Six journalists from Africa talk shop during visit with Herald-Times staff | Opinion

Six journalists from five African countries joined us last week for our afternoon budget meeting during which we discuss and plan out stories, photos and graphics for the next day’s paper and content for our digital platforms.

After talking about Friday’s line-up, which included the Greene County Fair, Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame and a new base commander at Crane, the conversation on local news turned to more universal topics with our visitors. How do we cover late breaking news? How do we as a news organization cover partisan politics and issues, and is our coverage biased?

We shared our decision-making process on what we cover and why, and how our job is to remain neutral except for the editorial page. I told them it’s not uncommon for us to have e-mails or phone calls from readers telling us we’re biased — in some cases, too liberal, and in others, too conservative.

We had questions for our visitors, learning more about each of them and their news organizations back home.

Our six visitors to The Herald-Times were members of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. To call it competitive is a wild understatement. A total of 1,000 fellows were selected from 64,000 applicants this year.

Some context: It’s easier to get into an Ivy League school than earn a Mandela Fellowship.

Harvard University accepted 5.2 percent of applicants to the Class of 2020, according to the Boston Globe. The Mandela Fellowship accepted 1.5 percent of its applicants this year.

Bloomington hosted 25 fellows for a month this summer. The group is now in Indianapolis for the remaining two weeks of the six-week fellowship program.

I was introduced to the fellows during a networking event and luncheon at Ivy Tech last Wednesday along with representatives from Indiana University, nonprofit organizations, civil rights organizations and government entities. I first met Bakary Fatty, a law student and journalist from The Gambia. He helped organize the first ever presidential debate in his country. He writes on political and legal issues as a newspaper columnist and hosts a weekly TV program. Even 4,600 miles away from home, across the North Atlantic Ocean, he was working. It is tough to stop when you’re a story-teller.

“You’re pitching me,” I told him. He laughed and nodded. He had ideas for collaboration with The Herald-Times. He wasn’t the only one.

Esther Onyinyechi Mark and Sharon Barang’a are education experts and journalists, also looking to report and share stories and exchange ideas. “Are you interested in education stories from Kenya?” asked Barang’a, a television journalist with NTV Kenya. Mark, from Nigeria, is interested in how schools are structured by grades and also in technical schools.

The youngest fellow is Tatenda Mapfumo. In Zimbabwe, she created a start-up called Tipster, that helps ordinary people share and tell their stories. “I believe information is power,” she told me.

Leonce Gamai heads up the political news at La Nouvelle Tribune, a print and online newspaper in Benin. We talked about the role of social media, and he wanted to know more about our digital subscription model for In fact, he had emailed me a week before we met in person with questions.

I met Eve Mvera Kazungu during lunch. She is a volunteer journalist at Kenya News Agency; she writes about women with disabilities. She co-founded an organization that helps rescue exploited girls, providing custody and medical care.

By the end of lunch, we arranged a time for us all to meet again. The six fellows would come to The Herald-Times and join us for the afternoon budget meeting, take a tour and shoot a video to share more of their stories.