Monday, August 24, 2009

Communication Design and the media in West Africa

Bai-Bai Sesay reports from Freetown-Sierra Leone

 

Communication design in the newspaper and magazine industry in the West African sub region has been neglected for so long. But the intervention of the International Institute for ICT Journalism Penplusbytes with finances from Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) and support from Highway Africa held a recent workshop for West African Design Communicators in Cotonou, Benin Republic.

 

The past workshop demonstrates the importance of communication designers which according to the organizers was part of the Penplusbytes capacity building programme for communication designers in West Africa.

 

I was fortunate to attend the workshop among 30 West African communication designers. But the truth of the matter is that publishers of newspapers and magazines don't put much attention in this area. They rather prefer to encourage reporters and editors for media training programmes and neglect design communicators. This is why when someone looks at the way newspapers and magazines are operating especially in the English West Africa countries; one may really want to know whether the journalism institutions or universities have any training programmes for design communicators.

 

It is really difficult to see media institutions or universities offering design courses for students at university level. But I believe there are few institutions in French speaking countries doing similar courses because I can still remember a colleague during our design training course in Benin telling of an institution in his country offering such training programme. Because of the constraints in this area of journalism, Penplusbytes decided to come to the aid of media establishment in the West Africa sub region to start organising such programmes.

 

In his words, the President of Penplusbytes, Kwami Ahiabenu II, told this media that design communicators and graphic design play a significant role in the media adding that most training programmes for the media fail to know their important role in the media.

 

"We have come out with this second workshop to train design communicators and graphic designers in the sub region with the hope that they will train others locally in their various countries," he said

 

In a statement, the Programme Manager of Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), Ben Akon explained the importance of the workshop and advised design communicators to pay more attention on the training programme with the expectation that they will achieve a lot of new things from the workshop.

 

"We are expecting newspaper and magazine designers to put more efforts in their work so that their industry in the sub region will be improved compared to other countries worldwide", he pointed out.

 

Togolese and South African design communicator experts, Nahmsath Yabouri and Shalen Gajadhar respectively spoke extensively on the element of newspaper and magazine design, theory of colour and the use of graphics design to name but a few.

 

The two experts went further to give an overview of the training programme on newspaper and magazine design and the shortcomings of newspaper design in Africa.

 

According to a Nigerian born Eunice Ayo-Aderate, an Assistant Editor working for a Nigerian monthly newspaper, The PUNCH most media outfits don't consider the training of graphic designers as an important thing.

 

Based on her experience, she went further, the average media outfit in Nigeria concentrates on the training of journalists such as Reporters, Columnists, Online Editors to name but a few without thinking about Graphic Designers.

 

"This is why graphic designers don't rise beyond certain levels in the media industry especially in Africa", She said.

 

"Graphic designers are overworked and underpaid. Training Graphic designers at university level are highly recommended to make their relevance in the media industry better appreciated", she observed.

 

In his words, a newspaper publisher with lots of experiences in the media industry told participants that communication design especially in newspaper, magazine and online publications is a very vital tool for designers in modern media industry.

 

Speaking among 30 English and French participants from different media outlets in West Africa, the Sierra Leonean newspaper publisher who is also a graphic designer told this press that communication design is an important area in the media that should not be neglected especially in the West Africa sub region where there are no such opportunities.

 

"Penplusbytes with support from Highway Africa and OSIWA will help in bringing design communicators together to discuss issues relating to communication design", he concluded.

 

In Sierra Leone the biggest challenge is keeping the reporters and typists interested in graphic design so that there is enough room for all and this can only be achieved if up to date training and latest development in graphic design is transferred to newspapers and magazine media houses rather than going to commercial business enterprises to do their layout and design before publications.

 

This is a serious issue in the media industry in Sierra Leone but some newspaper houses are slowly gaining momentum as they are now doing their designs in their offices. In view of that we need media organisations to continue the awareness campaign on such issues in the training of design communicators in West Africa. Penplusbytes financed by OSIWA has already started these training programmes in the sub region.

 

In conclusion, design communicators are of the opinion that graphic design and the media including information, communication and technology cannot be divorced as both needs to complement each other for the benefit of all. Thus, there is a genuine need to devise/ create avenues whereby information becomes easily accessible to the public.

 

The author Bai-Bai Sesay is the current acting editor and also communication designer of the Independent Observer newspaper based in Sierra Leone. For any comment email the author at baibaisesay@yahoo.com, baibaisesay@hotmail.com

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