Alfred’s Free Press: Liberia’s Blackboard Reporter

One innovative journalist has found a way to get daily news and information to Liberians – with a big blackboard.

In Liberia, a country where radios and televisions are luxuries most people cannot afford, Alfred Sirleaf, an enterprising journalist, has founded an innovative newspaper, The Daily Talk.

The paper is Alfred’s answer to the misinformation he says caused Liberia’s brutal civil war. His innovation is to write it up each day on a blackboard in the centre of Monrovia, accessible to all.

“The legacy of the war created poverty, hardship. It is this war that prompted the creation of The Daily Talk. I believe that people should be informed of what is happening,” Alfred told Al Jazeera.

In 2012, we met Alfred and some of The Daily Talk’s readers at Monrovia’s Tubman Boulevard, and through them got an insight into the lives and dreams of Liberians. One of them is Michael, who was once forced to fight as a child soldier during the war, was making tourist souvenirs from the spent AK-47 bullets that litter the ground, some of which he fired himself.

We also met Kormassa, a single mother, who worked nights in a hospital laundry in order to keep her children in school and dreamt of finding a husband and moving from her shack into a home with a proper floor. And there’s Larry, the shoe-maker, who’s proud of his contribution to keeping Liberian industry afloat, and who boasts that his shoes will last up to 10 years even worn every day, far longer than cheap imports, particularly those from China.

It was difficult in the past ... because of what you publish, people come after you.

by Alfred Sirleaf, founder and executive editor, The Daily Talk

Six years after meeting Alfred, and four years on from the deadly Ebola virus outbreak which ravaged Liberia in 2014, REWIND returned to Monrovia to catch up with The Daily Talk and its readers.

Ebola was responsible for 4,800 deaths over a period of two years; a time where many needed the news and hard facts more than ever. Alfred was there to deliver and his loyal readers still there to take it all in.

“I was doing Ebola stories on The Daily Talk … People actually came to us to find out about the Ebola crises when it started in neighbouring countries. When it got to Liberia I was informing the public that Ebola virus is bad, it’s not good for the society, and that it was coming from neighbouring Guinea. And preventive measure should be taken,” Alfred recalls. “Actually, The Daily Talk contributed a lot to inform people about the Ebola crises in Liberia. We did our best and people appreciated what we did.”

A key resource for many in Monrovia, The Daily Talk has remained a city centre staple in 2018.

Shoe-maker Larry is still an avid reader of The Daily Talk. But his shop has had to close down and the wear and tear of daily life had almost brought him to his knees. However, with the help of friends and a community with growing awareness, Larry now teaches shoe-making from his own home.

Pastor Nathan, an aspiring preacher in 2012, now runs his own parish outside of Monrovia. Although he has big plans for his career and his country, he also relies on the Daily Talk for information.

“The Daily Talk has been a very great help to us because sometimes we may not have the money to buy a newspaper,” says Nathan. “We come here and get information on a silver platter.”