Bring It On: Tackling The Challenge of Sustainable Development Journalism in Africa

Oct 52011

As Knight International Journalism Fellow Joseph Warungu launches a new network of journalists to report on development in Africa, the graveyard of those who’ve fought the same battle before him offers both warnings and lessons to be learned.

Once upon a time in a land far far away from Africa lived Gemini. Its big calling in life was to tell the untold story of the developing world, including Africa. For years it happily fulfilled that role. However, Gemini suffered heart failure and despite huge efforts to resuscitate it, the business eventually breathed its last in 2002.

Why the legendary London based Gemini News Service could not be sustained is a question that has plagued many in the media business including myself. Is it that news from the developing world really doesn’t sell? Is development reporting not sexy enough and self sustaining as a vital arm of journalism?

Well, journalism students from Carleton University in Ontario have taken up the challenge to try and revive and reinvent Gemini with the help of a group of African journalists. Two of the graduate students involved in the pilot project joined me on a panel discussion I chaired at the recently concluded Highway Africa Conference in Cape Town, South Africa, looking at the story of development reporting in Africa and its sustainability as a business.

The rest of the panel comprised veteran journalists highly experienced in telling the African story: Dr Tami Hultman, co-founder and Chief Editorial Officer of AllAfrica Global Media; Paula Fray, founder of FrayIntermedia and Salim Amin, Chairman of Camerapix and A24 Media.

The lively discussion on the nature and future of development reporting was a great spur for me in my new fellowship project with Rhodes University which aims to create a sustainable pan-African network of journalists dedicated to high quality reporting on development.

The lesson from Gemini was that the network has to be able to stand on its own feet even in the face of the ubiquitous political story which dominates much African media. The passionate point from Salim was that Africans must tell their own story. The message from Paula was that development news is vital, gives voice to the unseen and unheard and it pays. The word from Tami was that the African story can succeed beyond the borders of the continent as a global story.

And the conclusion from me: the development story can be compelling, sexy, thought provoking and entertaining. It can shift policy, refocus attention and tackle poverty. How? Watch this space as the Reporting Development Network takes shape across Africa.