The Toronto Star, Canada’s most important newspaper, has launched a blog for African writers in association with Journalists for Human Rights, a Canadian media organization that promotes stronger reporting in Africa by working closely with African journalists themselves — and, crucially, in African newsrooms and media houses. In its first batch of postings, the wisdom of pairing the Star’s powerful brand with the talents in the trenches of African journalism is readily apparent. One post examines a mass suicide in Malawi with exceptional depth. Another striking piece looks at a beauty contest in West Africa. As important as individual stories is the model that the Star and Journalists for Human Rights are testing. At a time when African journalism is maturing by growing its audience and acquiring more resources through market acceptance, Western media houses have an important opportunity to amplify the voices of African writers and reporters. The Canadian model is a significant advance over the common practice of taking talented journalists from their newsrooms and media houses in Africa, flying them to Europe and North America for lengthy “training,” during which time ties to their home audience and contacts wither. Often these journalists return to Africa with their careers interrupted and with the ambition of becoming a great journalist, not at home but far from home. While training and resources from Westerners for African journalists is highly desireable, all efforts should be made to help Africans in their own newsrooms and in cooperation with their newsroom editors and media managers. For an extended discussion on media and the development story, which puts the African question in a global context, see my 2007 essay for IFPRI.
Full disclosure: I’m especially happy to see the partnership because seven years ago I helped launch and run JHR’s first foray into African journalism, in Ghana, where JHR is still going strong in partnerships across the country’s vibrant media landscape.