Last year has shown us that we can never be fully prepared for what might happen in the world: from a war, to extreme climate crises and ongoing changes in artificial intelligence. 

As we look ahead into 2024, there are some key topics we can keep on our radar and upskill in other areas so when something unprecedented does strike we know how to deal with it (shout out to Covid-19 for the hard lesson.) 

  1. Elections

This year is said to be the biggest election year in history, with over 50 countries heading to the polls, including South Africa.

Whether it’s at local or national level, the single most important rule when covering the run up to elections is to have a clear understanding of political parties’ mandates, commitments and achievements. The people are central to elections and they look to the media to inform them of new and old political developments as well as highlighting what’s most important so they can make an informed decision at the polls. 

Journalists should, therefore, put public’s interest first when reporting on campaigns, events, public addresses and all the developments around elections. We should also do so impartially. 

Election period is also a high time for keyboard warriors to spread misinformation and fake news to skew the narrative. Our responsibility as journalists is to cut through the noise and report on what is fact and not simply on what is said. 

We will share more tips and guidelines on how to improve your election reporting as the year progresses, but for now, check out the South African Press Council’s guideline for reporting on elections. 

  1. Climate change 

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP28 outlined the imminent dangers that we may face if nations fail to get proactive against climate change.  The main recommendation is for nations to phase out fossil fuels and reduce carbon emissions significantly.

As journalists there are a number of angles we take when reporting on climate change, such as government commitments to climate financing and policy development. We can investigate renewable energy projects, and also consider ways to include community voices in our reporting. This means looking at the African experience and highlighting the issues faced in our own communities in order to effect change. Solutions journalism for climate reporting is also becoming more popular and can inspire people to take action within their own communities. 

Read: Covering climate change through a solutions and data lens

Watch: The Growing Role of Climate Reporting in Africa

  1. Artificial intelligence 

Artificial intelligence (AI) was the biggest boom of 2023, and it seeped into all industries – causing disruption in some and increasing efficiency in others. It’s all about how you use it, as we learnt. Artificial intelligence is constantly morphing between devices, software and systems. It’s not just limited to ChatGPT. There are various other platforms that use AI for different reasons. Some create images and graphics, others can scrape data off a complex document, others transcribe sounds. The options are endless, and it’s easy to get lost in the vast options now available. 

When using artificial intelligence in newsrooms staff should   produce a set of policies to ensure the ethical and responsible use of AI. The key is to integrate the now useful and quite cheap “intern”  in your work processes instead of regarding AI  as a separate tool. It is advisable to have a dedicated team or person who can work with AI to recognise biases, develop strong prompts and aptly fact check the information. The point that we must reiterate is that we must learn how to use artificial intelligence, intelligently. 

Read: Crafting Policies for Ethical AI Use in Newsrooms

Read: How to use AI responsibly in journalism