Journalism about and from Africa
by Peter Dörrie
There is a good post over at habanahaba on western journalism and writing about Africa. Another really good one is here at afrolens. Both posts make excellent points about how “ragtag journalism” produces stereotypes of an Africa ravaged by hunger, underdevelopment and murderous militiamen. I largely agree with both of them, but I would like to add to points to the debate:
1. It is true that many western journalists come to Africa (and not only the conflict zones) without the proper journalistic training and experience that these positions require. But I think what is even more dramatic, is the lack of historical and social knowledge that many media professionals have. I know few journalists, who have rigourously studied Africa before they start reporting on it. And let’s face it: once you start reporting and the deadlines come up, very few will strife to acquire the background knowledge that would be necessary to transform a “heart of darkness” story into an enlightening piece of writing.
2. While I agree that local perspectives are extremely important (and hence local journalists should be valued much more than they currently are), one should not forget the other side of the story: the reader. Your post kinda leaves the impression that all reporting should be left to the locals. I think that this would be problematic as well, as a good story needs to know its readers to have a real impact. While Somali journalists with will find it easier to get to the issues that really matter, they will find it extremely hard to make a story out of that, which matters for – let’s say – Germans, French or US people.
As there are very few people out there that really are “at home” in two cultures AND are good writers, I think the solution to this problem would be twofold: more preparation and more cooperation. Journalists from both cultural backgrounds should strive to gain a real understanding of the social mechanisms and history of the society they report on/to. And at the same time, they should seek as much cooperation from local professionals as they can get.