The New York Times is still recovering from the verbal bashing it received from Kenyan writers shocked and angered by the paper’s outdated references to Africa in a recent ad for the job of Nairobi Bureau Chief.
Has far has Africa come, wondered educator Alice Wairimu Nderitu, since the day when posters portrayed wild animals with the title “The Highlands of British East Africa as a Winter Home for Aristocrats”?
The Times job opening is described as an exotic African assignment – “from the deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and the shores of Tanzania.”
“It is an enormous patch of vibrant, intense and strategically important territory with many vital story lines,” the ad continues, “including terrorism, the scramble for resources, the global contest with China and the constant push-and-pull of democracy versus authoritarianism.”
At this point, Wairimu Nderitu said the Times job description sounded like a call for a colonial settler, not a professional journalist.
Twitter buzzed with reactions: “If you are rearing to apply for this Bureau Chief job you should know what kind of stories New York Times is looking for. The darkness of Africa!” declared computer forensic guru George Njororge.
“Hard to distinguish this nytimes ad from a call to join a 19th Century expedition with Livingstone & Stanley,” proclaimed Travis L. Adkins, lecturer on African & Security Studies at Georgetown University.
“A reminder that the NYTimes already has a dubious reputation in Kenya,” Prof. Ken Opalo, recalling the furious debate over the Times printing a photo of two dead men slumped over their seats at a cafe.
“The biggest losers from this sort of madness,” Opalo said, “would not be Eastern Africans, but the daily’s American audience who “continue to be fed [and believe] myths and as a result are increasingly economically [and] geopolitically uncompetitive in the region”.
“When someone sent me this New York Times ad, I had to read it twice just to confirm that the kind of journalist they are looking for is one who would just focus on the negative news in this region,” added Oliver Mathenge, digital editor at Radio Africa.
Kayode Ogundamisi, anti-corruption campaigner, said: “Requirements to work as @nytimes journalist in Africa. You have the ability to focus on the negative and “occasional good news”.
“Unexpected stories of hope. That is how much @nytimes despise Africa.”
In a belated response, international editor Michael Slackman owned up to approving the ad that was full of clichéd descriptions of the continent.
The ad was the result of taking a short cut, he said. Rather than write a new job description, a posting from about 18 months ago went out. Still, he insisted, The Times “was “committed to covering Africa, not as if it were some stereotype, but because it matters”.