Suomi/Africa – networking for better journalism
In September 2011, a group of journalists from different African countries, and also from New York and London, went wandering through the forests of Nuuksio National Park in Finland. Little did they know how far their journey together would take them. The group were in Finland at the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Unit for Development Communication to gather information on Finland’s strengths as a nation: education and solutions for sustainable development.
The following autumn, in 2012, their work together as a group was strengthened at a media workshop held in Kenya. All the time, they were learning about freedom of the press and the working conditions for media in different African countries.
The same group of journalists worked and learned together, and continued to hone their professional skills together, even after they returned to their home countries. The next field trip involved travelling to and through three countries - South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia - in early October 2013. Three Finnish journalists joined the group to study Finland’s activities in the field of development cooperation, aid for trade and the work of Team Finland.
“The Suomi/Africa network of journalists, and our website - Perspectives from Africa, Engagement from Finland - are already recognisable brand names,” said Andrew Croft in Johannesburg. “More and more people are visiting our website, and I am constantly getting comments and queries from journalists in many African countries, asking about stories they could write. Our network keeps on expanding, but the basic idea remains: we offer you the best that Finland and Africa, working together, can give to sustainable development.”
From the heart of Africa
“I think this community of journalists from 15 different countries is the only one of its kind. It has been a privilege to be part of this process and watch at first hand as this tight-knit community spontaneously emerged in Finland, expanded, and became even stronger. It has changed my perspective, brought me closer to Africa, and opened my eyes to new material for journalism,” said Croft, an Englishman who has been writing about Africa for years, and works as the Managing Editor of African Review of Business and Technology. Croft said that he can choose the best material for his stories through the Suomi/Africa network.
“My stories are more genuine and more accurate, which makes them much better. I share my African colleagues’ views and my stories have a human touch. I am getting to know Africa better, and I am writing from the heart of Africa, the people’s own hearts.”
A hotbed for the growth of African journalism
“African journalists need a channel where they can talk to each other, share information, and learn from each other,” said Dommie Yambo-Odotte, Senior Media Advisor and Producer at Development Through Media.
For Ms Yambo-Odotte, Africa is a continent full of thoughts and ideas, but these need the proper conditions to grow and bear fruit.
“Suomi/Africa can provide a place for African journalism to grow and flourish. African journalists often work alone, isolated from each other. Sometimes, you feel like a frog living in a puddle, who doesn’t know that the sea is just a few leaps away. Our network opened a channel to the sea for me.”
Ms Yambo-Odotte thinks that Africa’s problem is not access to information, because there is always some form of media available everywhere. However, the quality of journalism overall is weak, and the professional skills of journalists vary greatly.
“Our common journey and the network we created provide a wonderful opportunity for digging deeper, doing investigations, exploratory journalism, because just keeping up with your everyday job doesn’t give you enough time for that sort of story. When you can really throw yourself into an issue, and research it yourself, you can create stories people will believe.”
“This network is the only thing that could get me to leave my family for more than a week. What is so great about our cooperative network is that it was born from our own efforts, and not under the direction of outsiders,” said Simon Kaheru from Uganda, who works as Lead Analyst at Media Analyst. “Through the network, I can get more information and resources for my own work as a journalist, and I can make useful contacts, so I can expand my own personal network. I also think that we have seen more examples of the good work Finland is doing in Africa than most Finns have seen.”
What did the Finns get?
“This trip, becoming part of this network, is one of the best things that ever happened to me in my professional career. I am certain that it will make me a better journalist; I’ve learned so many new skills,” avowed Kii Runsten, from Maaseudun Tulevaisuus (literally, The Rural Future) - a Finnish monthly news magazine devoted primarily to agriculture and forestry.
“Now, when I am in Finland writing stories about Africa and African people, I can check my facts much more easily to make sure I’ve got them right. That’s because I have local contacts now, who can help me to put everything into the right context.”
In Runsten’s opinion, there is a growing need for Finnish journalists to understand global affairs - since Finnish companies are expanding into every corner of the globe, even into Africa.
“At the same time, Finnish media are reducing their editorial stuff, and foreign desk journalists have to write their stories more and more in Finland. I was surprised by the flexibility of Africans in their ideas on development, and their unbounded imagination. I also think that Africa is going to overtake us soon in the area of mobile journalism.”
Patrick Skön, a reporter for YLE - Finland’s public broadcasting company - also considered that the new contacts he made and the informal discussions he had were the best things he got from the trip.
“I have to admire my African colleagues and their ability to solve problems is phenomenal. I have learned a lot from them. Now I’m up to speed on Africa.”