Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Broadcast TV reporting in Africa quirkier than in U.S.

By Taylor Pool

Covering a story in Africa is largely the same as broadcast reporting in the United States, except, of course, that it’s in Africa making the experience a bizarre one every time.

During my first day with reporters, we managed to land ourselves in a near-death situation while covering the first of our two assignments on my first day as an intern. I say “our” because in Niamey, a reporter never does the job alone. The term “multi-media journalist” translates into the language of Niger, but normally, the journalists work as a team. In fact, there are generally five of us crammed inside a tiny car covering multiple stories each day: two reporters, the camera man, the chauffeur and me, the intern.
Before I explain my near-death experience, it is important to understand that roads in Niger are not like roads in the U.S. In Niamey, lanes are non-existent and traffic rules are merely suggestions. Getting through intersections is game of survival of the fittest and if you are not careful, you might run into a donkey or camel who uses the road as if it, too, were a car. 
Of course, the team happened to choose one of the busiest round-a-bouts in the city to conduct “man on the street” interviews. Naturally, the chauffeur decided to park the car on the opposite side of the round-a-bout that we were standing on. What did we do to get back? We walked and then ran when traffic didn’t wait for us back to our car, where I was welcomed by the second reporter. He told me, laughing, upon my arrival that he hoped I liked sports. 
Our second story assignment for the day involved finding a Malian citizen living in Niamey. We would try to find out his or her perspective of the conflict in Niger’s neighboring country. After exhausting all of our attempts to find a source, which included visiting the Mali embassy in Niger, paying a home visit to a woman who knew someone who knew a Malian and stopping at several merchant stands on the road, we found ourselves in the office of the chief press secretary for the city. He found out I was American and promptly handed me a sandwich.
My initial shock drastically diminished my ability to understand French in that moment, so I was incredibly unsure of what to do with the sandwich at first. I finally decided that I would rather risk food poisoning than risk being rude to a national authority figure, so I ate the sandwich, while four Nigeriens watched me with wide, anticipating eyes waiting to find out whether I would like the spicy Nigerien specialty. To my luck, it was a good sandwich. Finally, after a few more futile stops to find a Malian, we put the story on hold and made it back to the TV station. 
I learned my first day that it is legal in Niger to shoot video and ask for interviews in public locations, just like it usually is in the U.S. I discovered in the editing room that in Africa, reporters make VOSOTs and packages complete with anchor intros and tags just like it is done in Western countries. I also learned that my first day that Africans have just as much difficulty as Americans at finding sources to interview. What differs, I learned, is that in Niamey, the reporters are still writing story scripts by hand, there is no such thing as “live” newscasts and weather segments do not exist six months out of the year because, well, in the dry season it is always hot, dry and dusty.
Since my first African reporting adventure, I have run across the unpredictable Niamey roads on more than one other occassion in order to snag the all-important “man on the street” interviews. I have sat in on a practice session of an African dance and drumming team as they prepared for their performance during the national wrestling championship and I have consumed more free food given to me before interviews, which I had to accept against my Western better judgment that told me to avoid accepting gifts from sources. Most importantly, though, I’ve had the chance to see that journalism is journalism, no matter where it’s happening, even if the method of getting the job done in Niger is a bit quirkier than what I'm used to.

No comments: