With two journalism trainers in place, jhr kicks off the new year in Salone with a flurry of activities planned for 2011
By Jenny Vaughan
“This is a place that’s full of potential,” says jhr country director Stephen Douglas as we walk through a rugged, hollow building that used to house Sierra Leone’s state-run broadcster Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation. He was talking about the potential for the station, which is currently being transitioned from a government-run media house to a public broadcaster, modelled after the CBC or BBC, but the statement rings true for media houses and reporters throughout Sierra Leone.
Reporters are barely paid, true, and journalism education isn’t meeting professional standards, but there’s an unparalleled hunger among many journalists in Sierra Leone to produce standout rights media. That is precisely the sentiment that jhr’s two trainers are tapping into at two of the country’s biggest media houses. For the next five months, trainers Kimberly Johnson and Logan Campbell will be working in local newsrooms, alongside local reporters to produce human rights stories about localy relevant abuses, such as gender and environmental rights.
Johnson has more than 14 years of journalism experience in the US, having most recently served as business writer for the Associated Press. Prior to her AP stint, Johnson worked at the Denver Post covering business and technology issues. She also taught journalism at a local college there. Campbell is the former production and technical director at Metro TV Ghana and has worked as a multimedia manager at Black Entertainment Television, where he helped to launch BET.com
In their first month, the trainers worked with Douglas to host a workshop to coincide with the release of the federal budget. They worked with an accountant and local media managers to deconstruct the budget, extract story ideas and prepare interview questions for the Minster of Finance. In the months ahead, the threesome will also be hosting media forums, granting reporting fellowships to reporters, blogging for jhr’s Field Notes site and, of course, producing rights media with local journalists.
“There’s a lack of effective news stories, and a lack of effective human rights stories that need to be brought to light,” Johnson says about the press in Sierra Leone. “jhr is an excellent way to accomplish both.” Johnson, who has been working as a freelance journalists in Sierra Leone for over a year says she’s looking forward to working with reporters to produce business and environmental stories relating to human rights. One story she’s hoping to tackle: the violations surrounding the widening of Wilkinson Road, one of Freetown’s main arteries. The street is being widened by the city to ease notorious Freetown traffic, but homes, businesses and hundred-year old trees have been displaced in the process. The story, she says, has been completely ignored by the media. Johnson is hoping that will change, at least among reporters at Premier News.
Like Johnson, jhr trainer Campbell recognizes the importance of human rights stories in a post-conflict country. “Rights-focused media is important to development, and I definitely want to be part of development in Sierra Leone,” says Campbell. He says he’s similarly looking forward to working with reporters to amp up newsgathering skills and in-studio know-how with daily on-the-job training and regular workshops. “I just hope to make SLBC a top notch media institution in Sierra Leone,” he says, adding that he’d like it to look like CNN or better. “I’m quite enthused, both professionally and personally,” says Campbell with an eager smile.