The Five Essential Elements of a News Report About Africa

Welcome to international journalism, young, impressionable American human! After those years of unpaid internships and grunt work, you have graduated to the BIG TIME: you are going to Africa to report on a news story you have never heard of!

[If the reporter is not a tyro, replace the above with: You’re going to Africa, pack your bags.]

Most Americans have never been to Africa and about half can’t find it on a map, so you have to cover this story that you’ve never heard of carefully. Follow the five points below and your report will be a sure-fire hit, inspiring vapid cocktail hour conversation and disinforming flippant comments about the country you’re about to visit.

Element #1: Show the audience where you’re going on a map, because they’ve never heard of the place before.

A vital part, this. Americans don’t know anything about African geography, so you have to baby them. Them? I mean yourself, since you’ve probably never been there either. Before you leave, check Google Maps and find the names of adjoining countries–you’ve never heard of them either, but it’ll make you sound like you know your stuff.

If you’re reporting for TV, make sure your producer includes a map with the country you are reporting from highlighted. If you’re on the radio, mention the countries around the country you’re visiting while your listeners open map apps on their smartphones or scurry off for the nearest atlas.

Element #2: Do not learn the language.

There was a time in college when you thought about joining the foreign service and spent two weeks in Berber/Xhosa/Swahili/Igbo class before dropping it to spend more time in the library….the library café. All you remember now is how to ask “Do you have wifi?” and “I am Canadian.” Some people may suggest that you actually learn the language of the place you’re going to report on, or at least try to develop a working knowledge. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES DO THIS. You’re an American! Don’t make your audience think you’ve gone native by learning how to speak with the people you’re interviewing. Hire a translator to speak with these noble savages.

Element #3: Find squalor. Describe squalor.

Your editor or producer may have ostensibly sent you to report on some news story, but they really want you to talk about squalor. For your viewer, Africa = squalor. Also AIDS and civil wars, but we’ll get to that. Huts with dirt floors are good squalor, so is any kind of challenging cooking situation. Sick and/or starving children get serious brownie points, as do girls under 15 who are married (especially to men over 30). Terrible medical facilities are also a big ratings boost.

Element #4: Mention HIV/AIDS and/or malaria and/or civil war.

No matter what, you have to find a way to crowbar these elements in, even if you’re in a country that hasn’t had a civil war since independence. Example: if you’re in Ghana, mention the civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. They’re next to each other, so from Pennsylvania they look to be pretty much the same place. If you couldn’t find a lot of squalor, this is where you have a chance to make up for that and confirm all your viewers’/listeners’ stereotypes. Mosquitoes are a good snap shot if you are talking about malaria (which was a problem in Washington, DC until the mid-19th century, but don’t mention that). If you can find any child soldiers or former child soldiers from a civil war, your ratings are going to be awesome. Also acceptable are people in New England Patriots Super Bowl XLII Champions t-shirts.

Element #5: Close with tribal dancing and drumbeats.

What could be more African (for Americans, and besides squalor, AIDS, malaria, and civil war) than tribal dancing with a great drumbeat? You have to find a good “African” endcap to your report, and this is the best that there is.

If you have made sure to include all these elements, congratulations! You can look forward, after a few more near-identical reports from various parts of Africa, to get bumped up to reporting on somewhere like Italy, so you can swap out these stereotypes for greasy men, images of pasta, allusions to the mafia, and soccer hooligans.


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