ICFJ’s Jerri Eddings: Mandela’s Lessons Live On

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From left to right: Prinesha Naidoo, Jerri Eddings and Les Payne. Image courtesy of NABJ.

Nelson Mandela, the revered anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first democratically elected president, left a legacy of forgiveness, compassion and understanding for his country and the world.

On Thursday, July 31, ICFJ’s Senior Program Director Jerri Eddings reflected on the lessons she learned from Mandela as a foreign correspondent reporting on his rise to political prominence.

Eddings spoke about her experience as a South Africa-based foreign reporter for the Baltimore Sun as part of the panel “Covering Nelson Mandela” at the 2014 National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Convention.

Eddings covered Mandela from shortly after his release from 27 years in prison in February 1990 until he became South Africa’s first democratically elected president in May 1994.

“Mandela’s release from prison and emergence as the country’s top leader coincided with a Golden Age for American foreign correspondents,” Eddings said during the panel discussion.

She pointed out that media coverage of Mandela’s rise to South Africa’s presidency resonated with American news audiences because of the United States’ own racial history.

“Media organizations were making lots of money and many invested in international coverage. So dozens of news organizations had correspondents based in South Africa or parachuting in to tell this story,” she explained.

Eddings and her fellow panelist Les Payne, an investigative reporter, were realistic about the number of foreign reporting positions available to the young journalists in the audience at the NABJ Convention today.

“If someone tells you that you can’t do a story, ... find a way to do it,” Payne told audience members. “If someone says you can’t get into a country or region, find a way to do it.”

Eddings added that today, opportunities for young reporters to become fulltime foreign correspondents have shrunk dramatically.

“Many reporters now turn to outside sources of funding, like ICFJ fellowships, to cover international stories,” she said.

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