After a 14-year civil war that only ended in 2003, Liberia is still rebuilding its infrastructure, national identity, and free press. Unfortunately, more obstacles than opportunities lie ahead. Liberian journalists are paid meager salaries and the media outlets they work for often aren't even able to afford enough gas to run the generators necessary to keep the computers running. Journalistic ethics are compromised when reporters are offered much-needed money for favorable reporting. Few businesses can afford advertising, which forces radio stations like Star Radio to rely on funding by local NGO's and donors.
With an unemployment rate estimated at around 85%, it's not likely that Liberian media outlets can count on much domestic revenue any time soon. Online distribution methods, however, enable Liberian journalists to reach the wealthier diaspora community living in the United States and Europe along with other readers interested in the country.
Liberia's national image has been defined by parachute foreign correspondents for nearly its entire history, since it was first founded as an independent republic by freed Black slaves from the United States in 1847. Today, Liberians are able to tell their own stories to an international audience by taking advantage of participatory media tools like blogs and photo-sharing sites. After a morning workshop at the US embassy in Monrovia, nine Liberian journalists have begun sharing their lives and stories with us on their newly created blogs.
Here is a complete list of their blogs:
After starting out with sports coverage on the eve of Liberia's football match with Nigeria, First News Liberia has since focused on politics and diplomacy, noting the appointment of a British Ambassador to Liberia and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's acceptance of the 2008 International Women’s Leadership Award. Mousso Mag, which so far claims the ‘best Liberian blog design’ distinction, reviews Redemption Road, a novel by Liberian writer Elma Shaw. Ben Sworh shows a bright side of Liberian news – a public works cleanup on Bushrod Island, but notes that the expense of the project hasn't been made public. The Judicial Reporter Network gives a glimpse of the court-focused reporting to come with a brief update on the criminal court case against detained Senator Roland Kaine. Joshua Kpenneh makes note of the Press Union of Liberia's five-man elections commission for its upcoming November election of five executive members. Speaking of the Press Union of Liberia, Sengbeh takes a look at the opportunity and opposition which lies behind President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's contribution of $100,000 to the press union and promise of more media support in the next budget.
Perhaps the most compelling blog post so far comes from Azango Liberia, who says that many communities have been forgotten during the past five years of rebuilding the country:
There are some communities in Liberia considered forgotten. And such communities were known during elections in 2005. People running campaigns for various parties were seen in these places, convincing citizens to vote for their candidates as every vote counted was important.
Little did these people know they were going to be forgotten or considered outcast once their votes were cast for candidates showing so much attention during elections season!
It was so pathetic to see people who claimed they voted for ”Ma Ellen” (President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) as she is known, reduced to eating wild roots such as bush eddoes, yams and potatoes, because the price of a cup of rice is sold at L$25.00 which many people can’t afford.
Talking about bush eddoes, known as “hummie,” I’m a living testimony because during the beginning of the Liberian civil war in 1989, I ate it. Because there was no food, bush eddoes were the only food available for survival at the time but it itched my mouth the whole night that I did not sleep. Just imagine what those people are going through when they have to scratch their mouths after eating what they consider food!
It is a must-read post with some great photographs included. Finally, the eldest participant of the blogging workshop, Gus Djaeploe, discusses the persisting scar of Liberia's civil war:
This era in the history of Liberia saw children killing anyone including relatives. the total breakdown of law and order, the mass exodus of people fleeing to different countries as refugees in search of a safe haven to save their skin. Such was the period when a whole generation of young Liberians born at such time knew nothing about home training, education and the respect for the rule of law They were born with the gun, grew up with the guns and drugs- their only playground was the active blood-prone battle fornt. No interest in upholding the decency of labor. as all they know is to get anything their hearts desire through the intruction of the guns, and looting became a culture to keep amassing wealth on a duty-free visa.
You can encourage Liberia's new bloggers to continue penning their first-hand accounts from one of the world's least developed countries by leaving comments and adding to the conversation. You can read more about the blogging workshop and Liberian media development on the blog of multimedia journalist Bill Glucroft.