“Hello, can you hear me?” The zoom screen springs to life and the responses quickly follow.
“Yes, we can. Good morning”. The greetings come from Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and other countries across the continent.
Behind the voices are a new generation of African journalists looking to discuss a new way of storytelling and a chance to change the narrative. It’s a theme which is central to the Thomson Foundation course African Stories: A guide for journalists on how to tell better stories about Africa.
The course was made in conjunction with the Africa No Filter (ANF) who support the bird story agency and it is bird who are hosting the editorial meeting.
I loved the course. It made me look at telling the African story in a different light
A recent survey by ANF revealed that a third of news stories across the continent are sourced from foreign news services whilst 50 per cent of editors surveyed admitted there were stereotypes in articles they sometimes run. Those statistics invariably translate into two-dimensional, often cliched storytelling where an entire continent of 54 countries is reduced to three harmful tropes in the news: war, corruption and poverty. Front pages become dominated by political stories featuring middle-aged men and a variety of stories, voices, nuance, context, constructive solutions and above all fun, are all too often missing.
So the course aims to bring about a fundamental shift in journalism; in the way stories are being told and presented. Participants are offered instruction and guidance in how they can be part of that change by better serving the mobile-first younger generation who are hungry for new ways of storytelling and women, who make up half of the population. It’s something that a few start-up, media-savvy online news portals are already offering and they’re succeeding in engaging a new audience.
Ras Mutabaruka is the founder of TAP Media Ltd and one of the experts on the course. He says that change will come through telling stories on the ground and not through the national and international narratives which don’t really connect with people at a local level. Ras who was born in Rwanda but grew up in refugee camps in Congo and later in the slums of Nairobi has dedicated his work to changing the way the world sees and thinks about Africa. Alongside Ras are other leading African journalists who are experts in their field: Dr Njoki Chege who’s the Director of the Innovation Centre at the Graduate School of Media and Communications at the Aga Khan University in Nairobi; Doreen Wainainah, the Managing Editor of PesaCheck, Africa's largest indigenous fact-checking organisation; and investigative journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas who was named ‘Foreign journalist of the Year’, by the National Association of Black Journalists in the USA in 2021.
Back at bird's editorial meeting on zoom, there’s a chance to hear from people who have taken the Thomson Foundation storytelling course. The meeting maybe virtual but the enthusiasm is real enough.
“I loved the course. It made me look at telling the African story in a different light”, says Irene in Zimbabwe.
“I liked everything about this course. Connecting with a global audience stood out for me," adds Dorcas in Nigeria. "I’m still talking about it now. There are no more grey areas for me.”
People who finish the course are awarded a certificate and can then pitch a story to bird who will pay for it if it’s commissioned. It’s an added incentive to be part of a movement for change and if these journalists are anything to go by, a new voice for Africa will soon be shouting loud enough for the rest of the world to hear.
Top illustration: Michelle Thompson