After Americo’s piece, a flood of marriage proposalsIf anyone ever told me that writing a 5000-word piece would get me hitched, I would never have believed him or her. Yet, that almost happened in late April after my profile piece about Mohamed Ali Nur Americo, Somalia’s former ambassador to Kenya, was published on SAHAN JOURNAL. The piece recounted the time Americo spent in Kenya, and how his eight years as Ambassador to Kenya coincided with a crucial point in the relations between the two countries.
A few hours after the piece was published, I started receiving congratulatory messages online – mainly from Somalis. I got numerous Facebook friend requests, Twitter followers, and even text messages from friends and family saying they liked the piece.
Then, a few days later, the unexpected happened: a marriage proposal came through from a girl whose account location stated that she was living in Mogadishu. “I really like your work,” she said, “but I am more interested in you than in your pieces. Would you care to marry me?”
The next morning, someone sent me a message in Arabic from another Facebook account with a cartoon character as a profile picture. “Your smile lightens up my world,” the person wrote, amusingly adding after a few lines, “Nice work on the Americo piece. I really liked it.”
After asking me a few personal questions to no response, another girl even quizzed me about why I was quiet. “Aren’t you the guy who wrote the piece on Ambassador Americo? What’s with the silence?” Up until May, the messages kept coming through intermittently – both on Facebook and, at times, on Instagram.
I am the quintessential old-school when it comes to matters of the heart, and find it remarkably difficult to cope with adulations of any sort. However, these responses provided an opportunity for me to think about journalism and its effect on people. Journalism is a love story. At least I come from that school of thought, one that has been eternalized by writers like the inimitable Nora Ephron, who once wrote this great paragraph about her days as a magazine writer:
“It was exciting in its own self-absorbed way, which is very much the essence of journalism: you truly come to believe that you are living in the center of the universe and that the world out there is on tenterhooks waiting for the next copy of whatever publication you work at.”
Journalism owes its existence to readers and a public that need to be informed, educated and entertained. It is a profession driven by a need to connect with an audience that expects us to be cognizant of important issues affecting their – and our – daily lives. That is why those positive comments – besides the marriage offers and love notes – carry with them a few lessons that we should heed.
First, it shows that there’s a much-needed focus to shed light on the lives of politicians and those who wield power. This is more so in Somalia, where the first fully-fledged government was installed in September 2012 after a two-decade war that wrecked the country. The lack of coverage of the political class indicates the narrow view in which much of what they do and implement bypasses crucial public discussions taking place within the country and beyond.
Reflectively speaking, I was encouraged by the critical voices that said I was “too positive” in my depiction of Americo, and that the piece was politically expedient for the former diplomat as he prepares himself to vie for President of Somalia in 2016. It showed that readers were aware of the choices they have when they read articles, and more so, the willingness to question the intricacies of some of those writings.
Second, despite a general thinking that there’s lack of interest in long form journalism, a lot of people specifically wrote to me saying they read the “entire” piece. Initially, there was a discussion amongst SAHAN JOURNAL editors on whether the piece should be published in its entirety or in a series of short pieces. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that piece, and it was such an honor to know that so many Somalis invested quality time reading about an important political figure.
That sort of commitment also showcases that there’s a strong desire for good, professional journalism in this side of the world. There’s a dearth of narrative storytelling, and that perhaps explains why Somali sites like Dalsan Radio went to the extent of translating sections of the story and posting it on their site. On the flip side, there’s a deep-seated culture of plagiarism that exists amongst the media fraternity in Somalia, with websites randomly picking stories and posting on their websites without acknowledging or linking back to the original source.
Thirdly, this story showcased the interconnectedness of Somalis, both those living within the country and those in the diaspora. Despite the wedge created by war, this piece for me emphasized the strong sense of oneness when it comes to the kind of stories that Somalis want to read and/or share on their social media handles. It also showcased that there was a massive interest in political and economic coverage of Somali issues, as the country gears up for presidential elections in 2016.
This brings me to my last point, which is about finding a business venture that creates a sustainable model that invests in quality journalism and diversified media products. While attending a session about innovative business models at the World Press Freedom Day celebrations in Riga, Latvia, it was interesting to listen to media managers and leaders talk about how to find new ways to gain reader acceptance and trust.
We were encouraged to deliver fresh content; present snappier, shorter pieces without giving up on in-depth reporting; build an effective media brand; and communicate using latest technology tools to maximize audience reach. All these facets for me were exemplified in that Americo story – even as we at SAHAN JOURNAL have struggled to get answers to some of these pertinent issues over the last two years.
For now, I am extremely aware of the fleeting nature of this moment. I intend to use these compliments as a muse: a force that pushes me to write better and explore more with journalism and storytelling practices.
Of course, I responded to some of those flattering messages with a simple, “Thank you.” I also didn’t respond to some of the other messages because they were a tad scandalous, and I didn’t want to get caught in a love drama.
My old professor used to say about journalism, ‘Publish and be damned.’ I am happy that this story didn’t result in condemnation but in strong emotions of love. For now, keep on reading!
Follow Abdi Latif Dahir on Twitter @Lattif.