A Mid-Sized Newspaper Connects Its Readers to Africa

Smith, Rex
September 2004
Nieman Reports;Fall2004, Vol. 58 Issue 3, p58
This article focuses on the efforts of The Times Union newspaper to do a story on the living conditions in sub-Saharan Africa in 2003. Paul Grondahl and Steve Jacobs did not expect to be following a funeral march through fields of maize in an impoverished Malawi village in the spring of 2003. They had not imagined the groans of pain echoing off the bare cement floors of a crowded hospital, where patients waited in dark, filthy hallways for someone to die so a plywood bed would become available in a makeshift cholera ward. Grondahl and Jacobs had each spent almost 20 years working for the Times Union, and they knew that foreign reporting was not often a part of the newspaper's journalistic repertoire. Like most American newspapers, the Times Union recognizes that its franchise depends upon its local reporting. The Times Union's so-called Africa project, emerged as one of the newspaper's most notable undertakings. We had done our best to present a vital issue to our readers, not imagining that we could change the world, of course, but confident that we would make things a bit better. And perhaps we did that, and maybe that is all a newspaper can hope for when trying to present a serious issue from a distant land to a readership distracted by war and politics and entertainment and the busyness of everyday life. What we did might have helped forge some enduring connections. For those of us who tried to connect our world with theirs, we believe firmly it was worth the effort. INSET: Hope in a Can of Green Beans.


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