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Monday, 14 January 2008

WFSJ Skypes up a press briefings

Over on its blog, the World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ), Christina Scott has an account of using Skype, the "telephone over the internet" service, for science briefings in Africa. The account on WFSJ News describes it as "an innovation that improves science journalism and interaction between journalists and scientists across the continent".

"Skype has many advantages," says Scott. "No longer does science communication require visa arguments and jet lag for a big international conference, or a hair-raising journey across town and countryside in unreliable public transport, or traffic jams."

Readers in the richer parts of the world may find it hard to understand the problems that reporters have in joining something that most of us take for granted. As Scott reports, "An internet café in Ghana asked Frederick Baffour Opoku of Accra for the insane amount of 70 US dollars to use Skype. Charles Mkoka of Malawi had to travel long distances to find an cybercafé with a sound card, only to discover that the owner had not downloaded the latest version of Skype, and he was out in the cold."

Skype has its positive side that many of us might appreciate. The piece quotes Esther Nakkazi, a Ugandan reporter currently studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as appreciating voice-over-internet-protocol because it is not as intimidating as a press conference. It "breaks down the bureaucratic barriers that sometimes make scientists impossible to contact for clarification" she told Scott. "With Skype you can get to the scientist and cross-check any information once you see them online which is very easy," says Nakkazi.