With Alagie Manneh
This Sunday, The Gambia media fraternity will welcome yet another outfit The Chronicle. It will be headed by journalist Sheriff Bojang Jnr as editor-in-chief and owned by Cherno Njie the financier of the bloody 30 December 2014 attack on State House and businessman Maff Sonko. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh talks to the Brikama-born Mr Bojang about The Chronicle and what it intends to achieve.
The stage is set for the launch of your newspaper The Chronicle, what should Gambians expect?
The Chronicle will be launched on Sunday, February 17. Of course Sunday is an odd day for official events like this but then we wanted to deliberately put a historical touch to it; that is the eve of independence, and it’s inspired by the story of Daily Observer. Daily Observer started on the eve of the 1992 general elections. We thought we could put a historical touch to it by launching it on the eve of The Gambia’s independence.
In essence, what will you do at The Chronicle?
The Chronicle is a digital media outlet, a digital newspaper if you may, and will be incorporated with a lot of audio-visual content as podcasts. We will focus and specialise on in-depth form of reporting, investigative journalism and human interest stories. Diversity is the key, our focus on whatever we do, will bear that; diversity, not covering just the urban areas, the Banjul and the everyday stories but then, every other story across the country. Some of this country is very beautiful. This country has a lot of stories other than the everyday partisan politics of who gets elected, who doesn’t get elected. I think our feeling is that Gambians had a lot of that. It is just too much. At The Chronicle, we won’t be known for breaking news, we will be known for putting perspective to every breaking news. We will be known for not just reporting about what someone says or something at conferences but then we would analyse and every story we do will be multiple sourced and it will be balanced and fair, but it will also be critical.
The Chronicle is owned by Cherno Njie, the financier of the December State House attack and one Maff Sonko, a businessman in the US, what motivated them to set it up?
They set up The Chronicle many months ago after the exit of Jammeh and according to them, they saw a huge gap in The Gambia in terms of dissemination of information, in terms of treating information, in terms of putting information out. They read a lot, but when they want to read about The Gambia, this is not the same story, not much to read. This is what triggered them. They wanted to contribute to building a better and stronger society. When they came up with the name, I was not hired. They already got the name and got it registered legally, in The Gambia. And I hope The Chronicle will become a household name in The Gambia.
You earned a reputation as a professional journalist, are you not worried that working for a man who financed a coup might tarnish your image?
No, not at all. So many people fought… I am not here to defend what Cherno did with that coup. We’ve never spoken about that; why he did it. I think the general consensus is people got fed up, a bunch of people got fed up about what was happening – the dictatorship. Other people used street protests to fight, others used their money, then other people used coup d’état – attempted coup – to change the regime and end the dictatorship. So that is his life, his business and his decision. Am I worried? No.
Why did you accept their offer?
Because first, I think their idea, their ideals and their vision through The Chronicle, is amazing. I think this is the kind of media The Gambia needs to fill the gap. What gave me the assurance is that guarantee of 100 percent, non-interference and editorial independence. My contractual agreement with them is based on editorial independence. There will be no interference by any inside or outside forces. I am here to start everything from zero. They gave me so much trust and it’s an opportunity for me to learn, especially on managerial qualities. When it comes to content, it’s not their business either. When it comes to the people I hire, they have no business in that too. They made it clear that I will have independence to work and this is what is happening; total editorial independence. So I am not worried about what Cherno did with that coup. What I could have been worried about was whether there would be interference on how to do my job but no, we agreed on that and so far so good.
You say you are going digital, is the average Gambian ready for that?
I believe Gambians can be informed, sensitised, enlightened, educated and entertained digitally, online without the traditional media. Everybody who can read a newspaper everyday has access to the the Internet. I don’t know of any newspaper that publishes 10,000 copies here, 5,000 I think is even a struggle, but by going digital we feel we can reach a lot of people both in and outside The Gambia. And I think we have very good strategies for that. More people access the Internet than those who read newspapers. I feel in order for traditional newspapers to stay in the game, they have to be innovative, the way they report. They have to be innovative and creative. I don’t want to be told on Tuesday about the TRRC what a witness said, and the next morning newspapers are quoting the same person telling me what I watched 24 hours before.
