Reuters has taken an important and trend-setting step with Reuters Africa.
It is important in several ways. First, it demonstrates Reuters' commitment to covering Africa not only as a general news story but also as a global business story - to an extent that I have not seen in other global English-language media.
As Reuters Africa editor John Chiahemen told The Guardian: "We want to show that Africa can be covered as a business story, not just a disaster story. While it is true that African information is available from other sources, there is no single media I know that has the breadth of content Reuters has available."
A press release elaborates further:
Reuters Africa features an interactive map to access local Reuters news across the continent, organized by country. Reuters Africa also provides extensive economic, business and financial news and data, including stock and currency market data and company information, from around the continent. Reflecting the importance of commodities to many African economies, the site features exclusive online content on metals and mining, energy and oil, and agricultural commodities.
This is important. My friend and colleague Ethan Zuckerman has written a great deal about how the global English-language media (and entertainment industry) needs to start treating Africa like a place and an opportunity - not just a crisis. In his work on global media attention, he shows how Africa gets the least amount of media attention than anywhere else (nobody is too surprised at this), but more interestingly he also argues (original pdf article here) that there is a connection between this lack of global media attention and the inability of businesses and policymakers in Western developed nations to take African countries seriously as destinations for investment and business.
Is China's growing business influence in Africa now an added incentive for Western news organizations to take Africa seriously as a business story? At any rate, Reuters deserves kudos for taking the lead.
Second, Reuters Africa extends the news agency's commitment to build synergies between the work of Reuters reporters and the work of bloggers from around Africa, who paint a much more diverse and vibrant picture of the continent than mainstream news reporting tends to do. Global Voices Managing Editor Rachel Rawlins, who used to work as a correspondent in Africa for the BBC writes:
It’s frequently depressing reading accounts of Africa in the mainstream media. Doubly so, in fact. Firstly because what is defined as worthy of reporting is, well, depressing. And secondly because it so seldom engages with the complex and vibrant reality of the continent in all its massive diversity, preferring instead to deal in simplistic stereotypes.
(Disclosure: Reuters is the main funder for Global Voices which I co-founded so there is a reason I'm paying a great deal of attention to its site and its significance - but I'd like to believe that I'd find it significant even if I wasn't connected to GV, and that many people who aren't will. If you think I'm completely full of it please hit the comments section and let me know - nobody has ever hesitated in the past!)
As you'll see from the screenshot that Rachel took from the Uganda page of Reuters Africa, each country page not only includes news headlines but also the Global Voices Uganda feed, pointing to blog posts coming from Uganda, selected by people like our amazing Africa editor Ndesanjo Macha.
Mark Glaser at MediaShift has a great post titled Reuters Looks to Africa and a Decentralized Future for Media in which he interviews Reuters president Chris Ahearn on why his company has begun to take blogs seriously. My favorite quote: "last I checked, the business we’re in is to inform people."
Yup, and the bloggers we link to on Global Voices are as serious about doing that as journalists are.
Two more key quotes:
...as we start to arm the quote-unquote mainstream with the same tools as journalists, editors and reporters have, there’s an interesting asymmetry here. I talk to a lot of people who say, ‘How come blogging software seems to be a richer news-telling experience than some of the tools we put into journalists’ hands?’ Interesting dynamic, that.
The cost of newsgathering has plummeted. How do we take that and deploy more resources into newsgathering and news presentation? Why is it that right now, at a time when the world is getting more difficult to understand based on everything that’s happening are news organizations pulling out of so many places around the world? Why?
It's worth reading the whole post to get a further glimpse into Chris' vision of where the industry is going, and why news organizations should recognize that we are entering a "golden age" for journalism - not leaving one.
In the same post Mark also interviewed Ethan, who pointed out there's a lot more potential synergy between Reuters journalism and Global Voices' global community of bloggers that so far has not been explored:
There’s a rising tone of anxiety and despair in the Zimbabwean blogosphere, for instance, but it won’t ‘break’ as a story unless the civil service strike goes off tomorrow and sparks a violent government response,” Zuckerman said via email. “In a perfect world, I think we’d find a way to help our friends at Reuters anticipate stories that might break based on our coverage — that hasn’t happened as much as I’d like.
Perhaps that will be next. But as Rachel points out in her post on Global Voices, the blogosphere has a long way to go as well:
This is a great step forward, but there’s still a long way to go. There are large and exciting blogging communities in several countries, such as Nigeria and Kenya but there are other areas where coverage is very sparse and still others, such as Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, where online expression is severely curtailed by the government.
We hope that the involvement of bloggers in projects such as this not only gives a platform to those whose voices have long been left unheard but also encourages others to join the conversation and brings pressure to bear on behalf of those who want to speak but cannot.