Matching Liberian Media Against United States Press: Similarity & Disparity
...A Call For Assistance

By Josephus Moses Gray

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
December 6, 2006


Jounalist Moses Gray (Center)
The International Journalism Exchange Program being administered by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) in collaboration with the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), has helped to broaden my understanding and passion of the journalism. The program widened my understanding and prepared me for potential challenges.

There is nothing more interesting and benefiting then to participate in the 2006 Journalism Exchange Program. In totality, the Program is unique, well-thought out and informative. The goals of the program are to strengthen the independent press overseas and to enhance U.S. understanding of other cultures and journalism around the world, orientation in Washington DC on journalism, issues in today’s US newsrooms including leadership, ethics, strategic planning, staff recruitment and training, setting goals and priorities, working with writers, online publication, among others.

I am one of 11 participants from Colombia, Liberia, Sri Lank and Uzbekistan, India and the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, China, India, Panama and Belarus visiting the U.S. as part of the International Journalism Exchange; an ICFJ program that places overseas editors in U.S. newsrooms for four weeks. The American Society of Newspaper Editors in collaboration with the International Center organizes the fellowship, which brings together top media managers and executives, for Journalists (ICFJ), based in Washington.

As part of the fellowship, each of us spent four weeks at various American Newspapers where we had the opportunity to observe all aspects of producing a US daily, while we exchanged ideas and information with host newsroom staff and community.

My other colleagues on the program include Rosa Maria Agudelo, General Editor of Colombia’s only free and independent daily. Agudelo has 16 years of experience reporting and editing in Cali, where she constantly faces threats from warring factions. Bagila Bukharbayeva, the Associated Press’ Central Asia Correspondent. Bukharbayeva was exiled from her native Uzbekistan for her coverage of the Andijan uprising in May 2005. She is this year’s winner of the Paul Klebnikov Courage in Journalism Award, administered by the ICFJ.

Dinali Shakuntala Perera, is Political Editor of the English Language Daily Mirror in Sri Lanka. A country where independent journalists face possible kidnappings and violent threats. Perera writes a weekly column “Political Panorama” that addresses terrorism and its political implications. Since early August, at least two Sri Lankan journalists have been killed, two others kidnapped and one newspaper press was set on fire.

Other participants included Rosa Agudelo, the General Editor for Diario Occidente, Colombia; Jumana Al Tamimi, the editor for the Gulf Coast and Middle East sections of the Gulf News Newspaper, UAE; Esther Arjona, the supplement editor for Panama’s La Prensa daily newspaper, Panama; Sunita Aron recently promoted to the Mumbai as Roving Editor for the Hindustan Times, India and Bagila Bukharbayeva, the Central Asia correspondent for the Associated Press news service, Kazakhstan.

Others include Oluseyi Fasugba, the editor for one of Nigeria’s largest daily newspapers, The Champion Newspapers, Shakuntala Perera, Political Editor of the English-language Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka; Shams Ahsan Saifi, National Editor of the Saudi Gazette, Saudi Arabia; Jiwei Zhang, bi-weekly business magazine, Caijing, China and Alyaksandr Yanusik, English Service Deputy Editor, BelePan News Agency, Belarus.

Besides, the Program also afforded me the opportunity to tour several US states including Washington D.C., Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. While in US capital, my colleagues and I were taken on guided tours of Washington, D.C. including a tour of the US Capitol, visitations at the various historic monuments and departments, with the exception of the Pentagon

The program also afforded me the opportunity to interact and share experiences with top professional American newsroom editors and reporters, including the editors of New York Times, the Managing Editor of the Associated Press (AP), Foreign Desk Editor of Washington Post, Editor of Washington Post.Com, Editor of USA Today, Executive Editor of the Savannah Morning News, Editors of the Washington Bureau of Associated Press, Time Magazine, the Communication Director of the Committee to Protest Journalists(CPJ) and Editor of the Indian News Magazine.

Other interacted with while on the program including the top brass of the American society Newspaper Editors (ASNE), the Chairman and officials of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), officials of the US National Press Center in Washington, the Publisher of the Savannah Morning News Newspaper as well as a prominent Liberian social work based in Florida, Mr. Jerome Gayman. Also on the lists were the Mayor of the city of fort Pierce and the commander of the police in Florida and several stakeholders and administrators.

