Selecting great journalists is always a long and imperfect process. At Climate Tracker, we have run more than 100 online competitions, and while we have developed a series of extensive selection processes, we don’t have the perfect formula for spotting talent. 

For our most recent Sustainable Energy challenge, we began our outreach process back in January. Since then, we have run 3 online Webinars, had 2 seperate rounds of merit-based filtering and run a 4 week online course for 35 invited reporting fellows. 

Before we first ran our initial outreach campaign, we ran a series of beta-tests on our outreach material. Our outreach campaign was run by a team of young women, and we tested our ads in Tanzania with images of young female writers and journalists. We noticed that our initial ads had much higher engagement among a male audience than women. We then adjusted our ads, and monitored this gender engagement throughout. 

Our outreach team, led by 2 women, maintained targeted testing to improve our engagement with women journalists throughout our 4 week campaign. In the end, we received 499 applicants from across Africa, but we still had two times more male applicants than women. 

We asked applicants to publish a great story on energy in their country, and gave personalised feedback to more than 189 applicants, writing across English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Swahili, Lugandan and Portuguese. 

We shortlisted the top 30, based on a combination of merit, geographical balance and gender for our 5 week online training looking at expanding their skills in energy journalism. This group included 17 men and 13 women across Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sudan, Madagascar.

After 5 weeks of online training with trainers from Spain and Zimbabwe,  we asked the fellows to pitch and write an additional but unpublished energy story. During the online course, 27 fellows actively engaged in the lessons and at the end, we received 22 final submissions. 

We scored the articles out of 75, with 5 different marking categories. These scores were reviewed by 4 separate judges. I was one of them. Two of the other judges were women, both with regional journalism experience.

Each applicant then received extensive feedback on their story, in the hope they might be able to get these pieces published regardless. While we were highly sensitive to gender and geographic balance in our previous selection period, we marked these final articles with a clear focus on merit.

We now have a great group of 12 journalists who have all worked very hard to get where they are. Admittedly, we don’t have the best representation of Africa as a continent, and perhaps not the best representation of the journalism industry either. 

With only 2 of our final 12 selected fellows being women, and no representation from Francophone countries, we can’t and won’t claim to be ‘inclusive’ or ‘representative’ of the incredible journalists and journalism community across the continent. 

But I don’t think anyone really can. African-wide programs consistently are biased toward the major economies. Candidates from Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt often occupy the lion-share of Africa-wide opportunities. This is in part due to their populations, and the economic and education opportunities in their countries. However, it is also due to the way too many organisations view ‘Africa’. 

While we certainly aren’t immune to this perception, I am proud that we received applications from 39 different countries, and that our final 12 shortlisted candidates are spread across 7 of them. 

Language can play a similarly segregating role. While our opportunity was advertised in French, Arabic, Swahili, Spanish and Portuguese, it is not surprising that over 58 percent of our applications were in English. Still, we received applications in 5 other languages (including Lugandan) and had native speaking professional journalists review them all. 

Potentially our most notable element of our final selection is that only 2 of the final 12 are women. We are proud of the final group, but this isn’t the gender balance any of our final 4 judges were hoping for.

While all of our applicants will now be encouraged to take in the gendered elements of energy poverty, we would undeniably see different articles if there were more women in our final 12.

In many of our programs, the opposite has often been the case. In fact, if you follow our Southeast Asian Media Analysis fellows, you’ll notice they are only 20% men. In that case, our inclusivity processes weren’t any different, perhaps our existing networks were. 

I hope this helps to highlight our selection processes, and would love to learn from any other organisations willing to share theirs.

We’d love to collaborate with  anyone who wants to see more opportunities given to great African journalists, especially if you have an idea on how we might broaden our own networks of awesome women journalists across the continent.

Chris Wright

About Chris Wright

Co-founder and Director of Climate Tracker. Based in Borneo. Trail Running convert.