How chimps on birth control made the story

David Dickson

David Dickson
Director, SciDev.Net


What makes a good science journalist? WCSJ2011 has been full of speakers putting forward their theories. Charles Wendo, a veterinarian turned science journalist who is now editor of Saturday Vision in Uganda, came up with a nice practical example.

Speaking to a workshop held for African press officers, Wendo described an occasion on which he had been invited on a visit to a research institution to meet a group of researchers working with chimpanzees.

One television journalist wrote up what the researchers told him about their work, submitted the idea to his editor – and found that his idea was promptly shelved.

Chimpanzees had been put on contraceptives in order to keep their numbers down. Credit: Flickr/tim ellis

Wendo heard a researcher make a passing remark about the fact that the chimpanzees that were being studied had been put on contraceptives, in order to keep their numbers down. He decided to follow up and make this the main theme of his story.

The result? “My story made the front page of my newspaper the next day,” said Wendo. In contrast, when the editor at the TV station saw the article, he almost fired his own journalist on the spot.

Point made. Getting the story behind the news doesn’t always mean treading on toes, just using a bit of imagination.

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