They Wanted Journalists to Say ‘Wow’: How NGOs Affect U.S. Media Coverage of Africa

By Karen Rothmyer

Karen RothmyerKaren Rothmyer

Shorenstein Center Fellow, Fall 2010
Contributing Editor, The Nation

Read the full paper (PDF).


Seeing Africa Whole: An introduction

And now for some good news out of Africa. Since 1995, the rate of poverty throughout the continent has been falling steadily, and much faster than previously thought, according to a study released in February 2010 by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The death rate of African children under 5 is dropping, with “clear evidence of accelerating rates of decline” in all of sub-Saharan Africa in the past 10 years, according to a study published in June 2010 in The Lancet medical journal. And, in positive news of another sort, Afriis now “among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions,” according to a study also published in June 2010 by the McKinsey Quarterly, the online journal of the international consulting firm.

To be sure, Africa still contains most of the world’s poorest countries. But these and other indicators suggest that the continent, while beset by many problems, is on a trajectory of progress. Yet images and stories emanating from sub-Saharan Africa continue to portray a region of unending horrors. In June, 2010, for example, Time magazine published graphic pictures of a naked Sierra Leonian woman dying in childbirth. In September, CNN did a story about two young Kenyan boys, 5 and 8, whose family is so poor they are forced to work delivering goats to a slaughterhouse at a pay rate of less than one cent per goat.

Read the full paper (PDF).

Columbia Journalism Review: “Hiding the Real Africa: Why NGOs prefer bad news”