The National Press Foundation's Journalist to Journalist program is in Sydney, Australia at the 4th IAS Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention. We have brought 44 journalists from 30 countries here (bios here). We will post articles, blogs and other resources from the 4-day J2J program and then the 4-day IAS program below.
The J2J program and the IAS Conference are over and our time in Sydney has come to an end. Below, Bob Meyers, president of the National Press Foundation, reflects on our experiences and the lessons learned in the last two weeks.
The laptops have been closed, the notebooks flipped shut, pens and papers put away, clinical reports, brochures and scientific papers shipped back to 30 countries by our 44 journalists. The 4th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention ended on July 25, and with it J2J’s fourth involvement with a major AIDS program.
Along the way we experienced the coldest days in two decades in Australia (see Jamaican Andrea Downer’s funny blog on the Big Chill elsewhere on these pages); a boat tour of Sydney Harbour in which you didn’t have to worry about the beer being cold enough; direct discussions with scientists, researchers, people living with HIV/AIDS and sex workers; got a tour of a health clinic in downtown Sydney and developed good friendships with reporters, editors and broadcasters from around the world. You can see the full agenda HERE.
We worked on a great classroom discussion called, “Avoiding AIDS Fatigue,” in which we all had to come up with a headline that let us do an AIDS story without using the words AIDS. My favorite – “Margaret Mead was Wrong,” which had something to do with “dusky beauties” and the South Sea Islands. We’re going to post all of these ideas on the website.
More after the jump
We had a powerful and disturbing discussion of AIDS denialists – people, often scientists skilled in one field who are not AIDS researchers – who erroneously and fatally claim either that HIV does not cause AIDS. They also claim that modern medicines are not needed because you can buy this special drink (which they usually are selling) made up of nuts and berries and garlic and God knows what all. We had two deeply concerned scientists gravely worried that after gullible people hear these people and follow their advice they put themselves at mortal risk – they don’t use protection; they stop taking medicine; their ignore their own health status.
I suspect this denialism issue is a very tricky one for us journalists – because it puts us in the position of imposing value judgments on people who simply have a “different” position than the establishments’. But AIDS kills, and I’m not particularly interested in being a co-conspirator here. I’m going to do some more writing about this and will welcome your comments.
If there is one message I took away from this conference – as I have from other AIDS conferences – it is that AIDS really is preventable. The public has to know what to do to prevent it – whether it is condoms, or limited sex partners, or safer sex or clean needles. It can gain that knowledge from us, as journalists. Journalists thus join doctors, scientists, researchers and clinic employees on the front lines.
Just because we write or broadcast about something of course doesn’t mean that people will do the right thing. Some men don’t use condoms because they supposedly cut down pleasure (not all men agree with this); some men can’t afford them; some men think a condom means a woman thinks a man is being unfaithful (duh); whatever. You could do this same kind of riff on almost every method of prevention known, and on every method of mediation.
Bottom line for us as journalists: we can play a major role in this epidemic that in 2006 saw 4.3 million people newly infected and saw 3 million die. UNAIDS uses the number of 11,000 new infections each day. Break that down and you get 458 people per hour and 7.6 people per minute – in every country of the world.
If you’re looking for advocacy journalism, just doing your job in this area is a good place to start.
Big time thanks need to go to the funders who paid for our four pays of programming prior to the conference, then attendance at the three-day IAS conference, with international travel, hotel rooms, all meals, all registrations, bus tours, site seeing, staff time and all manner of other expenses thrown in. They are:
• The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
• The Merck Company Foundation
• Open Society Institute
• Macquarie University
And since this is my blog I get to thank our fabulous staff who made this program possible: Kashmir Hill, Lisa Peckler, Philip Javellana, Sara Kamin and Shailee Shah.
And finally all the J2J journalists who worked really hard to earn us the respect and appreciation of AIDS researchers and (silently) people with HIV/AIDS, around the world.