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Sierra Leone News: CHETANYA’s View:Happy 18th birthday, Awoko Newspaper!

CHETANYA

CHETANYA

Awoko newspaper turned 18 years old on Wednesday, which was celebrated in the office with food and a huge cooler full of ginger beer. “It’s like a boy who’s all grown up,” one of the staff said. As it happens, Tuesday this week marked the midpoint of my time here in Sierra Leone. I’ve been here five weeks, and I have five more weeks to go. Working at Awoko has been an awesome way to spend five weeks in Sierra Leone, and I’m looking forward to the rest.
Early in my internship, I asked one of my colleagues what makes Awoko newspaper different from the other roughly 100 other newspapers in Freetown. He told me Awoko speaks for itself  read Awoko, and then read how the others cover the same stories, and it’s plain to see, he said.
I think part of what makes Awoko’s coverage so great is its independence. One of the most important ethical codes for journalists in the United States was developed by the Society of Professional Journalists, and has four main pillars: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. Journalists are not legally required to follow this code, but it’s the basis for how to judge whether they are being ethical in their actions and coverage. Under “act independently,” the code elaborates that “The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.”
Unlike some newspapers in Sierra Leone, which are affiliated with either the government or a particular political party, Awoko is independent, and has the motto “Service to the people.”
I love this motto — it lays out the most important goal of journalism in just three words. Serving the people requires acting independently as Awoko does, because unless journalists are independent of outside influences, their work can’t be assumed to be credible by the people.
When I asked my colleague Ophaniel Gooding what first attracted him to Awoko newspaper when he applied to work there 14 years ago, he told me about his job interview. Awoko editor Mr. John asked him, “Are you afraid of the police? Are you afraid to go to jail?” Awoko isn’t just independent, but brave too.
In Ophaniel’s opinion, one of Awoko’s greatest strengths is that it covers issues from diverse perspectives that would be of interest to the people. Awoko covers the two sides  or really, the three, four or fives sides, of each story, and gives voice to the voiceless.
And another strength, in Ophaniel’s view, is that Awoko has a staff with a diverse range of opinions and perspectives. In an inspired metaphor, Ophaniel said Awoko was like media version of the United States. The US is full of people of all different nationalities, but they all work together for one interest. In the same way, he said, “Awoko reporters have diverse backgrounds, but we’re working as a unit to render service to the people.”
I’ve seen the long hours the staff put into their work, to turn in multiple stories, edit and format them to create a full newspaper every day.
A hardworking newspaper that’s independent and dedicated to serving the people, is just what Sierra Leone needs. In fact, it’s what the world needs. Here’s to many more years of service to the people  many more years of Awoko newspaper!
*Chetanya Robinson is a journalism intern from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the 7th intern in as many years in an internship program with Awoko Newspaper
Thursday August 11, 2016

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