Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Different (News) Culture

By Jenna Miller

In Lusaka, Zambia

During my time in Zambia, I interned with one of the only private broadcast news stations: MUVI TV. As these 3 weeks have flown by, I’ve taken notice of the differences between Zambian and American news operations. While there’s a plethora to choose from, I will only highlight the two main distinctions I have made that separates the job of a reporter in each country.

One Car Band

Whenever reporters go out in the field, they do not go by themselves. They pack a car with 2-3 reporters, a cameraman, and a driver. The driver takes everyone to each reporter’s story. As the designated reporter and cameraman do their thing, the rest just wait in the car. Some stories can even take more than an hour, but everyone still waits in the car for the reporter and cameraman to finish. Occasionally, they will drop a reporter off at a location if it does not require a camera, but for every other story everyone waits. It took awhile for me to get used to this concept.

As a journalism student, I’m told reporters these days are “one man bands.” The reporter does everything including his or her own camera work. But in Zambia, it’s more like a one car band. Not only do the reporters get a cameraman, but they also have other reporters on hand if they need help. It might not be the best use of resources or money to send 3 reporters out with a cameraman and a driver, but it definitely makes a reporter’s life less stressful and gives a few more people jobs.

Reporters Helping Reporters

MUVI TV is not the only news organization that sends teams of reporters out together. Not only that, but these different news teams actually work with one another. One of the reporters from MUVI told me that, if her friend at The Daily Mail gets a tip, he will call her right away to tell her about it and if she has heard anything. When they are out in the field at the same story, the group of reporters (from MUVI, MOBI, ZNBC, ZANIS, and all of the newspapers) joke around with one another and someone will even offer to go on a food run for the group. They will ask each other how their story is going and offer any information they think the other reporter might need.

This would never happen in the United States. Sure, reporters might sometimes develop a relationship with another reporter from another news organization, but not with every reporter from every news organization. The news industry in the United States is way too competitive and cut throat for reporters to work together like they do here in Zambia. Competition is the main reason why reporters are able to work together. The Zambian media do not really compete with one another. Each outlet has its own niche. Of course, each station wants to see what the other is covering, but in Zambia it is also about sharing news to ensure that they have not missed anything for their viewers.

Different Packages

While there are still extraneous differences I could mention (like 30+ second stand-ups or having only one computer with internet in the newsroom), I chose the above two because I think it truly creates a world of difference. I have found the job of a Zambian reporter to be more laid-back than that of American journalists. I also feel as if Zambian reporters have more passion for their work and show more enthusiasm for the stories they cover – even the dull stories than their U.S. counterparts. It is that laid-back atmosphere that keeps this enthusiasm and motivation instilled in Zambian reporters.

I believe reporters in both countries share the same ideals and passion for journalism, but the environment in which Zambian reporters work allows for more longevity in the media world. A lot of American reporters burn out within a couple years because of the stress of competition and meeting deadlines. In Zambia, competition is not an issue and deadlines rarely interfere with quality work. U.S. journalists should take note of the Zambian reporters. They might produce a slightly different package than most American journalists, but the passion and commitment to the public I think resonates with reporters from both countries.

Jenna Miller is one of 18 students from Ohio University, who studied abroad in Zambia over winter intercession through the Institute for International Journalism.

She is a senior broadcast journalism major with a certificate in the Global Leadership Center and a specialization in German.

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