In 2008, Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete gave me a simple task. Six years later, I have yet to complete it. Now, the tragedy of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls is a reminder of my failures over the past several years.
I was part of a delegation attending an international summit in Tanzania when I first met President Kikwete. At that time, I was still working at CNN. During a conversation with the president, the question came up about the limited coverage we (CNN & Western media) dedicate to what’s happening in Africa. When I mentioned a possible lack of interest from viewers, President Kikwete stopped me. He refused to accept that as an excuse and instead emphatically insisted: “make them care!” I will never forget that moment.
Kikwete’s simple statement was at the top of my mind in 2011, when I walked into the New York office of one of CNN’s senior executives (he’s no longer with the network), and we argued about Africa. Specifically, I wanted to do an extended segment about South Sudan gaining independence. He was against it. “We shouldn’t spend too much time on stories that people won’t watch,” he argued. He attempted to placate me by explaining his philosophy this way: We have to cover the stories that get us ratings, and then, get in a story like South Sudan wherever we can.
This wasn’t the first or last time I’d had a conversation like this during my career. On countless occasions, my story or segment ideas were rejected because news managers and producers (and not just the white ones) thought the audience wasn’t interested, no matter how relevant, timely, or even interesting the story might be. READ MORE