Liberian Media: From Newspaper’s Library Caretaker to “Journalist of the Year”
“The Journalist of the Year Award goes to Lennart Dodoo of FrontPage Africa!” the announcement—from Mr. Nathan N. Bengu (Chairman of the Awards Vetting Committee)—reverberated across the Reception Segment of the Ministerial Complex of the Republic of Liberia. The event was the 2021/2022 “Media Excellence Awards & Dinner Night” of the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) The Date of the event was Saturday, May 28, 2022. And the venue was the Reception Hall of the Ministerial Complex in Oldest Congo Town, outside of the Nation’s Capital—Monrovia.
By Samuel G. Dweh, Contributing Writer
Seconds after the announcement, adulatory screams from the winner’s work colleagues (from the same print media institutions) and friends shot up and continued throughout the rising of the winner from his seat and trudge towards to stage to receive his award and make “a short remark”.
Seconds later, a dark-complexioned young man (in maroon coat suit)slowly rose from the table he shared with other participants for the event.
After receiving the Award, Lennart said he was surprised by his being selected for the Award, thanked the Press Union of Liberia’s leadership and its partners on organizing the event.
“This award represents symbol of public’s appreciation of the work we do at FrontPage. We feel more rewarded when we see our work, our stories inspiring change in our country, when we see major decisions which could have otherwise had adverse effects on our community, county or country being revealed—that is the essence of Journalism. We will continue to strive to deliver quality stories and more in-depth investigations,” said the Journalist of the Year Award recipient, Lennart Dodoo, during his remark after receiving the Award.
A News Desk Chief of FrontPage Africa Newspaper, Lennart Dodoo became more popular on two of his investigative stories. The first (published in June 24, 2022) is about “lies” by Montserrado County Senator, Hon. Darius Dillon, about flying on “Economy Class” Air fare (on Asky Airline), when he was travelling to the United States, instead of a “Business-Class air fare” he had travelled on. Lennart’s story was accompanied by a photo of the Senator in the “Business Class”. On Lennart’s story, the “most vocal Senator”—against “corruption” and “lies” (especially by Senator Dillon’s political opponents)—confessed to use of “Business Class” and he apologized for his ‘false information’ he had given to the Liberian public.
The second story that earned for Lennart national attention is about “diversion” (by public officials) of twenty four million United States Dollars (US$24m) meant for maintenance of national roads. The story pushed the General Auditing Commission (GAC) into investigation—and discovered the “truth” of the Journalist’s report.
Lennart Dodoo’s entry into the Liberian News Media Space was uncharted—he came in indirectly.
On May 30, 2022, while patching this write-up, I had an opportunity of speaking with the new “Journalist of the Year” in Liberia, and I ‘demanded’ on him to take me down memory lane of his journalistic journey.
He obliged, and narrated (reproduced below)
“Mr. Kenneth Y. Best, Publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper, gave me the opportunity to learn to be a journalist at the DO (Daily Observer) I started by helping to take care of the library. It all started in January, 2009. Later, I was given the opportunity to start contributing stories. I was later assigned at the Temple of Justice and the Liberia National Police Headquarters as a freelancer. I was later taken in as a full-time employee. In 2011, I moved to the INSIGHT Newspaper, where I served as a reporter and subsequently a News Editor. In 2016, I joined the FrontPage Africa Newspaper as a sub-editor and then the News Desk Chief.”
I had worked with Lennart Dodoo at the INSIGHT newspaper where I was employed as Editor-in-Chief in 2011 by the Publisher, Mr. Adolphus Dolo, former Senator of the Republic of Liberia. The INSIGHT was my next media place of work after I left Daily Observer where I was a Proofreader/Copy Editor for six months in 2011. The Daily Observer was my first media-related workplace when I returned home (in May, 2011) after my 10-year refugee life in Nigeria (2001-2011), where I also got formal journalism training at the Times Journalism Institute (TJI)—training arm of the Daily Times Newspaper of Nigeria. When I was in TJI, the school was located at Plot 40/42 Imam Dauda Way, Iganmu, Orile, Lagos State.
During the our working collaboration at INSIGHT Newspaper, Lennart Dodoo was exceptionally productive and humble to me—his ‘boss’ on the editorial team. I can’t remember a day when Lennart exhibited insubordination against me on any editorial matter—what story the News Editor should endorse or send in first, what story should make the front page’s lead, et cetera.
