Covering Ghana’s children: An interview with the editor of The Child Alert
In October 2007, a child advocacy newspaper, The Child Alert, was launched in Ghana. As the only publication of its kind in the country, the free weekly newspaper aims at disseminating information about serious issues, such as trafficking and AIDS/HIV, to assist in improving the plight of children throughout Ghana. Though while still in its nascence, the Editor-in-Chief Kent Mensah has been struggling to fiscally support the publication. RAP 21 spoke to Mensah about his strategy to maintain and develop the publication.
RAP 21: Could you first tell me about your background in journalism?
Kent Mensah: I am 25 years of age with a diploma in journalism. I have practiced print and online journalism for eight years now. My passion for writing began in Senior High School when I started a student column with three schoolmates in a private newspaper called The Accra Daily Mail in 1999. Right after senior high school I joined The Accra Daily Mail as a cub reporter and developed into a professional journalist over the years. While working I acquired formal education at a private journalism institution, Jayee Institute, and participated in several local and international courses. Since then I have worked with www.Ghanadistricts.com and Joy FM.
RAP 21: Did you launch The Child Alert?
Mensah: The Child Alert is my brainchild but because I did not have adequate funding to start it I partnered with a colleague journalist to source for funding. We managed to get seed capital from a children’s NGO, which does not want to be named. The Child Alert is currently perching in the office of that NGO to do its weekly production.
RAP 21: How would you describe coverage of youth issues in the major news
media in Ghana?
Mensah: The major pages of newspapers and prime time news and talk shows on radio and television have been dominated by politics, sports and business. Occasionally, we read, watch and hear about children’s issues but they receive insignificant prominence. Also, child victims of rape, prostitution, abuse and trafficking among others are usually exposed in the media without any form of protection. It is against this background that I conceived the idea of The Child Alert to champion the course of children and the youth in general.
RAP 21: What is your approach to covering topics such as trafficking,
prostitution, and AIDS/HIV?
Mensah: In reporting on issues such as trafficking, prostitution and HIV/AIDS among others the protection of the child’s identity (victim) has always been The Child Alert’s interest. In preparing our reports, we involve the views of children and give them the platform to engage in national issues. For instance, we identify locations where most of the issues mentioned above are rampant and speak to victims or would-be victims. We always want to put the child at the centre of our stories rather than adults. However, we also interview experts in child protection and rights from UNICEF and other stakeholders on topical issues.
Because the team is extremely small I have developed good relationship with journalists from other media houses who have issues of children at heart to voluntarily contribute stories. An example is collaboration with the current Ghana Journalist of the Year, Anas Aremeyaw Anas, in a child prostitution story that led to the raiding of a brothel in Accra.
RAP 21: What can the role of the media be in preventing such things that
Mensah: The media has a major role to play in addressing the issues raised above. We need to be at the forefront of awareness creation for the public to know the dangers. It should be a daily affair. Radio and television stations should create short jingles to educate the public on the dangers of child prostitution, HIV/AIDS and trafficking among others whenever they sign off from programmes.
Newspapers should devote columns to remind the public and hammer such issues more in their editorials. One of The Child Alert’s initiatives is the devotion of front-page space to educate the public on several issues affecting children through the creative use of graphics and short text.
RAP 21: Has there been any opposition to the stories the newspaper
Mensah: So far we have not had any complaints from any quarters since we started.
RAP 21: Have you faced any obstacles with your publication?
Mensah: We are still struggling to get our feet on the ground. People like the concept but don’t want to support. It’s still an enigma we are trying to solve. We simply lack funds to run the paper but we are driven by passion. There have been one or two weeks where we could not come out but we did not give up.
RAP 21: Has there been anything you have done to overcome them that
could be useful to other publications similar to yours?
Mensah: We began with 5,000 copies but because we are running on a small budget we cut the number to 2,000 and sometimes drop to 1,500. In addition, we reduced the size of the paper between A3 and A4 to get more copies.
Furthermore, we have established contacts with hosts of morning shows on radio and television to review our paper anytime it comes out. We would encourage others never to give up because at the appropriate time sponsors would come.
RAP 21: Have you had any feedback from readers over the past 6 months?
Mensah: The feedback we receive from the general public both local and international spur us on to move on in spite of the critical conditions we find ourselves in. Students have written to us to start columns and more often than not basic school children do send us poems, jokes and short stories for publication. The Child Alert has received email commendation from UNICEF. We played a major role in their recent education campaign during the African Cup of Nations tournament held in Ghana that encouraged mobile phone subscribers to send SMS to a short code that transfers a certain amount directly into a fund. We did all this free of charge throughout the four-week period.
RAP 21: What is the publication’s reach and circulation? Do more people
view it online or get the printed copy?
Mensah: For now we print between 2,000 and 3,000 copies. Out of the 10 regions of Ghana we operate in five - Ashanti, Eastern, Northern, Central and Greater Accra regions. Although our online readers are few the numbers are encouraging. The website was developed for us free of charge by a friend of mine in Sweden – Itrom Europe HB. It has helped us establish contact with other international bodies, which are into children’s issues. So it is serving its purpose. We have written to some major news websites to exchange links or give us the needed exposure and we hope to receive fruitful feedback.
RAP 21: Has the publication involved youth in anyway such as helping in
creating the newspaper for example or contributing stories?
Mensah: That is exactly what we intend implementing in the future. Our problem has been lack of a permanent office because now we are perching in an office of an NGO. We lack the requisite resources to involve the youth especially from the countryside to contribute to the production of the paper. However, we worked closely with a UNICEF child reporter during the education campaign mentioned earlier. Anyway, we do receive articles from students and pupils for publication.