Liberia: Foreignization of Liberian Newspaper. Can’t We Write?



Foreignization, as used in this article, means giving preference to foreigners’ written information over one from a Liberian for a space in Liberian newspapers.

After you’ve read the “local stories” of Liberian papers, what you would see next is “foreign news”. (They take up 75% of the total pages in some papers) Many publishers or chief editors reserve most pages to these foreign materials.

The preferred foreign items for majority of newspaper owners—or manager (News Editor)—are politics, sports, and Entertainment.

A few of the publishers or News Editors add Science, History (one paper tags its foreign historical column “Events in History”), Health (nothing about the plenty oily or sugary foods most Liberians eat and the consequence eating such foods), and Arts & Culture (nothing about Liberian movie and traditional cloth).

These foreign materials had spent months or years on the internet—where the foreign writers posted (uploaded) them for readers in other parts of the world to see them, read about them, and download them for “replication” (reproduction) in his/her country for development in the sector written about.

I didn’t see this in Ghana: more than two pages of a newspaper “reserved” for “foreign news”. Or, I should say, I didn’t see that on any day out of the four thousand + four days I lived in the Country. Neither didn’t I see this in Nigeria (where I lived between 2001 and 2011) To my knowledge, reporters and editors in each of these Countries write “expansively” on one or two of these subjects, or if they have limitation in “long-range” writing, reserve spaces for articles coming from their learned compatriots outside of the journalists’ community.  

Can’t Liberian writers (I mean the professionals) write about these subjects instead of depending on foreigners?

Let’s start first with writers with Liberian papers.

Each paper has reporters—writers—and each reporter has been reporting on a particular area (Judiciary, Sports, Environment, Water & Sanitation, Health, etc.) for a long time (at least two years) that equips him or her to write “expansively” (news feature) about this subject. A “news feature” is a “stretched version” (25-40 paragraphs) of the short information (at most 15 paragraphs) that should fit into the small space on a page for two or more stories. Most avid readers looking for detailed information turn to the newspaper for the News Feature because it the News Feature contains all the chipped-out materials that couldn’t fit in the space allotted for the “news story”.

Journalists (reporters) would have stayed a longer time (say, two years at least ) on a beat (assigned area—example Judiciary, etc) would be expected to write “expanded version” of the subject along with writing the few-lines news story. Reporters of other country do it. (My memory clicks on Ghana and Nigeria where I was inspired to write.)

At journalists’ equipment workshop— sponsored by USAID, UNDP, WAJA (West African Journalists Association), or another international  media empowerment organization—for Liberian media practitioners, workshop sponsors often emphasize “detailed writing” (meaning News Features) in papers the participants are representing. Why are these workshop beneficiaries not implementing the workshop’s mandate?

If you set out to count Liberians who write News Features, you won’t go beyond Rodney Sieh (FrontPage Africa), Lennart Dodoo (FrontPage Africa), Samuel Kpankpayeaze (The Independent), Festus Poquie (The New Democrat), Robert “Moncio” (pen name) Kpadeh (The Parrot), Augustine Bortue (Heritage), and Ellis Togba (New Republic). Seven out of hundreds of practicing journalists!

The poorest performers, for me, are those in the print category (Radio station) based on, I presume, their training in “brevity of information” for broadcast. I pick out only Jacob Parley (of State-owned Liberia Broadcasting System, LBS) who has shown his juice of News Feature (several published) among his colleagues at LBS/ELBC.

My female colleagues (in both the newspaper and radio station) have written themselves off, at least for now, on the “news feature” writing gift to the reading public of Liberia.

Isn’t this chronic limitation to Liberian women journalists worrying the leadership of the Female Journalists Association (FeJAL) of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) to find a solution?

From the actively-practicing journalists, I move to the “veterans”—older Liberian journalists who have retired from active media practice (reportorial duty) on old age, but own or managing newspaper, or offering “consultancy services” to newspapers for “young and inexperienced” journalists. Some of them had worked BBC (that owns a print version called “Focus on Africa Magazine), The Economist, Associated Press (AP) or another popular international print media entity. But we can’t see one article from anyone of these “veteran media writers” in any local paper (not even their own!) in a whole year.

Sola Odunfa (Nigerian, retired BBC correspondent) and Elizabeth Ohene (Ghanaian, retired BBC correspondent) are contributing stories (news features) to local papers of their respective countries!

Let’s come to Liberia’s national leaders—President, Vice President, Ministers, Senators, Representative—who often boast of being “most learned”. Why we can’t see an article about each person’s field of specialization (Education, Medical Science, Economics, Engineering, Geology, Law, etc.) he or she graduated in at the university? Or are newspaper publishers or the chief editor refusing to publish the leader’s submitted article? 

Our leaders can inform the public about other things besides their “biographies”—which are mostly about how they “were destined” for economic or political greatness (reference to their current economic and political status)

The President, with a degree in Economics from Harvard Business School, can write an article, at least once every month, about strategies to turn sovereign Liberia from a “begging nation” to a “self-dependent nation”. Taking a cue from a Malaysian Prime Minister (equivalent to President) who informed his people, through his little economic successes, how he turned Malaysia from a Third-World (under-developed) Country to a First-World (developed) Nation.

Liberians who regularly send “Liberian articles” to the papers don’t boast of being “most read” or “more learned” as do their colleagues in the media or the government officials (mentioned above) who hardly produce one in a long period. One of these “unboasting” regular contributors is Martin N. Kollie, a student at the University of Liberia, who is going for his first degree. Each of his teachers at UL is yet to send a piece to a newspaper for publication. 

My stand this issue (foreinization of the Liberian newspaper) is not to advocate for barring of foreign materials Liberian papers. In fact, we need “foreign news”—happenings on the other side of the globe—for information and guidance. What I’m advocating is prioritization of the “Liberian story” (you may call it “indigenization”) over “foreign content”.

On how to write a News Feature, my only advice to Liberian journalists is this: read…read…and read. This is the bitterest pill to most Liberian journalists. But it can heal the sickness called “News Feature Writing Deficiency”. 

About the Author:

Samuel G. Dweh, an indigene of the Wedabo tribe of Grand Kru County of Liberia, is a prolific writer (fiction and non-fiction) and author and a member of Liberia’s two national writers’ bodies: Press Union of Liberia (PUL) and the Liberia Association of Writers (LAW). He can be reached via: (+231) 886-618-906/776-583-266; [email protected]

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