Eight ways to make HIV stories meaningful

1. Give it human face

It’s an old trick, but almost always works: Sell your story with a case study. Our most read story in 2017 focused on nocturnal HIV wellness clinics for sex workers and truck drivers in Kenya. Sounds complex? Not if you humanise it. Read how: https://bit.ly/2oHwnaN

2. Make it relevant to your mom or sister’s life

Think about what the people who surround you would want to know. For instance, do they know women are getting infected with HIV at a faster rate than men, but far more men die of the virus? Here’s why: https://bit.ly/2JM7OUY

3. Tag onto politics


When politicians say something about HIV, right or wrong, investigate their statements. When South African-born Hollywood actress Charlize Theron highlighted how inequality and prejudice fuel the spread of HIV at the International Aids Conference in 2016, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille disagreed. We jumped at the chance to correct the Premier: https://bit.ly/2aBtYJs

4. Simplify it, then explore

Did you know there’s an HIV prevention pill? The use of the little blue pill is not as straightforward as it sounds. But you can use it to draw people’s attention to HIV and then elaborate on more complex issues, for instance, on why it’s not a morning-after-pill: https://bit.ly/2BChHA4

5. Question government policies

Sex work is illegal in South Africa. How does that impact on the spread of HIV? Badly. Many HIV-positive sex workers are reluctant to collect antiretroviral treatment from state clinics. They’re scared of being arrested or being discriminated against. What type of regulation would work better? Find out here: https://bit.ly/2scI4UU

6. Drop the moral judgment, follow the evidence instead

HIV science is moving fast, making for great stories. Did you know that there’s scientific consensus: HIV-infected people on treatment with suppressed viral loads (the amount of virus in their blood) can’t transmit HIV to others through sex? Here’s why: https://bit.ly/2p8N7Gq

7. Use different mediums

There’s more than one way to tell a story. If you work in print, it’s time to learn how to do podcasts and videos. It’s your future. We’ve done print stories on blessers and HIV: https://bit.ly/29PkCqP. But also podcasts: https://bit.ly/2JMyJjn

8. Mainstream HIV

HIV has become part of our lives. It’s no longer as compartmentalised as in the past. Our stories should reflect that. The main subject of your report doesn’t necessarily have to be HIV – the virus can fit in almost any story. This story is about rape, but also talks about HIV: https://bit.ly/2umxMpM

Bhekisisa director and editor, Mia Malan, shared these tips at the Botswana-based INK Centre for Investigative journalism’s HIV media workshop in June.

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Mia Malan
Mia Malan
Mia Malan is the founding director and editor of the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism at the Mail & Guardian. She heads up a team of fifteen permanent and freelance staff members. She loves drama, good wine and strong coffee, not necessarily in that order.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

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