How bad will the emergence of online media outlets affect the traditional media?
Well it has, already. Look at it now, every event that happens, all the journalists, even citizen journalists and activists are there streaming it live on Facebook. I don’t know of any stories that the print media can break that have not been broken already. Because of the emergence of social media, everything is out there. This put the print media at a disadvantage.
Don’t you agree Internet affordability especially in rural Gambia is sometimes difficult? How will this affect you?
If we don’t go digital, the only option is to go traditional. In whatever way you look at it, digital got more access than print. Even in the remotest part of Basse, you will still be able to access the Internet, even though you might struggle. They don’t have access to newspapers there. For us, everything is innovation and everything will be innovative. Gamtel’s fibre cable is almost coming to completion and they told us, the Gambians, that the Internet will be accessible. I don’t know about affordability. If we can reach hundred thousand Gambians both in and out of The Gambia, this is a huge accomplishment.
Journalists in The Gambia are not getting adequately compensated for their work, what is The Chronicle going to do to help make this challenge a thing of the past?
First of all how we selected our pool of reporters… you go through all the process. You apply and get interviewed and everything. Those who are successful, have been given letters of employment. In terms of remunerations, payments, I think we are way up there because we feel that people should be compensated adequately for their work, not to be given pittance. I am not saying we are giving them heaven and earth, but we are good and they are satisfied with what we are offering. They have all the equipment and tools they need to work. This is just the first step. We also have our code of ethics, the do’s and the dont’s, from appearance to everything. I think we have the youngest media team in this country. Everybody is young – maybe just myself – and are very excited and ready to learn. We are training them on how to look at stories differently and be more innovative and they are picking up.
What challenges do you envision?
I don’t foresee any specific challenge. Like other journalists, we are moving from one form of journalism to another. As you know, journalism in this country where everything is filled with ‘he said that’ ‘he added that’ and all that. We can say what people say but we want to look beyond what people say. The Chronicle want to look at the lines, the bloodlines and stuff and contextualise it in a very professional manner, put multiple sources in there, and for people to judge. That alone is a challenge; shifting people from this kind of journalism. We are not going to be a media that covers events from hotel rooms. These people there are not our target. If you are talking about agriculture and you are some expert in a suit and tie, nice, we can take something from you but then you are talking about the plight of poor farmers. We don’t need you to tell us for us to tell the world. We can talk to the farmers ourselves. All these are challenges but perhaps I would say the biggest accomplishment for us would be to prepare these young crop of reporters we have – very young, a and dynamic – take them from one chapter to the other and strengthen their capacity. That will be a huge boost.
What about conflict of interest? Will this job not affect you role as president of Gambia Press Union?
Not at all, I think it will actually complement my role because whatever my ideas and concepts here I am looking beyond the corridors of The Chronicle’s office. I am looking at the whole Gambia. Look at it; first of all job creation. We talked about journalists not getting paid, not having proper contract. At least now we have a few journalists, who are out of that group. This is what the GPU wants. Anything that I do here, is good for the GPU and the media fraternity. We are also going to bring in young journalists, train and build their capacity, and let them go and flourish. My role as GPU president complements what I do here. So, it’s a marriage affair, a very, very lovely husband, who’s obsessed with his wife and a lovely wife who’s obsessed with her husband. The GPU-Chronicle, this is what it is for me. I think there is no conflict of interest. And you would be surprised that when… I actually took this job before the GPU. I came back from Senegal because of this job. A lot of people asked me to contest and I called the two founders and informed them and it took them fifteen minutes or so to say ‘you have our blessings. Good luck’.