Journalists

Mandi Smallhorne is a freelance journalist and magazine editor. A health journalist since 1993, she has for nearly two decades been editor of the official magazine of the South African Society of Physiotherapy. She has also edited consumer magazines covering health and lifestyle. She has been commissioned by media outlets such as the Mail & Guardian and other print and online media to write articles on a range of social justice and environmental issues, as well as science- and health-related topics. She has a particular interest in the interlocking issues of climate change, food security agriculture and health.

As president of both the South African Science Journalists Association and the African Federation of Science Journalists, and recently elected to the Board of the World Federation of Science Journalists, she is passionate about telling science stories well, and training other journalists to dig into science to enrich their writing.

Mandi was born and raised in South Africa, and has a BA with majors in English and Psychology from the University of Cape Town. She lives with her husband, four dogs and a cat in Johannesburg.


The brief to the participants is to talk about the role of science journalism in communication science, technology and innovation. In particular they need to reflect on the how we can maximize impact, public engagement of science and outreach. The forum is an opportunity for conversations, you will request them to briefly speak on the topic for 3-5 minutes / presentation facilities will be there and thereafter engage them and also participants that will be in attendance.


Sarah Wild

In a previous life, I studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make myself unemployable. It didn’t work, so I’m currently reading for an MSc in bioethics and health law to see if I can truly study myself out of the job market.I’ve written about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between. Since I started perpetrating journalism for a living, I’ve written books, won awards, run national science desks, and learned to eat and interview someone at the same time. I can usually be found in a desert somewhere in the world looking at telescopes, fossils, or strange other-worldly creatures.My work has appeared in AfricaCheck, Nature, Quartz, New Scientist, the Guardian, the Atlantic, Research Africa, Business Day, Undark Magazine, and the Mail & Guardian, among others.

Some awards, etc

  • 2013 Siemens Pan-African Profile Science Journalism Awards: category winner, overall winner for 2013
  • 2015 CNN-MultiChoice African Journalist of the Year winner, category: innovation
  • 2015: Winner of Vodacom Journalist of the Year, category: sustainability
  • 2017: AAAS Kavli Award – gold winner, small newspaper category
By | 2017-12-07T09:28:07+00:00 October 6th, 2017|