And Lennart was my “in-house teacher” —even though I was his “superior colleague”—sometimes calling my attention to errors of spellings and grammatical constructions in “finally edited stories” (by me) to be sent to the Layout person, or in the Paper already on the Newsstand!
The professional environment at FrontPageAfrica (FPA) newspaper—which clinched the “Newspaper of the Year Award” at the same event (the second time in succession)—further molded Lennart Dodoo into the ‘Journalistic Giant’ he is today. Mr. Rodney D. Sieh is the Managing Editor, and known to most media practitioners as part-owner of the paper. FPA, founded in 2005, has won the “Newspaper of the Year” on numerous occasions. This is the second time the paper has won Newspaper of the Year under Lennart’s leadership of the newsroom.
FPA is the “leader” of the print category of the Liberian media sector—State-owned or private (independent) I, actively practicing journalist, am not the only person (no form of attachment to Paper) with this view. My regular reading of published stories in each of the Newspapers is the basis of my ‘feeling’.
Here are factors for my view/opinion: FrontPage Africa is the only newspaper that doesn’t dedicate a “full page” with foreign stories (because of insufficient number of local stories) like each of the other newspaper do (some Papers give more than two pages to foreign information); FrontPageAfrica is the only Paper that goes deeper into (thoroughly investigate) a story more than each of the other Papers; FrontPage Africa leads other Papers on salary to its reporters and editors (smaller salary of other newspapers’ reporters cause their begging for money from newsmakers at public functions); FrontPageAfrica is the only Paper not deep into “political praise-singing” (praising of a politician—and critically report on any politician or political party), unlike each of the other Papers does (shown with headline or caption of ‘political story’); and the FrontPage Africa’s Publisher/Managing Editor gives the Paper’s Editor-in-Chief/News Desk Chief “external media experience exposure” (travel for International Media Event) than any of the Publishers of the other Papers; and FPA prioritizes in-house journalistic training of its reporters (new entrants—fresh graduates from Liberian Journalism schools or from a High School’s Press Club), which is based on FPA Publisher’s ‘solid journalistic writing background’ from Daily Observer newspaper (owned by his uncle, Kenneth Y. Best, one of Liberia’s prolific writers) He’s a relative of Kenneth Best, according to some sources, and the “writing blood” runs through both persons’ skin. Rodney’s equals in prolific writing, in Liberia’s media community, are Tom Kamara (now deceased), Publisher of the New Democrat Newspaper; and Mr. Kenneth Best—his ‘uncle’. Other Publishers are good at only “editing” stories or “signing cheques” for advertisement fees from the Paper’s clients—Government, UN Agencies, etc.
The involvement of the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), in the 2021/2022 Press Union of Liberia’s Media Excellence Awards event made it “more graceful”.
During his Keynote Sppech, Mr. Joel Maybury, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of the United States of America to Liberia, Mr. Joel Maybury,stressed on cautioned ‘imbalanced reporting’ by PUL members, encouraged them to prioritize reportage on human rights, women and children, and lamented on wanton killings of Journalists across the globe.
Press Union of Liberia President, Charles B. Coffey, Jr., appealed for more support from the Liberian Government and Liberia’s International Development Partners for professional empowerment of the Liberian Media community.
Mr. Jarwala Tonpoh, representing the Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs & Tourism (MICAT), recommended “Integrity Award” and “Outstanding Public Service Award” to be added to the PUL’s yearly reward event on outstanding journalistic productions.
Even though the current Leadership is being “praised” for offering ‘rewards’ to deserving Journalists, this body of officials is also on the media radar for ‘unethical actions’. One example is ‘holding on’ to the “Development Journalist of the Year Award” (2018/2019) for member Samuel G. Dweh. The Award is a digital recorder donated by USAID-sponsored LAVI (Liberia Accountability and Voice Initiative), a member of the 2018/2019 Award Committee member, Madam Torwon Sulunten Brown, disclosed to me one year after the event. There was another issue with the Award Certificate given to me (one year after the event) through PUL’s Project Manager, Mr. James David: No signature of the Awards Committee Chairman, Mr. JarwalaTonpoh—now Deputy Head of Press & Public Affairs of the Ministry of Information, Cultural & Tourism (MICAT)
We, members of the PUL, can “get it professionally and ethically right”—as FrontPage Africa’s News Desk Chief, Lennart Dodoo, has shown with his ‘good stories’ that earned for him the “Journalist of the Year Award”