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Making the most of the media

To disseminate policy-relevant messages based on Agricultural Policy Research in Africa (APRA) research at country and regional levels, WRENmedia encouraged country teams to build relationships with the media from early on in the programme. While only a few teams took up this approach, those that pursued active engagement with the media proved very successful. This blog reflects on what went well and key lessons for what could have been improved.

APRA research teams that actively engaged the media achieved extensive coverage © APRA Tanzania

The APRA Malawi team was the first to hold a dedicated event for members of the national media in September 2019 – and, thanks to its success, this approach was highlighted as an example to other APRA teams. After this event, a WhatsApp group was set up for the journalists, so APRA Malawi was able to continue to inform them about new blogs and working papers as they were published. The event also resulted in a number of articles and radio broadcasts focusing on the potential importance of groundnuts as a commercial and export crop. An agribusiness policy brief focusing on Malawi was picked up by the Nation newspaper in September 2020, and the team’s COVID Country Reports, highlighting the impacts on food systems and livelihoods, were also well reported by the national media in October 2020 and February 2021.

In Tanzania, the APRA country team’s decision to hold a one-day event in October 2020, specifically for print, radio and TV journalists, resulted in a staggering 65 media outputs. Further extensive coverage was obtained after inviting the media to their national stakeholder event in October 2021.

In Ghana, the APRA team invited the media to an oil palm research dissemination workshop in March 2021, which resulted in good coverage across radio stations, online news sites and newspapers. ‘Multiple platforms for media engagements, such as online news portals, radio, print media, as well as radio and television stations, among others, have been useful,’ stated Louis Hodey, APRA Ghana researcher. Fred Dzanku, APRA Ghana country lead, reinforced that point, commenting, ‘The push [from WRENmedia] to engage the media made it happen.’

Key lessons

Consistent efforts to engage with the media pays dividends: Where teams engaged with print and broadcast journalists and specifically invited them to APRA events, extensive media coverage was achieved. Holding a dedicated event for journalists allows an opportunity for them to learn, ask questions, and take time to read material provided, and is more likely to result in future interest/engagement. Building networks and trust between researchers and the media takes time but is an investment worth making.

Additional support to research teams on media engagement improves understanding: One APRA researcher noted that, ‘Country research teams should be funded to organise at least one media outreach programme each year to interact with media houses and enlighten them on how they could help to influence policy by working with APRA.’ Efforts like these take time and investment to organise effectively but, again, reap rewards in terms of building media capacity and strengthening researcher/media understanding and networking.

Investing in media training for researchers builds confidence: While media training was not provided to APRA researchers, WRENmedia has delivered specific training on how to engage effectively with the media and how to write/provide good, clear key messages for outlets. We have found that these skills improve researcher confidence and lead to enhanced engagement and media coverage.

Engaging with media networks creates a multiplier effect: Targeting specific networks, or audiences, can often be more relevant than making efforts to only publish in international publications. Working with our network of African correspondents enabled WRENmedia to tap into specific African media networks to reach an African audience with relevant research results, which significantly increased coverage achieved.

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