Jonas Nyabor: Holding the torch of a hopeful future for journalism in Ghana

Jonas Nyabor

It’s not quite straight forward to be able to tell, what future a budding journalist would have when you meet them. But it wasn’t so with Jonas Nyabor. The first time I met him, I could tell he was set to grow into a formidable journalist, whose works would stand out.

And what’s even more intriguing, is the fact that he never went to journalism school.

He is reflective, thoughtful, willing and ready to learn, and aims to be good at what he does.

I don’t remember when we first met. But I believe our encounter might have started on social media. However, I remember vividly when he turned up at one of the very early ‘Journalism Hangout’ events I organised at my office – then located on the Atta-Mills High Street within the Cathedral Clinic. That entire building was razed down by a fire on November 5, 2020, and when the fire happened, Jonas was one of the  two journalists who rushed there immediately they heard the news, to give me support. The other journalist was Fred Duhoe.

The ‘Journalism Hangout’ is one of the informal training events I organise to share knowledge and practical information on good journalism practices with interested journalists. It appears to be an effective way to transfer skills to those who are open to learning.

As an editor and trainer, I am sometimes on the lookout for journalists who are willing to learn and build their career on the right path. I saw immediately in Jonas, someone willing to learn. Someone hungry for growth and a desire to be a good journalist, and I took immediate interest in him.

And no one with the eye for talent, who knew him when he started 11 years ago, would be surprised about how far he has come and still growing. He is currently, a Ghana reporter for The Africa Report news magazine, and does work with the fact-checking organisation, Dubawa.

Without any doubt, Jonas is one of the brightest spots for the future of accountable, responsible and good quality journalism in Ghana today.

Educated at the University of Ghana, with a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and geography, he believes that the most important journalism foundation he received was at Radio Univers between 2012 and 2016. Radio Universe is the campus radio station at the University of Ghana.

“In retrospect, there were many things I did prior to 2012 that developed my interest in the media in general and so when I saw the call for application to volunteer at Radio Univers, I saw it as a good opportunity,” he says. He joined the station as a volunteer, and took the opportunity to develop not only his skills, but also his love for journalism that is in the public interest.

He also believes that journalism in Ghana today is at a crossroads; noting that a democratized ecosystem with lax regulation of digital media has left legacy media and their digital extensions struggling to stick to the principles of accuracy, independence, and impartiality because the ‘digital culture’ has partially changed the rules of the game from a contest of accuracy to a contest of speed and numbers.

Another reason why he would go far in journalism is what he is into it for, and how he sees the profession. Some may enter journalism for the lure of fame and money. But not for Jonas.

“I saw journalism as an avenue to influence decisions and inform society; and for me it was exciting to be in such a privileged position to do all the hard work that will ensure that people are accurately and timeously informed about happenings around them,” he tells me.

At a time when except for a few bright spots, the quality of journalism in Ghana is almost generally embarrassing, and critical journalists are under severe pressure, and funding for important journalism is non-existent, journalists like Jonas give a glimmer of hope, that the future could be better, all things being equal.

He also believes that there is the need for frank conversations about media sustainability and how to find ways to diversify revenue sources.

“We need to also take a second look at journalism training, and I think some major outlets in Ghana are in a good place to introduce media or journalism academies to offer professional training (both pre- and on the job).

We must brainstorm on how to deal with the temptation of thinking first about clicks or numbers and eyeballs instead of accuracy while the relevant institutions are strengthened to play their oversight responsibilities well,” he says.

He also believes that journalism in Ghana today is at a crossroads; noting that a democratized ecosystem with lax regulation of digital media has left legacy media and their digital extensions struggling to stick to the principles of accuracy, independence, and impartiality because the ‘digital culture’ has partially changed the rules of the game from a contest of accuracy to a contest of speed and numbers.

Jonas taking notes during a ‘Journalism Hangout’.

“There are other areas of concern such as media ownership, poor pay for journalists, self-censorship in newsrooms and the quality of journalism training, but the vibrancy of the media landscape today and the push by independent NGOs working in the interest of journalists are developments worth celebrating,” he adds.

Jonas is also concerned about the impact of misinformation and disinformation.

He states that the future of journalism in Ghana, will be interesting with the scourge of misinformation and disinformation potentially drowning out truth if urgent interventions are not put in place.

He said: “Lack of support and funding may shrink independent journalism as politicians and politically exposed persons dominate ownership and sponsorship of media businesses. Attrition rate will continue to be high in media houses. Legacy media houses will shift more investments into their digital operations. It wouldn’t be all doom and gloom, there’ll be some silver linings like more collaborations between media organizations.”

In November 2022, in far away Nairobi, Kenya, Jonas won the ‘Fact Check of the Year by a Professional Fact Checker’ award at the Africa Check’s African Fact-Checking awards.

The awards are given to celebrate fact-checking journalism in Africa and recognize the efforts of journalists fighting misinformation and disinformation on the continent.

The work that won him the award was an exposé on a Twitter campaign that appeared to demand ‘justice’ for a young man who reportedly died two days after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine but was actually an international operation to discredit COVID-19 vaccination in Ghana using coordinated inauthentic behaviour on Twitter.  

Jonas also has an attitude that sets him apart from many of his peers. He is a constant learner.

“Being a journalist in these times requires you to be an active learner, always learning, and being abreast of the times in terms of knowledge and or skill to continue to serve the public in a way that is relevant to them. This isn’t easy due to the nature of journalists’ work that sometimes leaves them with little time for any other thing but it’s worth it,” he says.

And he has some people he looks up to and values as they have been part of his inspiration.

“I appreciate Emmanuel Dogbevi, Mawuli Tsikata and Nana Boakye-Yiadom who have individually guided me in different ways on my journalism journey,” he adds.

Stepping into the shoes of some of Ghana’s great journalists, and Ghana has some outstanding ones, isn’t particularly an easy thing to do, but it’s possible. It’s conceivable to aspire to do more and to leave a lasting impact through journalism, in a country where important, critical and remarkable journalism hardly catches most people’s eyes.

Holding the torch of the future of journalism in Ghana, is a heavy burden to carry. It’s an arduous task. But someone or some others must bear it. It’s a responsibility not many would like to take, as most journalism graduates in Ghana are switching to public relations.

However, for someone like Jonas Nyabor, it does look like an inescapable route. It wouldn’t have to be a choice, he seems to have what it takes to heed the desperate call to step up to the plate and give hope to the future of journalism in Ghana.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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