How much do you know about Africa? And more importantly, where do you get your news? The African Continent is home to almost 1.4 billion people, yet most people know little about what’s happening. Furthermore, most of the information they read comes from Western media outlets.
If you’re interested in what’s happening on the Continent, whether for work or personally, reading The Continent is a must. The Continent brings you news from Africa by Africans. It’s a free digital newspaper distributed through how most people get their news: social media.
Several months ago, I learned about the Continent when one of my colleagues shared the newspaper. I’ve been a fan ever since. Even on busy days, when I want to skim through, I read most articles because of the high quality.
Because I’m so psyched about this concept, I decided to reach out to The Continent’s Editorial Director, Sipho Kings. Kings started as an environment and climate reporter before moving into news editing, with a year running the South African Mail & Guardian newspaper.
During our interview, we talk about The Continent’s mission, Sipho’s role in managing the newspaper, the beauty and risk of journalism, and advice for young writers.
Let’s go to the interview!
We created The Continent as Covid-19 hit the African Continent, with the economic impact seeing newsrooms shrinking or closing down entirely. We were really worried about the impact that this would have on journalism from, and about, Africa.
This built on years of conversations between the people who now run The Continent about how perilous a state journalism is in and what can be done. The crisis of Covid gave us that push to actually do something, so a team of volunteers came together with all their different skills and made the weekly PDF newspaper. In this, we took inspiration from others who were also working in the WhatsApp space, like 263Chat in Zimbabwe.
The Continent is a 21st-century take on the weekly newspaper. We curate the news across 40 editions in a year (we build in breaks for our health and to catch up with administrative work) and we send that to people. It has sections like a newspaper.
What we do differently is that we publish for free on platforms where people actually are, rather than through a website or physical print newspaper.
Most of us (humans) get our news shared with us on social media platforms, with peer-to-peer messaging platforms being the biggest source of this. In Africa, WhatsApp is ubiquitous, but news media tend to stay away because they don’t think they can earn money from sharing news there. This means disinformation is shared instead.
I love all the bits that make up journalism. As a reporter, I’d spend days in communities talking to people before pulling stories together with investigative work and trawling through spreadsheets. But I started in the industry as it accelerated its crisis post the 2008 global recession and watched as all sorts of media made really bad decisions and threw themselves into further crisis. So I moved into management in order to create more spaces for journalists to do their work. That’s immensely rewarding (if exhausting and all the other things).
Doing journalism. It is really hard to build a new newsroom and report across 54 countries. If The Continent is the place that people go to in order to get their news about Africa and to read African reporting about the rest of the world, then we will have succeeded.
We do most of our work with freelancers. This allows us to have people report from where they are on things that are happening in their countries and communities. That’s an important departure from the parachute journalism of overseas publications. And there are so many amazing, brave reporters across Africa that we do get a great deal of pitches from people. Our job is to try and sort through these to make a news diary each week and each season of The Continent.
As a newsroom, our role is also to work with these reporters to edit their pieces down to our concise lengths (300 words a page) and to help them grow their reporting. For us, one of the key jobs of The Continent is in being a place where people can get stories about Africa published (which otherwise struggle to find outlets to publish them) and to pay journalists for that work as soon as possible.
The safety of journalists is one of our key focuses and something we discuss whenever we commission a piece. We have not done stories in the past out of a concern for a reporter’s safety. We have also run stories without bylines, or edited them to be written in a more editorial format so there is no chance of tone being picked up. There are all sorts of dangers, much like in many of the places that journalists work, from online harassment and abuse to the threat of lawsuits and physical violence.
I am interested in how humans live on this planet, and then as (some of us) leave the planet. Our relationship with each other and the world reinforces much of the broken global, and local, system that we have built. Those with the most use the most and do the most damage. Those with the least pay the price. That plays out in all sorts of ways, from resource allocation to climate change survival. And all of these need the attention of quality journalism.
Thomas: If you’re interested in finding out more, check out Sipho’s Ted Talk.
I hesitate with once-off recommendations. We all have different reading tastes. Instead, it’s best to just read. Read anything written by an African. Read a book with a colorful cover or one that teaches you a bit more about the world. It all adds to our understanding of each other. And that empathy is crucial.
We ask people to pitch us stories, reviews, and anything about where they live. This takes away our lens and ensures we have local journalists talking about what they, and the communities where they live, find interesting. So that leads to a wide range of stuff coming in.
Be curious and learn about as many different things as possible. Journalism is a craft that you have to work on. It is massively helped by understanding how the world works, from societal dynamics to the flow of money and the nuts and bolts of things like mining.
To write well you need to be curious, which will drive you to go and find all the information that can then inform your writing. If you have that, the writing part will come.
We were inspired, in part, by the great work of 263Chat in Zimbabwe, which is sharing curated journalism through WhatsApp.
This is something that is increasingly happening in countries where people access the internet through a device and, in particular, through chat platforms (something that is driven by companies like Meta subsidising access if you go through their ecosystem). So there’s a real growth in Africa, South America and into Asia.
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