IN THE 21 st century, there exist opportunities for the collection, storage and dissemination of variety of data for use in development planning, discourse and evaluation, which is critical to the work of journalists.
Journalists form a potential group that make use of data to inform debate and discourse, constitute an interface between data producers, data users and the general public, hence the need for them to appreciate and understand the concepts associated with data collection, its management to improve reportage and enrich development debates in the country.
This is why the Population Council, in collaboration with the University of Cape Coast has been engaging members of the media for some time now on the importance of data in their reportage and to further entrench this as a habit in journalism, the two partners are now collaborating with the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ) to introduce data use in the curriculum of the institute.
Sharing the proposed programme with some editors and senior reporters in Accra on Tuesday, a Lecturer at the University of Cape Coast, Professor Kofi Awusabo-Asare said 'recognizing the unique role of journalists and communicators in the understanding, use and dissemination of data, the GIJ introduced a course in population reporting in the 1990s.'
However, the programme was discontinued about a decade ago but the institute has found it necessary to re-introduce the course in view of demands for and use of data in reporting, he noted.
He said the rationale for the re-introduction of the programme was the fact that the GIJ, as the main tertiary institution that trains journalists and other communicators in the country, has the responsibility to promote broad base journalism and understanding of data and population issues for development purposes.
The main objectives he touched on, include integrating issues in data use in some courses/programmes offered at the institute, promote understanding of the inter-relationship between data use and wider socio-economic factors among journalists and communicators, and equip the same group with skills to identify appropriate sources of data and data collection methods among others.
As such, the courses would be concentrated at the core level in year two, where all students in GIJ would be required to take the course, with the aim of improving understanding and use of data, including concepts and issues in data and population: population, demography, gender and data and information among others.
In the third and fourth year, there would be the integration of data issues in specializations, such as in Public Relations , Social Marketing , Political Journalism , Business Journalism , and Environmental Journalism .
The last module would be at year three and four in the specialization of Population Journalism under the broad theme, 'Data Usage in Population and Development Reporting' with sub titles as Components of Population Change, Environment and Development , Population and Development , and Data and Policies .
Prof. Awusabo-Asare indicated that all the partners involved would work to ensure the provision of needed resources, including human, material and physical resources to achieve the objectives of the programme.
As part of the process, the partners also sought to seek the opinion of editors and senior reporters to enrich or revise the content, while the institute has been urged to carve out sandwich and other short courses for practicing journalists and other communicators as fee-paying programmes, to enable GIJ obtain resources to sustain some of its activities.
On his part, the Country Director of the Population Council, Dr. Placide Tapsoba said it satisfying to the Council to be part of such a development, adding, 'journalists can do good and bad, but this is one of the good things because it will help not just Ghana, but Africa in general.'
He observed that the Council helps Ghana and its institutions through the provision of support and advice in many areas, and had help to produce eminent population experts, such as the late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and currently Professor Awusabo-Asare among others.
He added that the Council further carries out many studies, some of which have led to the introduction of effective schemes, particularly in the health sector, and citing the Community-based Health Planning Services (CHPS) as an example.
This, he pointed out, has been very beneficial to rural folks in particular and was also helping in the reformation of the health system while the Council was further involved in the process to improve maternal mortality in selected regions.
According to him, it was important to change people's mind towards the use of data, and especially encourage state institutions to make data available to the public and decried the practice where institutions often made important data available to institution outside the country but deny same to its people, such as journalists in their work.
In view of this, he said it was necessary to educate journalists on where and how to access data so that 'they know where to look for it,' and urged the management of GIJ to ensure sustainability of the programme, even without donor support.