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» 11.10.2010 - Liberia President named "friend of the media"
» 15.02.2010 - IMF commissions a mission to Liberia
» 22.12.2009 - First female wins Liberia's youth leadership award
» 01.12.2009 - Liberia pledges support to small farmers
» 10.11.2009 - Uganda partners with media to fight HIV/AIDS
» 18.08.2009 - Liberian security and peace gains still fragile, Ban
» 24.07.2009 - Liberia’s threshold programme approved
» 26.06.2009 - WB approves $3.5 million climate change fund for Liberia

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Liberia | Uganda
Media | Economy - Development

Liberian editors study post-war survival in Uganda

afrol News, 18 April - After decades of war and destruction, Liberia's newspapers are left with a broken back. The infrastructure is destroyed, sales are decimated and strategies only focus on survival. Now, five of Liberia's leading editors are in Uganda, studying how the press in that country managed to overcome the post-war crisis and get back on its feet.

When the Liberian newspaper executives saw the printing press of Uganda's biggest newspaper, they realised it looked familiar. That is because the press was the same kind Liberia's largest newspaper had owned before war and looting destroyed it. "It made me realize that if we had not lost everything for so long, we’d probably be in good condition now," said Sando Moore, who was on the staff of 'The Observer', which owned that press.

According to reports by the African Press Network for the 21st Century (RAP21), 'The Observer' was selling more than 10,000 copies a day when its press was destroyed and its building burned to the ground during Liberia's civil war. Now the highest-selling Liberian daily sells barely 1,000 copies.

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and the Danish International Media Support brought Mr Moore and five other Liberian newspaper directors to Uganda to study how newspapers there had rebuilt after a civil war and destruction similar to that which has only recently ceased in Liberia, RAP21 reports.

- Newspaper executives in a post-conflict country have no time or strength to think strategically or about common solutions when they are in or near their offices, WAN executive Aralynn McMane told RAP21. "There is not a minute that is not about immediate survival, especially when they are direct competitors." She said that is why it was so important that all of them agreed to be away from their offices for more than a week and examine the situation in a country that had survived similar turmoil and recovery.

The local partner was the Ugandan Newspaper Editors and Proprietors Association (UNEPA), which is a member of WAN. "I am glad that Uganda was chosen for this programme," said UNEPA President James Walulgembe. "I am looking forward to see the Liberians put what they have acquired in Uganda to work. If they do, I think they will achieve some positives in their media industry at this time when everything they have is in pieces."

The group examined the structure and role of the Ugandan newspaper association, management of newspapers in a post-conflict era and strategies to assure a literate next generation interested in reading newspapers. Over and over, in separate meetings, Ugandan newspaper executives emphasised the need to pay close attention to the commercial side of the paper.

- I don't think you have gone into journalism to get rich; you believe in something, said William Pike, managing director and editor of 'The New Vision', which has a daily circulation of 35,000. "However, just because you are a journalist, you should not forget it is a business."

Mr Pike explained the successes of his newspaper, which was founded by the government. "One of the reasons 'New Vision' is the top paper in Uganda is that we are the most business-minded," he said. He encouraged the group to learn the basics of accounting. "Create proper accounts that tell you at the end of the month if you are earning a profit. Then, if you are not, make adjustments such as by cutting down on salaries."

For Wafula Ogutu, the founding managing director of the independent 'Monitor', with a daily circulation of 22,000, a key to success is a strategic plan and the budget that goes with it. "There is a high mortality rate of newspapers after conflict," he said. "Journalists want to start newspapers; they see a niche, but they cannot follow-up." Mr Ogutu emphasised directors of new newspapers need to frugal, putting the money back into the paper.

Mr Pike also emphasised keeping the money the paper earns within the newspaper company. "Resist the temptation to pay personal dividends or your daughter's school fees," he said. He also strongly advocated zero tolerance for internal corruption: "Once you find that someone has taken any money, sack him."

Uganda's own newest newspaper is following this advice according to James Tumusiime, editor of the new 'Weekly Observer'. Founded just a year ago after ten reporters broke away from "Monitor", the newspaper has grown from 8,000 copies to 13,000 weekly. And it does not yet pay salaries to its managers. "Not until we develop our capital," Mr Tumusiime explained.

The Liberian group took the advice to heart and said it would explore the idea of a strategic planning short course after examining two publications that WAN provided, the basic management guide 'New Times' by Tatiana Repkova and 'Financial Management for Small Newspapers' by Lloyd Donaldson. The trip was partly financed under WAN's NIE Development Project, which encourages the use of newspapers in the classroom.

Liberia has already moved toward a pilot, joint newspapers in education project that will send unsold copies of newspaper association members into Monrovia classrooms for use in all kinds of courses. With the help of Norske Skog paper company (Norway), which supports the NIE Development Project, WAN says it will send a training team from Ghana later this month to help Liberian teachers learn how to best make use of the papers.

The Liberian group of editors also examined other solutions that a newspaper association can offer in post-conflict countries, such as lobbying for a good media law, joint ownership in a company that provides printing or distribution, coordination of staff continuing education and contests and education campaigns to promote better advertising, RAP21 reports from Uganda.

Participants in the tour were Mr Moore of the 'New National' and president of the Newspaper Publishers Association of Liberia; Stanley Seakor, publisher and managing editor of 'The Analyst'; Sheriff Adams, editor-in-chief of 'The News'; Sam Dean, publisher of 'The Independent'; Augustus Fallah, managing editor of 'The Forum' and Philip Wesseh, managing editor of 'The Inquirer'.

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