Perspective: The key to good journalism through African art

February 17, 2009

Patrick Meier’s Crisis Mapping of the Kenyan election violence showed that citizen journalists and mainstream media do not necessarily overlap in their coverage of an event or series of events.  This argues for the coexistence of citizen and professional journalism largely because without one or the other many atrocities might not be documented. A post on this blog from February 10 titled “Professional vs. Citizen Journalism: Contextual Authority” does a great job of outlining other reasons that the two can both remain dominate forces in reporting. The purpose of the present post is not to debate their coexistence but to offer an argument for why citizen journalism might produce richer stories than international professional journalism.

Through African Art
This Sande Society mask is a quintessential example of the African aesthetic—youthfulness, luminosity, and calmness (coolness). The ripples around the neck convey that the Sande Society valued a strong, robust woman as this was a sign of fertility, the disproportionately large forehead displays the belief that good luck enters through it, and the complex hairstyle portrays the social norm that woman must take good care of their hair. (A woman with messy hair was seen as a sign of instability of mind.)

Even if an international journalist (e.g. a New York Times journalist reporting in Kenya) has studied an area and its language, culture and politics, his or her ability to convey meaning about an area can never be as good as that of a local, citizen journalist, given equal intelligence and communication ability. In the case of the Sande mask, an international observer may factually understand that the Sande Society believes that large foreheads are beautiful and lucky. Even better, the observer might develop an appreciation and understanding of the African aesthetic and ideas of beauty. However, unless this cognition is natural and inherent, the observer can never report as accurately on the subject as a local. This is, in essence, ‘innate perspective’.


Given that local journalists, whether they are bloggers or members of the traditional media, have a unique advantage in reporting stories that relate to that region or country, international media outlets should use them to a greater degree. Considering that the budgets of Western (especially US) news outlets have been continually decreasing and their international bureaus have seen major cutbacks, it would be logical to begin using local, citizen journalists of a given country to report on issues that pertain to that region. This argues for not mere coexistence but the development of a relationship that could enlighten readers around the world about events that would otherwise not be covered.

Using traditional news organizations as a hub for international news from citizen and local journalists will reestablish and, in some cases, establish for the first time a connection between the developed and developing world. The ‘hub’ (i.e. BBC, NYTimes, and others) could act as the editor, translator and fact checker, allowing the local journalist to concentrate on reporting the story behind the facts.

-Parker Noren


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