Liberia's Daily Talk: All The News That Fits On A Blackboard : Goats and Soda It's one of Liberia's most popular news sources, with updates on everything from Ebola to politics. The plywood newsboard on a busy Monrovia sidewalk is the brainchild of journalist Alfred Sirleaf.
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Liberia's Daily Talk: All The News That Fits On A Blackboard

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Liberia's Daily Talk: All The News That Fits On A Blackboard

Liberia's Daily Talk: All The News That Fits On A Blackboard

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This next story reminds us that at the end of the day whether it's on a mobile device, on television or radio, online or in print, delivering the news, at its foundation, is about one thing - delivering the news. One newsman in Liberia has had a lot to cover - war, poverty, now the outbreak of Ebola. He's doing it in a country where many people have little means, but he is determined to get them the headlines. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton met him in the heart of Liberia's capital.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Just off Tubman Boulevard - Monrovia's big busy thoroughfare - stands a plywood hut with a large blackboard at the front in three panels. On them - written in clear, bold, white chalk lettering - are a form of newsreel - headlines, mini-articles and editorials, as well as graphic symbols and illustrations. The creator of Daily Talk - this Liberia journal with a difference - is Alfred Sirleaf. He's 41 and has been writing the news since 2000, three years before the civil war ended.

ALFRED SIRLEAF: You know, Daily Talk is like giving birth to a child and the child benefits the nation. That's the idea of Daily Talk. That's the concept I want for people to build. It's not about Alfred Sirleaf. I started the idea about - it's about you and it's about me. It's about all of us. This is how the writing it done.

QUIST-ARCTON: Sirleaf demonstrates how he uses the chalk to write his headlines in his tiny, hut-cum-newsroom. He updates maybe once or twice a week or less depending on what's happening in Liberia. He says in a battered postwar country where many cannot afford televisions or newspapers and may not have access to radios, his newsboard keeps them informed and sometimes there's a scoreboard.

SIRLEAF: Today's scoreboard - it still stands at zero-zero - yes to election versus no to elections. The reason being that there are those who are saying that elections should not be heard because of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, and there are those who are saying no, despite the Ebola crisis we can still have elections and people can conglomerate and have political rallies and what have you.

QUIST-ARCTON: The hot news of the moment is elections for new senators. Ebola is still an issue and people have been ordered to avoid large gatherings. So the question is whether the vote, which has already been postponed, should be held December 16.

SIRLEAF: We are playing the role of the referee. We are only waiting to publish the score.

QUIST-ARCTON: Sirleaf is hoping to set up similar Daily Talk newsboards all over Liberia. His newsstand attracts all sorts of readers - people in cars or passengers on motorbike taxis, who can easily read the meticulous white lettering from afar - but also students, teachers, professionals, idlers and petty street traders selling everything from smoked fish to garish plastic bangles for children. They all hover around the hut. Victoria Kimba is racing off to work, but wants to get up-to-date with the news as she sets out.

VICTORIA KIMBA: Once in a while, when I am passing, like today, I glance at the board.

QUIST-ARCTON: Some might call Sirleaf Daily Talk's director and news junkie-cum-evangelist. But he says he's just passionate about the information he's sharing with Liberians, in the hope they'll be better placed to play their part in a fragile, burgeoning democracy after the 14-year-civil war shattered and divided the nation; and now Ebola. But he says despite the difficulties, keeping Monrovia informed keeps him on his toes.

SIRLEAF: Oh, I have fun doing it. Sometimes when I put up the stories I see the argument from both sides. This is my world. I love it. You know, I have the passion for it to inform the public.

QUIST-ARCTON: Sirleaf's Daily Talk carries considerable influence. Back in the war years, his critical writings so enraged former rebel-leader-turned-President Charles Taylor that Sirleaf was detained and jailed. The Daily Talk news hut was ripped down.

SIRLEAF: It was destroyed by Charles Taylor security at the time and I can back for the second time. So it means this is the third time this board is been destroyed. Some of the reason that I got from them was that I was coming down too hard on Taylor, you know, but I believe I was just doing my work, giving the public exactly what they needed to hear and what they needed to see. That's what I was doing.

QUIST-ARCTON: After a brief stint in exile, Sirleaf returned to Liberia. But he says he won't be cowed by politicians or critics and will continue writing the news. He says he hopes when he retires that the legacy of the Daily Talk will live long and strong. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Monrovia.

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