Before coming to USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, I worked as a TV news correspondent for more than 12 years. I covered everything from school shootings to presidential inaugurations and worked alongside some pretty incredible journalists.
But, while serving on the Ebola Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) in Guinea, I met a group of local reporters who, with help from USAID, is taking dedication to news reporting to a whole new level. Here are three reasons why they are so amazing.
1. They are Breaking New Ground
Since January 2015, USAID has been partnering with a non-governmental organization called Internews to work with journalists in Guinea to produce a news magazine show called Ebola Chrono. Televisions are scarce, so radio is the best source of news here. Ebola Chrono is broadcast in French by 56 radio stations across the country.
In Guinea, where Ebola rumors abound and suspicions about the response are the talk of the street, the eight-member Ebola Chrono news team wants to set the record straight. The team’s mission aligns with one of USAID’s main priorities in the Ebola response: strengthening the communication of information about the outbreak.
According to Pierre Mignault, a veteran journalist now working with the team, Ebola Chrono is filling a gap he feels existed on the Guinean airwaves.
“What was missing here was solid, factual information about the response,” Mignault explained.
Five days a week, the news team produces in-depth stories about the Ebola response, covering topics such as vaccine trials, community resistance and Ebola containment efforts along the border. Reporters routinely hit the road to pursue leads and get interviews from people affected by the disease. The goal of the show is to bridge the information gap and present Guineans with reliable stories in a way that speaks to them.
“I don’t see what I do as just a job,” News Director Afiwa Mata Ahouadjogbe told me. “Everyone is concerned about Ebola. If I can contribute to help people, to empower people to get rid of Ebola, then it’s my duty to do it.”
2. They are Venturing into Unchartered Territory
In Guinea—and in the rest of the world, for that matter—fear of Ebola runs rampant. Many Guineans believe the disease is part of a wider conspiracy to kill unsuspecting citizens and harvest their organs. Ebola treatment units, or ETUs, are rumored to be the place where such alleged atrocities take place.
Enter Asmaou Diallo who is among that special breed of reporters who go the extra mile to get the story, even if it means possibly putting herself in harm’s way. When Asmaou and her team reported from inside Donka—one of Conakry’s busiest ETUs—people tuned in.
“That was revolutionary because nobody had ever been in the center. No one would go into a place like that,” said Diallo. “But we wanted people to have confidence in the system.”
Diallo and her team produced a three-day series that gave a step-by-step, first-hand account of everything that goes on inside an Ebola treatment center, from triage to treatment and beyond. The team also covered what happens to those who die, explained the process of safe and dignified burials, and interviewed Ebola survivors and family members of the sick.
But just as compelling as her reports was the fact that Diallo entered an Ebola clinic and came out alive. This not only raised eyebrows, it also raised the bar for reporting as other reporters soon followed her lead.
“A lot of things have changed,” Diallo explained to me. “We went to Donka, and we deconstructed the rumors around the centers. Other reporters are now doing the same thing. The impact is that more people know what is happening inside, and now more people go to the centers to get treated.”
3. They are Making an Impact
Many members of the Ebola Chrono news team were local radio reporters prior to being selected to take part in the USAID-funded program. But they tell me their mentor Mignault is helping them to become stronger journalists.
“I learned ways to strengthen my reporting, like how to use interviews and ambient sound to make stories come alive,” said Diallo. “I also learned the importance of going out to gather content and verifying the information I receive.”
When I asked Mignault whether all this hard work is paying off, he told me there’s a growing appetite in Guinea for solid news reporting. Case in point: some radio stations are airing Ebola Chrono more than once a day. Others are broadcasting the program during primetime slots. And more listeners have been texting or calling in questions about the stories they hear.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is the best team I’ve worked with,” said Mignault. “They’re very strong, dedicated. They believe they have a rendezvous with history. They know they can make a difference.”