The M&G Health Journalism Centre, Bhekisisa, offers mentored fellowships of three months to South African journalists from local media houses and reporters from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries. The objective is to train health reporters.
Fellows receive intensive mentoring. They are afforded the opportunity to publish stories in the Mail & Guardian and also to work and travel with the paper's health journalists to co-publish stories.
The cost of work-related travel and accommodation is covered by Bhekisisa through a private-public partnership between the M&G and the German Agency for International Co-operation.
South African fellows receive a monthly stipend of R7000. Any difference between the stipend and the fellow's salary at his or her home publication is usually covered by the fellow's employer. SADC fellows receive the same benefits but also an additional R4000 to cover accommodation costs.
All fellows are required to be based in Johannesburg for the duration of the fellowship. In cases where fellows are from elsewhere, Bhekisisa covers the cost of travel to and from their home towns.
An independent monitoring and evaluation company tracks the fellows' progress and monitors the impact the fellowships have on the quality of their work.
The first Bhekisisa fellow, Sydney Masinga, will complete his fellowship at the end of this month. He is from the African Eye News Service in Mbombela in Mpumalanga.
"Before my fellowship, I didn't have a clear idea of how to write a feature because I usually only did short news stories for my employer," he said. "But during my time at the M&G I have really learned how to research and write a feature, and I really look forward to applying my skills when I return to African Eye News Service. I plan to take responsibility for features there, but also to apply my new, better writing skills to news stories."
Masinga says he has also "learned about the importance of team work by working with M&G health reporters and photographers on stories".
"If you approach a story alone, you miss a lot of things. Teamwork makes you remember things you should be including in your story."
With Bhekisisa health reporter Ina Skosana, Masinga travelled to Mpumalanga to do stories on maternal health, tuberculosis and teenage pregnancies. "I have made many health-related contacts and also improved my computer skills significantly," he said. "I would definitely recommend the fellowship to other journalists, especially those from rural areas like myself, because it offers formal training – an opportunity rural journalists rarely get."
The next Bhekisisa fellowship will be from September 1 to November 30. The deadline for applications is July 15. Fellows are required to submit their CV, a motivation letter and three stories to the health editor, Mia Malan, at [email protected] Incomplete applications will not be considered. – Bhekisisa reporter