14 January 2013

Liberia: Using Journalism As a Stepping Stone Hinders Growth of the Liberian Media


As the Liberian media (print and electronic) gropes with difficulties to build a corps of professionals resembling the likes of topnotch journalists in Europe and other African countries who work without wavering until retirement, ours is a pitiful and different case.

Most professional journalists in other countries remain steadfast later using vast experiences gained during years of reportage on diverse events to write volumes of books during and at the end of their career.

But our case is woefully different. Many youngsters these days make the profession a starter with the sole mindset that since it is a sure way of exposure in public limelight, that would lead them toward other desired lifetime goals.

And since journalism training and practice cross cut ethics and deportment in many other professions coupled with the needed exposure in society, these neophytes use the profession as a stepping stone where training resources are wasted on them and their bylines and voices get known by society before taking off for elsewhere.

Since the 1960s when journalism began developing gradually in the country, a handful of trained journalists including James Dennis, John F. Scotland, Jack Humphrey, James Marshall, Stanton Peabody and Tom Kamara made the profession their mainstay until death separated them from the pen.

And the few who had hands-on training under those 'old hands' that had passion for the profession still have their hands on deck up to today.

Aside from practical training as well as short-term seminars at home and abroad, Liberian journalists benefited from certificate-level training at the IIJ in Berlin and ICFJ in Reston, Virginia, but most of those who returned quickly defected to other professions that offered greener pastures. A typical training ground was the Press Bureau at the Ministry of Information that metamorphosed into the Liberia News Agency under the German Technical Cooperation program from where trained journalists were yanked into administrative positions, leaving a vacuum for perennial replacement.

We can arguably say that many of those who, for the sake of possessing a bachelor's degree, graduate from mass communication departments in universities around here have no passion in becoming journalists before pursuing these degrees.

Perhaps, their meaning of journalism is simply someone on the airways; thus prompting individuals in the public to always ask "what radio station you work for" upon hearing someone claiming to be a journalist.

Their notion is someone talking on the airways, with the bottom line, being popular whatever that means.

A declared passion to accept and remember about journalism in Liberia, and Africa by extension is that the profession is thankless: When you do well, no one forgives; and when you err, no one forgets.

Hence, upcoming reporters who cannot stand the heat in the newsroom detest corrections and criticisms that are absolutely necessary for grooming and perfecting.

The tendency is once their bylines begin to surface, they grow big head and become indifferent to corrections and learning...leading many reporters to brag over these bylines when in fact, only a bloody surgery saved the lives of their stories to see the light of day. While still half-baked, some neophyte reporters allow money consciousness to preoccupy their mind, leaving no room for the concept of learning to become a professional.

But all this happens because they have no passion for journalism, which is not their calling, but only a stepping stone to their actual calling where there is money to be made.

Therefore, it becomes difficult for them to easily climb the ladder to become editors whose cardinal frustration is editing a BAD STORY, which no editor likes to do. Most lazy and lackadaisical reporters, who have no desire to aspire to be editors, would never appreciate the frustration of editors who continue to butcher their stories with the disappointment of seeing no improvement in their work.

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