Poynter Fellow Discusses the Changing Media Landscape in Africa

Friday, April 25, 2014

“Africa is not a country. Context and nuance are often missing in the western media’s coverage of Africa,” said Lola Ogunnaike, a 2014 Yale Poynter Fellow in Journalism and the host of Arise Entertainment 360 and Today Show contributor. “In telling our stories, we Africans also need to be careful about how we speak about the continent. African countries need truth, not propaganda.”

During her visit to Yale on April 17, Ogunnaike gave a talk at a Dean’s Tea at the Afro-American Cultural Center.

Prior to her current position at Arise News Network established by Nigerian Media mogul Nduka Obaigbena to champion the voices of frontier and emerging markets, Ogunnaike was an entertainment reporter for CNN’s “American Morning” and an Art & Leisure reporter at the New York Times. In 2011, she accompanied Michelle Obama and documented the First Lady’s trip to South Africa and Botswana for BET’s half-hour special “Michelle Obama: Impact Africa.”

During the talk, Ogunnaike recalled her childhood experience growing up as a first generation Nigerian American and hearing her teachers and friends butcher her name on the first day of school. Noting that nowadays western media accurately pronounces the names of Hollywood’s rising stars, such as Chiwetel Ejiofor, David Oyelowo, and Lupita Nyong’o, Ogunnaike stressed the importance of promoting and celebrating Africa’s soft power. She said that it is one of the ways to prove that the continent is more than the negative representations and sensationalist narratives presented by the western media.

According to Ogunnaike, Africa’s soft power can be found in emerging local media initiatives that cater not only to the African public but also to a broader audience around the world. She shared the following examples: Nollywood films’ global popularity gave birth to iROKOtv, a new Internet subscription service—often called “Netflix of Africa”—which now has more six millions unique users from 178 different countries. While “Nigeria’s Got Talent” and “Nigerian Idol” are broadcast in Europe and North America, Bloomberg TV Africa provides the global business community and policymakers with the most up-to-date business and finance news from Africa.

Ogunnaike also emphasized the role of everyday people in shaping Africa’s new media landscape. “We are living in the digital era, and Africans are in a better position to tell their own stories,” explains Ogunnaike. “Anyone with a cellphone with a bit of bandwidth and desire can be on the front line. The newsroom can be in your pocket [or] in your bookpack.”

From digital advocacy using social media to an online news agency that encourages citizen journalists to report stories about Africa, such as Sahara Reporters, she presented numerous examples of citizen participation in Nigeria’s changing media landscape.

“Lola’s talk was refreshing in that contrary to what one might think she progressed in her media career in part by carrying her Nigerian-American culture along with her. Speaking for myself - a Nigerian-American - she showed that our different cultural experiences don’t hinder our professional pursuits in the West, if anything they provide us with a unique story to tell and unique skills to provide,” said Deborah Oyeyemi YC’15.

After the Dean’s Tea talk, Ogunnaike met with the leaders from student groups at the Afro-American Cultural Center and had a lively discussion on leadership both inside and outside the classroom. “I enjoyed hearing Lola speak because she clearly wanted to connect with and support the students,” says Sarah Derbew, Co-Chair of Yale Black Graduate Student Network.  “She recognized that all of our successes are intertwined.”

To learn more about Yale and Africa: http://world.yale.edu/regions/africa
To learn more about the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism: http://communications.yale.edu/poynter

-By So Yoon Sim