Health History in a Hurry

Health Journalism book
Health Journalism book

Moji Makanjuola, former broadcast journalist, records her experiences while covering the health beat over the years in a recently published book titled: Health Journalism: A Journey with Moji Makanjuola

|  By Maureen Chigbo  |  Dec. 31, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT

MOST journalists are always battling to meet deadlines and somehow always in a hurry to record history. They are so passionate about their calling, that they hardly have time to sit down to write books to capture their experiences in the field, especially those who have practiced the profession for decades. It is even more challenging for journalists in Nigeria, where poor infrastructure, especially incessant power outage, makes it doubly difficult for someone to weather a hectic work schedule and come back home and try to write  a book in darkness using candles, or in the case of those who can afford it, generating sets with the attendant noise pollution.

Against this background, one is happy to see that Moji Makanjuola, former broadcaster, who covered the health beat for Nigerian Television Authority, found time to record her long years of experience doing the job in Nigeria and abroad. In her book entitled: Health Journalism: A Journey with Moji Makanjuola, the journalist produced what Funke Egbemode, the reviewer of the book, called “a health reporting reference document”.

 The book provides an overview of health reporting, its perception in and outside the newsroom and the challenges of the health reporter then and now. According to the book, health reporters must never lose sight of the fact that they are reporting science and since reporters are not scientists, they need training to be able to do in-depth and accurate reports. They need to read, research and follow up on stories. The author’s critique of both the health reporter and the newsroom is a wake-up call for both the editor and those on the beat. Like all beats, the reporter must be armed with facts and knowledge. He must constantly update himself because that is what keeps him on top of his game and endears him to his bosses. It is a science-based beat and the least inaccuracy could hurt both his career and the reputation of his organisation. In more ways than one, the book is a hand book for all and a companion for all editors.

The author, according to Egbemode, made a valid point which every editor, every media owner must take seriously.  “Many of the reporters on the health beat often have to move between health and other beat…., very few media houses encourage their reporters to specialise in health reporting. This affects expertise, resulting in very few experts on the health beat…,” the reviewer quoted Makanjuola as saying in the book.

“This is right on the mark and a sin most editors are guilty of. I have been fortunate to work in media houses where health reporters are allowed to grow on the beat and become authorities. I am also aware that certain factors make it difficult to dedicate a good hand to just one beat but in the long run, the experience a reporter garners over decades on a beat far outweighs the limitations, Egbemode said.

According to her, “What we are witnessing today is one of the advantages of allowing a reporter to grow on and or grow in his or her beat. Health reporters I have found, even when they have not written books, which I now strongly recommend, are like in-house doctors. They are also so connected in the health world that you can reach specialists that would ordinarily take you months to get an appointment with.”

On the strength of the book, the reviewer said the language is simple. The tables and their summarised facts come in handy when you need a quick reference point; whether you are looking for something on the Millennium Development Goals, projections of the World Health Organisation on cancer deaths for 2015 or as far down the road as 2030, this book has a handle on it. It shows the reader the thread that links HIV/AIDS to International Labour Organisation (ILO) and China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. The health stories soften the pages. Her experiences on different trips, trainings, workshops and fellowships keep the reader shuttling between reality and fiction. One minute you are trying to picture a 26 degree Celsius morning in Moscow and the next wondering what cryptosporidiosis is.

Funke Egbemode, book reviewer
Funke Egbemode, book reviewer

At the heart of this book is the essence of journalism we all learnt in school and on the job: a journalist must know something about everything. And for the upcoming journalist, who thinks the only good beat is politics, this book opens his mind that with hard word, the health beat, and, in fact all beats are juicy, full of opportunities. The author probably is one of the most travelled in the business. Hardwork, determination to make a difference are what brings out the juice on any beat. In short, a reporter who brings passion to his job, will go places.

On the downside of the book, the reviewer said it was over spiced with too many photographs. “I came away from this book feeling that there ought to be more, a feeling that this is an abbreviated version of what the author has on her mind and  that this is just a prelude, the first part. …The book has compressed facts and flavours. For instance, the author’s experiences on the field could take a whole new book. Her polio stories could have been more vivid, more gripping. The cancer stories, state of our hospitals and failings and failures of the health sector would have taken at least another 100 pages. You do not cover the health sector for as long as the author has done and not have stories that would bring tears to the eyes of the readers of a book like this,” she said.

Egbemode continued:  “If there is anything missing in this book, they are those human interest stories that stand health reporting apart from other beats in the newsroom. Apart from health, the only other beat that affects all of us, rich and poor, young and old, male and female is the crime beat.”

However, some of the statements in the book are sweeping, according to the reviewer. “For instance, I do not agree that health reporting is still being treated as one of the regular beats in the media. All electronic media worth their salt have health programmes. Even programmes that are not regular health shows have health segments,” she said. For the print media, reporting health isn’t just about fulfilling all righteousness, it is about staying relevant. It is one way of staying ahead of the competition. It generates great headlines and ultimately great bottom lines. We just celebrated World AIDS DAY and virtually every media house feasted on the story that 300,000 Nigerians were diagnosed for HIV in 2012. Health is a natural national issue and any editor who downplays it does so at his or her own risk, the reviewer said.

Conclusively, Egbemode said: “I say this is not just a book. It is a reference document. It should encourage other health reporters to document their experiences on the beat. Journalism is history in a hurry. All practitioners must leave something behind for those who come behind them after their tours of duty. Makanjuola has done her beat but as I turned the last page, I felt there should be more. Therefore as we say well-done madam, we also ask for a sequel, a part two.”

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