My colleagues at Awoko say there are about 100 newspapers in Freetown, and they’re proud to work for the best. They say this is self evident — just compare how Awoko and the other newspapers in the country cover the same stories. Awoko is totally independent, so it differs from the papers that favor a political party, or the Sierra Leone Daily Mail, which is government run.
The Awoko office is located in the city center of Freetown, opposite a Christian school. On the same street are several of the makeshift, shack-like dwellings with tin roofs that are ubiquitous in Freetown. From the balcony of the Awoko office you can see the bustle of the street, and the nearby electrical utility building marred by black scorch marks from a fire.
Anyway, I started my first day at Awoko on July 7. The newsroom has at least 10 editorial staff members (and I’m probably forgetting someone), along with many more supporting staffers. They work in a second-floor room outfitted with several computers and printers, a TV and some big desks. There are always copies of some of Awoko’s many competitors lying around.
Editor in chief Kelvin Lewis is also the president of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists. He introduced me to the Awoko staff members with a deadpan joke about each of them.
I’ve been coming in to the office for less than a week now, bus it’s usually a similar routine every day. Several staff members meet just before 9 am to look over mock-ups of the next day’s paper for any mistakes or things to change — these are first drafts of the paper to be officially circulated the next day.
Then, I usually go with one of the reporters on an assignment. So far I’ve been to three press conferences, including one at the state house, and to a murder trial. More on all of those in another post. This is not a nine-to-five office, and I’m not sure whether or not that’s normal for Sierra Leone. But people continue working in the office well past 7 pm, and sometimes later.
I’m the 7th intern from the University of Washington that Awoko has had — the partnership started in 2007, I believe, and has had one or two years missed (most notably 2015, when the university wouldn’t send anyone for fear of ebola).
The staff are just awesome — they’re serious about their craft, and they’ve been incredibly welcoming, friendly, helpful and accommodating of my silly questions. They’re always quick with a joke or quip. And I’m happy to say I’ve been assigned serious, real work right away — the staff assume I’m up to the task, and expect nothing less, which is perfect.
I’m looking forward to the next nine weeks!