A Health Section Debuts in Nigerian Newspaper

Aug 222011

Fourteen weeks after I began my fellowship at the Daily Trust in Abuja, Nigeria, a new health section called Health Insight debuted on Tuesday, August 16, 2011. The launch of the new section, which is one of the two major components of my fellowship, was made possible through the support of the Daily Trust senior editorial staff, but more importantly, the seven journalists on the new health team I am building.

The first edition of Health Insight ran four pages and included in-depth reports on fistula and polio, both significant health concerns in Nigeria.

Editor-in-Chief Mannir Dan-Ali called it, “A bold attempt and exciting in many ways,” and Daily Trust editor Mahmud Jega said, “This is definitely an improvement on what we had before.”

The International Center for Journalists, of course, takes all the credit for envisioning a project partnership such as this and for providing both the funding, guidance and professional support for the work I am doing here.

The new health section -- Health Insight – runs four pages now, and is essentially a work in progress, which means, it’s expected to get even better. The journalists at Daily Trust understand this and they are excited. They also know that they still have a learning curve ahead. Indeed, a new schedule of health, general reporting and editorial meetings is being put into place. The new health section is expected to set the bar for health reporting in the Nigerian media and to break new ground. There is already a lot of expectations by the readers and media managers that this new initiative of in-depth health reporting will spurn a new era of focused and impactful health coverage.

The new health team is made up of professional journalists, including editor Ruby Leo, center, front row. Knight Fellow Sunday Dare is far right, back row.

Ruby Leo, who is the editor of the new section, was elated. “Just like the breasting of the tape by the runner, I am excited that the new health section is a reality,” she said, adding, “We still have a lot of work to do.”

The last 14 weeks have been quite challenging, albeit interesting. Apart from chasing down the stories, I have also had to chase down the reporters and consistently exact from them a level of professional production. I have worked with them to come up with story ideas and think outside the box. Gradually, I have seen improvements in the areas of generating story ideas, scripting, and a willingness to follow up. We still have a lot more to do in exploring all the angles to a particular story before going to press or in following up and updating stories. Also, we are working on referencing and sourcing of stories and as we go along, journalists are picking up new tricks and asking relevant questions.

Presently, we have four pages of health news. In another two months, these four pages will become a center-spread pull out. For now, we are happy to have gotten this important new health section off the ground.