“A reporter who makes $4,000 per month gets a raise that increases his salary to $4,500 per month. What is the percentage increase?”

This question is more than a matter of personal budget for some lucky reporter. It’s also one of many exercises introduced during a recent PRB training to help journalists better understand and interpret data for their audiences. The world of family planning is data-dense, and numbers around important topics like contraceptive prevalence rates, unmet need, and contraceptive commodity supply can sometimes seem like hieroglyphics to an average citizen. The value of reporting numbers in relatable terms was a core lesson during the latest Women’s Edition workshop, held in late March in Brussels, Belgium.

The Latest Women’s Edition Workshop Kicks Off in Belgium

Ten participants traveled to Brussels from nine countries in Africa (Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) for the workshop. PRB’s long-running Women’s Edition program convenes midcareer women journalists for specialized training on how to cover reproductive health and family planning topics. In Brussels, the Women’s Edition workshop ran parallel to the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) General Membership Meeting, where international, regional, and country-level stakeholders met to discuss contraceptive commodity supply and security for reproductive health.

A group of those experts shared their time and knowledge with the Women’s Edition participants, with highlighted topics from RHSC. Training began with a day of briefings about key reproductive health challenges. Presentations touched on the barriers to ensuring contraceptive supply quality, efforts to develop more stable versions of commonly-used pharmaceutical products, how market dynamics affect supply, and priority issues in reproductive and maternal health. Those sessions were co-organized by the African Health Journalists Association, the Concept Foundation, and the Development Communications Network, which together brought a separate group of journalists to cover the RHSC convening.

Workshop Establishes a Foundation for Understanding and Using Data

While the first day of the Women’s Edition workshop laid an important foundation of technical information, the following days added detail, context, and opportunities for questions. Presenters included John Townsend, director of country strategy at the Population Council, who held a roundtable discussion with the journalists about trends in modern contraception and challenges to the family planning supply chain. Martyn Smith, managing director of Family Planning 2020 (FP2020), prepared information about domestic commitments to reproductive health spending for each of the journalists’ countries, which sparked group interest and debate.

Smith’s presentation was especially timely given RHSC’s newly-published report on the commodity gap, which shows that just 8 percent of total spending on contraceptive supplies between 2014 and 2016 in 135 low- and middle-income countries came from governments. The report also predicts a $238 million funding gap for supplies, based on current spending levels and projected increases in demand. With these facts in mind, the journalists questioned whether their countries’ pledges to groups such as FP2020 would translate to real investment in family planning.

Other activities included a discussion with young family planning advocates from Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda; an introduction to the four demographic dividends from PRB’s own Elizabeth Leahy-Madsen; and a dialogue with Palladium’s Jay Gribble, the United States Agency for International Development’s Ellen Starbird, and PRB’s Barbara Seligman that focused on intersections between policy and public awareness. These conversations were interspersed with coaching on solutions journalism, a response-focused reporting style; an overview of compelling use of visuals in journalism; and constructive critiques of previously published stories.

Applying New Skills Makes for More Influential Reporting

After days of diverse lessons, the journalists were asked to distill what they learned into story ideas. Divided into teams—and with growing camaraderie after nearly one week together in a new place—the 10 women pitched, challenged, and encouraged each other’s evolving reporting. “Tell me how that’s new and different?” asked one, about a story on maternal deaths. “Maybe you could include footage from the field,” added another, who was partnered with a television presenter. Their voices mingled with the sounds of fingers on keyboards, and the expectation of compelling stories to come.