During our visitations at the major US Newspaper houses, each Editor took us on a tour of their various institutions and explained the operations of their newspapers and media organs. Speaking separately, the editor of New York Times told us that the paper had a workforce of 1200 and daily circulations of the paper is 850,000 copies while the Managing Editor of the Associated Press also told us that the news organ has 1,500 reporters and editors across the world, while the organ serves over 30,000 media houses with news on a daily basis. The Annual Budget of the New York Times is far more then Liberia’s National Budget for this fiscal year.

The Editors of Washington Post and USA Today disclosed that their daily circulations range from 800,000 to 2.5million. The USA Today is the only national newspaper in the United States while the Savannah Morning News Newspaper daily circulations range from 75,000 copies to 100,000.

Before my arrival in the United States, I was fairly educated about America, a one continent-country established on the basis of federacy, but I still could not withhold some doubts that something vital was still missing that I needed to know. No later than not, the Program has rendered obsolete the doubts and gave me more insights into America and its people, especially the operations of newspaper and well-read journalists’ approach to news gathering, researching, analyzing, processing, gate-keeping and packaging in the most authoritative form.

The program is fashioned on; theoretical and practical, and both components seek to offer one the true sense of sound decision-making in the newsroom, news-gathering, maintaining ethical behaviors, the state of press freedom around the world, U.S. laws and free press, innovation in newspaper design, investigative and online journalism, credibility, managing time, motivating staff members and the use of anonymous sources.

Owing to the program, I have uncovered the real meaning of United States and its people and the perceptions and contradictions about the country and its people. Generally, the people are good while America remains a country of several nations. America is undoubtedly a sharp contrast in view of the stereotypes portrayed by American celebrities.

Americans treat people with dignity, care, and above all an enviable hospitality. It is difficult to know America till you come closer to it and be part of the society.

The ICFJ/ASNE program has provided me the opportunity to interact with American journalists, understand the American dreams, culture and people. America is a society where all are treated equal under the law. The country’s domestic policies are very unique, unlike, maybe the foreign policy such as going to war in Iraq.

However, one might want to know the importance about America and its people. I guess there are several answers. Americans, especially in my personal interactions with professional colleagues are nice, friendly and treat others with respect. They greet people with smiles and opened hands, but on a serious note, they are direct and do not hide their feelings on issues of importance.

By just voicing out a concern, they are ready to assist; they are good observers and know how to approach situations. “Are you fine/ Are you okay? Do you have a family? Are you missing them? Have you spoken to them and what are your impressions about the time spent here? These are just few of the questions they will ask you on a daily basis.

The people of the historic city of Savannah and all Americans believe in their country. They cherish the American dream and flag so much. They fly their flag in front of their homes and offices. There is no doubt why America is the world foremost superpower. I wonder when Liberia will as a nation and people of Liberia learn to cultivate the pride of Americans. Surely, Liberia can’t be America. Savannah is a beautiful city, well layout, the beautiful landscape, nice structures and beaches and home to dozens of tourists.

Free speech, press freedom and religious tolerance struck me a whole lot. They attached great respect to religious tolerance. They are good at speaking their minds on issues of national and international concerns and offer suggestions. Unlike in my native country, Liberia where we always say, “It is the people’s thing”, the opposite exists in America.

Only few Liberians are good at speaking their minds but these Liberians are often accused as being ‘troublemakers’. In Liberia, when the independent media take position on issues, especially the ills and pitfalls of government and prominent politicians, that particular media organization and staffers are demonized as undermining the government, branded as enemy of the state, biased reporting, paid agent or instruments of yellow journalism.

A case in point was the recent sour relationship between the independent Liberian media and the current administration due to the recent verbal attacks on the press by the President, describing Liberian journalists as “paid agents and “check book journalists” seeking to blackmail people. However, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) countered the assertions and said that the President was “frustrated” because the press had refused to dance to the tune of the Government. It is no doubt that the statement by the Head of State relegated the media and its personnel in the eyes of the public.

Unlike Liberia, the media in America are very powerful. The American media are influential in the body polity of America. The American media are so respected in the society that their impact can be felt. The American media and journalists are well equipped, and treat their assignment with dedication and commitment. But there is always opposing views in the American press – both the conservative and liberal views.

On the contrary, American media report less on vital issues obtaining outside the United States, except where America has interest. I have been told that Americans are mostly interested in knowing happenings in their environment. In my country, Liberia, major happenings in America are given wild publicity and take banner headlines in the Liberia media but for the American press; it is very difficult to read about other countries in the America press, except for countries engulfed with crisis and violence. Occasionally, the American media published materials on smaller countries. These stories are treated with less prom