Two years ago, Michael Bloomberg launched Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa, a $10 million fund to “build media capacity, convene international leaders and improve access to information” on the continent. As part of the three-year program, journalists in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria can apply for training programs and seminars to improve their knowledge about African finance and how to cover it.
Truly independent media outlets remain scarce on the continent. Freedom House lists the press in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa as only “partially free.” The first and fourth most censored media in the world are in Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which last year published a detailed report about how Kenyan officials and partisan media owners are eroding press freedom there.
To learn more about the initiative and its relevance for African business journalism, CoveringBusiness spoke with three veteran Bloomberg editors. Read the interview at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Covering Business blog.
The global mineral trade can be ugly. Think children skipping school to dig barefoot with picks and shovels for gold or other precious ore. Picture warlords and army officers using guns to traffic minerals on the black market. Think Democratic Republic of Congo.
Or perhaps, consider the multi-billion dollar corporations that source many of the precious metals they use to build your mobile phone or your laptop from under regulated and often illegal mines. U.S. Congress began thinking about this in 2010 when it passed a first-of-its-kind law aimed at curbing the trade of certain “conflict minerals” in the Democratic Republic of Congo—Africa’s second largest country, whose eastern region has been ravaged by mineral-fueled violence for decades, killing more people than any other conflict since World War II.
Covering Business spoke with Michael Kavanagh, a veteran Bloomberg reporter in Congo who has covered the mineral trade there for more than a decade, about what journalists get wrong and how they can do a better job of covering this complex and divisive subject.
Read the article at Columbia University’s Covering Business blog.
In recent decades, Western media has tended to place the blame for Africa’s problems overwhelmingly on African shoulders. Given portrayals in the mainstream press, for example, one could have been forgiven for thinking that Robert Mugabe’s ongoing state plunder in Zimbabwe or the Joseph Kabila administration’s secret mining deals in Congo were purely African scandals, manufactured by Africans without any outside help.
And yet a subtle shift in western media’s coverage of Africa is underway: today many news outlets are making great efforts to uncover the ways in which foreign corporations and actors from North America, Europe and Asia are central to corruption on the continent.
Often, journalists conducting long-term investigative projects don’t contact the entity they’re investigating until the very end, when there’s less time for the subject to interfere with the reporting process. But a recent experience in which I did just the opposite showed me the enormous benefits that can come with engaging the target of your investigation and being transparent about the story you intend to write from the very start.
Social entrepreneurship—the creation of for-profit businesses that aim to improve social conditions in the places where they operate—is big in Africa, and in the developing world at large. But not every entrepreneur who arrives on the scene from Silicon Valley to take advantage of a shortage of business knowledge and high-tech know-how deserves a hero’s welcome. The following are some strategies I’ve developed while covering Nairobi’s social enterprise, tech and overall start-up scene during the past year for the forward-looking, Silicon Valley based news site, OZY.
Any good reporter, regardless of his beat, will consult as wide a range of sources as possible to get an accurate picture of his subject. But sometimes there’s a single source who seems to know almost everything—an expert who’s the ‘gatekeeper’ to a castle of information and contacts on the business or deal the reporter is investigating. Enlisting the help of this person can unlock access to dozens of key sources and documents all at once.
This happened to be the case when I was reporting my master’s thesis for Columbia Journalism School about China’s rise in the Democratic Republic of Congo, now an eBook. I was investigating a $6.5 billion “infrastructure for minerals” deal in which the Chinese state-owned companies partnered with Congo’s state mining agency to mine an incredible 6.8 million tons of copper and 427,000 tons of cobalt over the subsequent 25 years. In exchange for the minerals, the Chinese companies would spend $3 billion to build roads, hospitals and universities throughout Congo. That investment was not structured as a gift, but a loan: every dollar spent will eventually be paid back in copper revenues.
The more I reported, the more the name Johanna Janssoncame up: It seemed like every journalist, academic and business insider I spoke with about the deal would refer me back to her. Jansson is a Swedish PhD candidate who has spent years researching the specific megadeal I was reporting on, called Sicomines, for her dissertation at a University in Denmark. In January 2013, I approached her in Kinshasa to ask for help understanding the deal—and for her contacts to some of the most powerful and knowledgeable stakeholders in Congo. My eBook, supported by the Pulitzer Center, would not have been possible without the information and contacts she provided me.
But what motivated her—an academic expert and a business insider—to open up to me—a journalism school student and someone with relatively little knowledge of the subject? What inspired her to hand off to me information that she had spent years gathering?
Nearly two years later I called her to discuss what a journalist can do to gain the trust and help of an expert– and what that expert often expects from the journalist in return. Read the full interview at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Covering Business page.