Q&A With Ora Garway
Thursday, 30 June 2011
Ora Garway founded the newspaper Punch in 2009 and became the only female newspaper editor in Liberia. Nearly 60 percent of the women in Liberia are illiterate. Despite the fact that Liberia is the only African country to have a female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, women are still marginalized in Liberian society and almost all business and government positions are dominated by men. Garway experienced this first hand as a journalist and it was partially in response to the lack of encouragement she received from colleagues that she launched Punch. The newspaper is small, independent and according to Garway, avoids the yellow journalism typical of many sensationalist Liberian newspapers. OPC intern Pesha Magid interviewed Garway by phone about her experience as an editor and journalist in Liberia. Punch is online at liberiapunch.com.
Q: Why are there so few female journalists in Liberia?
A: I believe it is because of lack of encouragement. They are not encouraged in the newsroom. I remember when I was a reporter, the newspapers were male-dominated and when I was in the newsroom I received no encouragement. They didn't give me attention. There was no motivation.
Q: What motivates you to pursue a career in
journalism despite the difficulties of a
A: My father installed in me a passion for journalism. He wanted me to become a good journalist because he told me that I write well and intelligently. He gave me encouragement. He gave me an education. He sent me to high school and junior college. He helped me believe that journalism is my calling.
Q: Why are there no female reporters at Punch?
A: Female journalists shy away from the print media because it is difficult. They tend to work in the electronic media. There are only two that I am really encouraging, two other females who want to be serious journalists and need the encouragement.
Q: What issues does Punch cover that other
newspapers miss in Liberia?
A: Punch focuses on trying to make sure that reporters tackle specific issues. In Liberia journalists are not really specialists. We have one specialist on Education and Health. We go to a school to see how many students there are and the conditions. We focus on inner Liberia because the media focuses on Monrovia, the capitol city. Most papers only write sensational headlines. We focus on health stories or educational issues. In most male-dominated newspapers you see sensational headlines on rape. We talk to people who are normally secondary.
We are an independent newspaper from my own initiative. When we sent one of my reporters out, she noticed at a government school that no-one was really paid; there were no uniforms. We ran the story, the next year the minister of education, due to our story, reformed an elementary school outside of Monrovia.
Q: Do you think having a female president has changed the way women are viewed in Liberia?
A: I don't think so. Most people say Liberia has a female president so women are okay in Liberia. I say that is not enough because we need more women in senior positions. Having a female president makes no difference to women, it is still a male-dominated cycle.
Q: What have been some of the difficulties in publishing Punch?
A: Well it's been an initiative by me since 2009, it's not been easy, the publication. Sometimes you feel so frustrated. I say 'Oh God I really want people to have a good media that can make a difference', but there was no money at the start. We found that because of the bad education people don't want to read print media, most people prefer TV. You see people don't want to advertise because we are new. It is not easy. We are struggling to make everything work.
Q: Do you see Punch's mission as activism or straightforward news reporting?
A: I will not say we are activists. We go with the journalist incentive to provide balanced news reporting. We try to be neutral.
Q: How would you define Punch's mission?
A: I really envision Punch rising to have its own office in the city center and be able to cover the whole country. I see it distinguishing itself from other newspapers and having an institution for making things happen to change government policy. Our motto is 'We lead and others follow', when it comes to reporting. I want Punch to be highly recognized and published daily instead of just biweekly. People would not just read stories by other sensationalist papers. We would have global time and bring attention to Liberia.
Pesha Magid studies Arabic and English Literature at Edinburgh University and will return to Scotland in the fall.
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