IV. Towards quality: African language journalism development

The significance of African storytelling in journalism


It has been said that ‘journalism is the first rough draft of history’.1 If so, not only the content but also the models of storytelling within journalistic communities matter. Certain models of storytelling that have become central to the genre of news writing, and that are characterized as universal and globally appropriate, are more accurately understood as models aligned with Western approaches to storytelling. African languages and cultural practices, on the other hand, have been suppressed by Western influence and pressures, eventually leading to their neglect in contemporary African education. Dealing especially with journalism, Murphy and Scotton (1987) write: ‘dependency theorists have argued about the inappropriateness of Western models of professional standards for Third World journalism’. Similarly, Shaw (2009) argues that the Western journalistic model has hindered ‘the theorization of journalistic precepts that have evolved locally in most countries of the developing world’ (491).

While African societies had their own structures of information diffusion long before the influence of the Western model, African media in general, and African language media especially, do not attribute much importance to African storytelling features. In this contribution, we argue that every attempt should be made to continue in the African post-colonial turn by having African journalists tell African stories in the various African culturally specific ways.

Citing a translated version of an argument from Mikhail Bakhtin, Narayan (1997) states:

Language becomes ‘one’s own’ only when the speaker populates it with her own intention, her own accent, when she appropriates the world, adopting it to her own semantic and expressive intention. Prior to this moment of appropriation, the word does not exist in a neutral and impersonal language ... but rather it exists in other people’s mouths, in other peoples’ contexts, serving other peoples’ intentions. ... Expropriating, forcing it to submit to one’s own intentions and accents, is a difficult and complicated process.

It is exactly the undertaking of this ‘difficult and complicated process’ that is needed by, and on behalf of, African journalists for the news and all future ‘drafts of history’ to give life to the multifaceted experiences of present-day Africans in ways that contribute to the full flourishing of Africans within a framework of values that are of benefit to Africa and its people. We present this case in three parts. In the first section, we offer a brief summary of some of the many theories that demonstrate the interconnections between stories, narratives and the formation, stability' and evolution or transformation of culture. In section 2, using the Moore culture of Burkina Faso as an example, we highlight the ways of knowing and meaning-making embedded in culturally-specific modes of story telling. In the final section, we discuss the centrality of journalism and media to the decolonial process and again argue for a more concerted effort - among modern African journalists and news outlets - to adopt and embrace more culturally specific models of journalism.

Knowledge is cultural

Due to its obviousness and the ubiquitous nature of its implications, an important fact is often overlooked: all knowledge is cultural. Knowledge, the results of the process of meaning-making, occurs within a context often shaped by commonly shared ontologies and epistemologies (Kommers and Venbrux 2008). The thinking and meaning-making patterns that result from a commonly held set of ontologies and epistemologies is what is often described as ‘common sense’. Common sense and aesthetic assessment of what is considered beautiful, moral and good are best understood as cultural systems that shape moral imagination (Geertz 2000). Even mathematics can be understood as a cultural system (Smorynski 1983). Following Vygotsky (1966), we make the point that, in normal cognitive and developmental processes, children acquire knowledge and identity through practical experiences and the adoption of pre-existing concepts. The bounds of the pre-existing concepts define the child’s culture. Cultural knowledge systems are constructed and transmitted with locally intelligible symbols, each of which are shot through with the power regimes of that cultural context. Culture, then, ultimately can be understood as the ways that one group organizes its significative world and power arrangements as compared to other groups (Geertz 2000, 151). One important practice that is popular in many cultures for transmitting pre-existing concepts is through the use of proverbs, folklore, rituals, traditional stories, myths and wisdom sayings.

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