By Talib Gibran
When my 5th grade English Language teacher told me I could be a journalist, I thought she was mad. Really mad because prior to touting me to succeed in the field of journalism, I had a childish conversation with one of my uncles about journalism. After watching Jainaba Jallow present news on GRTS, wow, I was wordless with the precision and mastery in doing such a ‘hard work’ for 30 minutes nonstop.
I asked one of my uncles how on earth someone could do that and his response was deadening. He told me before the lady sat in front of the camera, she would memorise everything on the script first. This sounded somewhat impossible for my little brain. I told him I wanted to become a journalist but I gave up because I clearly didn’t have 197 Intelligent Quotient to memorise a thirty-minute presentation.
I tried to forget about becoming a journalist there after and, maybe, become a truck driver but that also had some hurdles. Prominent among which were my delicate physique that would struggle to push or pull that mighty gear; and chicken gut which made me scared of anything huge and moving. It was not until I met one sober man who revealed to me that the presenter in fact reads the news from a teleprompter (whatever the hell that meant, I had no idea but it served its purpose).
Then I began reviving my interest in journalism and I remain steady to date. So many things happened along the way though; from joining the press club at Nusrat, becoming an indefinite intern, reading journalism to working in the boring Gambia media which is more and more dwindling like a dying candlelight.
When I started buying papers with my own money, I would only buy Foroyaa because I felt they published what I wanted to read: asking rhetorical questions on the whereabouts of missing individuals, long letters to the president, rural groundnut producers decrying the low prices in the market, domestic debt, and the list goes on; things that I probably wouldn’t find anywhere else and I enjoyed it.
However, I blamed my inability, at the time, to distinguish politics from journalism. Thanks to Gambia Press Union, even if you bury a word that has a political subtext six feet in your article, I would notice it quicker than anyone would expect. That’s the reason I have stopped, not entirely though, to fill my stomach with something that would cause me constipation when nature calls.
For Daily Observer, I nearly started there. I remember when Nanama was heading the sports page there (funnily now an American soldier), I had a chat with him so I could start developing my writing skills. He called me over, tested me and, before he could get back to me, the NET of the famous—maybe infamous—NIA grabbed him.
The next thing I heard was he absconded. Before that, he had already set a date when I should check on him about my potential internship at arguably the most widely read newspaper in the country. I eagerly waited on tenterhooks for the day to come fast and, there you go, it finally came. I went to Observer and reaching at the entrance, I met a dressed-to-kill elegant lady who broke the news of Nanama’s sudden departure to me. I stood, numb like a German during Siege Heil (Nazi Salute). I felt like I was hit by a stalactite. Dreams shattered. The young wench, dressed to the nines, keenly stared the visible disappointment on my face and I’m sure she felt sorry for me.
For The Point, I like everything about it except the layout. It kills my appetite for reading newspapers when I see a strapline that has ellipsis ending it. I don’t know how that problem has persisted for so long; maybe they enjoy it. And for The Standard, well, I don’t like anything about it as of now. No, except the layout. It is decent and catchy. I used to like almost everything about it, especially when minster of words was there publishing excellent news articles that are standard.
The Voice, my favouraite. Strangely. This is a tri-weekly newspapers paper that has been, with maximum standard of journalism, consistently feeding the reading public with good stories. That reminds me, someone told me that The Voice is very ‘inconsistent’; that when they come out today you don’t see them again for another two days. Some really strong rantings about the paper which got on my nerves.
I was perplexed with the boorish banality of his argument and it felt like there was a lump in my throat. I asked him his definition of ‘consistency’ and he could only narrate me stories about The Standard, Daily Observer, Foroyaa and others publishing everyday. Daily papers, to help him understand his own argument. I tried to make him understand that as long as you don’t skip the days you publish, that’s consistency.
When I pass by their office, more like a struggling barber’s shop hanging atop the little storey, I see a newspaper driven by determination in competition with the so-called daily papers whose stories are similar to that of a senior school press club. One of the news editors—Modou S Joof—sober, smart and calm like a New Zealand kakapo, was my classmate at the school of journalism. Jacuzzi, as I funnily call him, understands the conventional news gathering techniques and is one of the best young editors in the country. When I hold the paper, I always see that Jacuzzi has picked a lot from the grumpy Lars Moller’s GTTP mantra which he repeatedly stressed us with in the class.
Of course, there’s one thing I find rather the most intriguing about the paper; the once-in-awhile monopoly of the front-page by the proprietor himself. Amazing. It signifies so much collective work in the newsroom and it could be the same anywhere. Come to think of it, if you walk to the newspaper vendors and see all the front page stories on Daily Observer are authored by the Gambia’s Pen (including the congratulatory letters) or Uncle Pap Saine beats the FrontPage-dominated Nyockeh to all the stories or the top echelons of Foroyaa read themselves on the front. Well, for The Standard, the MD once stormed on the front with his Bakau stories. It would sound, to some extent, a measure of absurdity for a proprietor to have his by-line on the front of the paper or on any news page. But I find it fascinating.
Lawyer Darboe complained sometime back that the standard of journalism in the country is ebbing. I agree. While people heap the blame on the political situation and the empty heads that join the media, I believe The Voice is setting a new trend for all the other papers to follow. And it is a matter of time, of course with resources, before the paper brings life back to journalism in The Gambia.