Story by Rachel Benner
Editor’s note: This is the first post in a three-post series written by SOJC students who interned in Ghana this summer through the Media in Ghana program.
All too often, American media tells an incomplete “single story” about Africa. (See Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous 2009 Ted Talk if you’re not convinced). This was one thing that drew me to the SOJC’s Media in Ghana program: I wanted to challenge that narrative and push myself to understand this part of the world in a different way.
My internship at Starr FM, a major radio station in Accra, Ghana’s capital, was easily the most challenging and important part of my Media in Ghana experience. And, though considerably less photogenic than our action-packed field trips, the daily commute and workday routine was an invaluable cultural immersion and a lesson in the importance of risk-taking and observation.
As an advertising and media studies double-major, I was initially hesitant about my internship assignment. I have no background in radio and very little reporting experience. I had no idea what to expect from a professional Ghanaian newsroom, but I hoped that my love for writing and interest in politics would come in handy.
I quickly discovered that radio is the center of Ghanaian media — a great place to work and learn. At Starr, I felt as if I had all of Accra at my fingertips. I went to places and met people that I never could have as a tourist or university student.
I joined other reporters at press conferences held by the Ghanaian Electoral Commission and the NDC, which is the current majority political party. I reported on Parliament, met Chief Justice Georgina Wood, and sat in on a Supreme Court hearing for the “Muntie 3” — radio journalists who leveled death threats at Supreme Court justices on air, creating a national controversy.
I also had the privilege to attend a training on election journalism at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre, a dialogue on reproductive technologies held by the Ministry of Gender, the University of Ghana graduation and a forum on Ghana’s human trafficking crisis.
For each of these stories, I contributed a few sentences to the final radio scripts and helped collect and edit audio. I learned the most, however, from observing and taking my own notes. These events provided cultural education outside a classroom, as I witnessed subtle corruption, genuine attempts at problem-solving and deep-set bureaucracy firsthand.
Often, these outings also meant one-on-one conversations with my co-workers — some of the best conversations of my entire trip. Naomi and Prince told me about life as university students in Ghana at University of Ghana-Legon and Kwame Nkrumah Institute of Science and Technology. I.B. explained the upcoming Ghanaian presidential election, and Manuel described the polling station process and party politics in detail. I learned things I could learn only from Ghanaians, and I’m still so grateful for their trust and friendship.
Over my six-week stay, I noticed the ways that Starr FM is different from other media experiences I’ve had. Press conferences included cash rewards and extravagant buffets. In the office, there was very little feedback or editing. If you wanted any kind of instructional clarity, you had to ask.
In other respects, the station is similar to the media world I know. Reporters pitched stories and ideas to the editors at twice-daily meetings. People were assigned to various beats and desks. A sense of humor and a thick skin were definitely required.
Though I didn’t directly practice the skills that I have studied in school, my time at Starr FM enhanced my development as a creative and critical thinker. As a media scholar, I compared and contrasted news production in two vastly different countries. And as an aspiring advertising strategist, I drew insights from many perspectives in another culture. I learned and hypothesized about politics, gender, religion, geography, socioeconomic status and more.
I can tell countless stories about my time in Ghana. It is a country teeming with political energy, yet rife with corruption and controversy. Its deeply conservative society meshes seamlessly with a liberal government — a dynamic that’s unheard-of in the United States. People value connection above everything: Families are close-knit, and strangers greet each other on the streets.
My internship at StarrFM and my Media in Ghana experience as a whole reminded me that there is no “single story” about Africa, or about anything — a truth I hope to apply to any new culture or situation I encounter in the future.
Rachel Benner is an advertising and media studies major with a minor in women’s and gender studies. She is currently a member of the NSAC Ad Team and an SOJC Writing Central coach. Follow Rachel on Twitter @BennerRachel for plenty of thoughts on books, politics and musical theatre — her favorite things.