Rockwell Teaches in Rural Liberia
School of Communications associate dean teaches election coverage and political reporting to radio journalists in West Africa
ST. LOUIS (MAR. 30, 2016) – Spring break often provides unusual opportunities and adventures. For Rick Rockwell, associate dean of the School of Communications, the opportunity came in the form of a 12-day teaching trip in rural Liberia. Rockwell conducted a series of all-day workshops for radio journalists in the West African country.
This was a return trip to Liberia for Rockwell who conducted a different series of workshops during a tour of the country in 2013. He had planned additional workshops, however, the Ebola crisis in West Africa prevented his return until this year. The World Health Organization declared Liberia to be free of Ebola in January, creating the opportunity for this most recent series of workshops.
“We want to welcome back our wonderful professor; he means so much to us and to helping us learn,” said William Quire, the president of the Association of Liberian Community Radio (ALICOR), as he introduced Rockwell before one of the workshops.
"Radio journalists were on the front line of providing timely emergency information during the Ebola crisis,” Rockwell said. “Radio is still the primary medium in Liberia, so working with these journalists who have hundreds of thousands of people in their listening areas is the best way to improve communication in the country.”
Rockwell noted that due to the expense of television sets or cable television, most Liberians do not own a television. Outside of the capital city of Monrovia, most people also do not have access to the Internet, and when such access is available it is slow, at dial-up modem speeds. “Many people don’t realize that radio is still the top way to reach people in much of the developing world,” Rockwell added.
The International Monetary Fund lists Liberia as the fourth poorest country in the world. Much of the country is recovering, not just from the economic setbacks of the recent crisis, but also the country is still feeling the impact of a civil war that ended about twelve years ago.
Like the United States, Liberia is thinking about its next elections, which many Liberians see as a test for peace in their country. Rockwell constructed a special curriculum for the workshops, aimed at improving the quality of election coverage and political reporting by radio journalists.
“Having the election season going on back home really helped provide a lot of material for these workshops,” Rockwell said. “What’s interesting is the Liberians knew as much about our candidates as their own. We had some interesting discussions about Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and, of course, Hillary Clinton.”
Rockwell conducted some of the workshops in Grbarnga, about 25 miles from the Liberian border with Guinea, a country that reported new Ebola cases this past week. Rockwell also taught sessions in Zwedru, about 15 miles from the Ivory Coast. The U.S. State Department financed the trip, as part of its mission to strengthen democracy in Liberia.
“We see journalism as one of the cornerstones of democracy, and we believe supporting these training missions is an example of how the United States is behind improving democracy in Liberia,” said Paul Hinshaw, the public affairs officer of the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, as he introduced the workshops in Grbarnga.
About 55 radio journalists, all members of ALICOR, attended the workshop sessions, some of them traveling many hours from various regions in the north and south of the country. “We take so much away from these classes;” Quire said, “they are full of rich information.”
“The Liberian journalists are determined students. As professionals, they face many challenges we don’t even think about in the developed world,” Rockwell added. For instance, the workshops were conducted in makeshift classrooms without air conditioning and with only oscillating fans to move the hot air, which often reached temperatures over 90 degrees.
Liberia will hold its national elections in October of 2017. Rockwell told the journalists the test for what they learned will be if radio supports a peaceful and equitable electoral process.