Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lessons Behind the Camera: Interning at ZNBC

By Danielle Parker

In Lusaka, Zambia

For three weeks, I interned at Zambian National Broadcasting Company (ZNBC).  Housed within the national media complex, ZNBC is the nation's largest TV and radio hub with one main urban and several regional stations.  Through my internship, I learned many things about Zambian culture, international journalism, and politics.

Despite its wide range, ZNBC is government-owned, meaning much of the coverage doubles as a public relations boost for the party in power. However the new Patriotic Front government made many promises during the campaign season to begin the process of liberating the media from government control: a commitment that has yet to show fruit.

My internship experience highlighted the particular challenges that arise when working as a government-owned media source in a developing country. However, to my surprise, this experience taught me more about the Zambian people than I would learn throughout my entire 3-week stay.

The week in the newsroom

A normal day at ZNBC begins with a morning meeting beginning roughly at 8:15, although reporters appear in the main newsroom anywhere between then and 9:00 a.m. Each journalist then gives an update on what they worked on the day before, their plans for that day, and any developing ideas before rushing off to their daily assignments.
Fellow intern, Molly Nocheck editing in the ZNBC newsroom.

My first week on the job was spent strictly in the newsroom where I observed both TV and radio production. My training in keyboarding was at a premium as even the editors were forced to type with index fingers, severely delaying the turn-around of stories. I saw the main TV bulletin produced without a teleprompter and stories thrown out because of poor Internet connection. The number of story ideas was never the issue; it was the lack of resources to cultivate them. As a result, the editors often ended up padding the programs with stories from the BBC or other media sources.

Meanwhile, the only evidence of a managing editor was the smell of cigarette smoke that crept from his office and the occasional walk through the newsroom to say hello. After 16 hours of sitting in the adjoining newsroom, I still had no idea about his job description.

Out in the field

After some pressure on my supervisors from my program director, I was finally sent out on an assignment with one of the reporters.

A lack of resources demands strategic planning as ZNBC vehicles
 wait for their next assignments outside of the Media Complex.
One of the largest issues I observed was the severe lack of both transport and modern equipment. For a staff of about 20 reporters, there are only three available cars and drivers and three cameras. As a result, reporters go into the field in groups, with the car dropping off and picking up as necessary.

As if the coordination is not enough, many of the events being covered run up to an hour late, leaving one or more reporters out of a ride and sometimes out of a story. I once waited with a reporter and cameraman for a minister that appeared almost 1 ½ hours late: time that could have been spent on cultivating another journalist's story.

Beyond the newsroom

However, despite the severe lack of resources and journalistic freedom, the reporters at ZNBC manage every day to widen the perspectives of Zambians across the nation. I learned that what they lack in resources, they make up in drive. The people I met taught me lessons not only about international journalism, but also about the Zambian people and culture.

Ellen Hambuba is a brilliant beauty that acts as one of the leading reporters. It was she who let me write and read the story that aired on the main news bulletin. She taught me that excellence and professionalism exist everywhere, no matter what level of resources are available and that a girl should never be without her face powder.

Barbara Malilwe, another leading reporter, bought me nshima for lunch and made me eat it all even though I was full. She taught me that Zambian culture centers around family, hospitality and most importantly: relationships.

Mr. Voster, a driver for the station, taught me that pride in one's work is the most important characteristic of a productive employee.

These are just a few examples of the wonderful reporters, cameramen, producers, and support staff that I met while working in the Media Complex. In the newsroom where gospel music and the BBC news were in constant supply, I discovered the beauty of the Zambian people. Their values and zest for life far surpass those of any group of people I've ever encountered in the developed world.

From my internship, I learned that the power of knowledge far surpasses that of money. The ability for the frequent, open, and smooth flow of relevant information is what distinguishes independent U.S. media from government-owned Zambian, and the haves from the have -less'.

Danielle Parker is one of 18 students from Ohio University, studying abroad in Zambia over winter intercession, about media, society, and governance, through the Institute for International Journalism.

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