Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The News You Refuse

I'm fortunate to count numerous journalists among my friends, so many that it's drastically skewed my perception to the positive. It occurs to me only in retrospect that all of them without exception are print journalists... and my infrequent exposure to the clowns on cable TV never even met the definitional criteria by which to affect the average. I have learned my lesson.
Our early morning meeting with the reporter started amiably enough with introductions, and random recollections from each other's respective hometowns manufactured from the mists of history playing the role of international travelers' small talk. "Ah, Rotterdam, I remember it well" and such.
We then dug in to what exactly he wanted to report on. We briefly detailed our respective projects, and he requested whether there were any "human interest" stories among us. I stammered and try to convey that the human interest stories were not the CSC participants, but the CSC beneficiaries, the citizens persevering while their country simultaneously experiences the birth pangs of democracy, attempts to modernize their economy, government and civil society, and teeters on the edge of chaos and violence, in a neighborhood too well accustomed to both. He persisted in inquiring about human interest stories on the team, but relented in the face of our blank stares and agape mouths. He then asked what we would be doing over the course of the day. As it so happened, we had a meeting scheduled with the district commissioner (an appointed mayor for the larger region - a frank, competent lady in charge of coordinating the efforts of 42 different government agencies in her location, and the first woman ever to hold her slot), but that didn't catch this newsman's fancy. The other teams were going to be working on their reports, debating ideas for innovation, and distilling them down into presentations - also nothing that raised his eyebrow.
He then literally said "Will anyone be doing anything with a screwdriver?" My already dumbfounded expression hit the pavement. "One of the unique aspects of the IBM program," I said, "is that rather than digging ditches or building houses - and trust me no one would want to live in any house I built - we're using our professional skills and honed expertise to bring more value to Kenyan society than we could by turning screwdrivers." I may as well have said it in Yiddish for the impact it had.
John, our teammate from marketing, quickly took control of the situation, clearly more accustomed to dealing with this type of vapid kabuki than any of us. He suggested a return visit to the school for the mentally disabled or the orphanage that we had just visited the prior Thursday, a proposal which immediately hit paydirt. I gagged a little bit, and turned off like a lightswitch. As Luan's boyfriend put it, "If he wanted a show, we could have sent him to the theater."
Are we really so facile as to demand only news which looks good? I will admit to not being an unbiased observer, but I actually think the problems we are working on (and dare I say some of the solutions we've come up with) are quite compelling. Our stories are counterintuitive to many Western notions about what is afoot in Africa, and represent the best chance for an emerging market country to pull itself up by the bootstraps out of a backdrop of plentiful basket cases into a somewhat prosperous, largely functional state. In Africa! Go know.
Our subteam ignored our newsman visitor for the rest of his foray here, which saved me the trouble of telling him where he could put his screwdriver. Instead, we had a very productive visit with the DC, and set up our presentation for the e-Government conference in Nairobi on Wednesday. On Tuesday, we'll give our client Dr. Getao a sneak peak, and then get up at the crack of dawn to trudge down the Thika Road. Once more, into the breach, dear friends, once more...


  1. No screwdriver, but a red stapler...

  2. guess you did not need that haircut!!!!!!!!!!!! It is a shame they dumb down their audience so.

  3. Maybe the reporter had a couple of screwdriver cocktails in him for breakfast...

  4. Dave -- I LOVE this post. 'Nuff said. Saw Rami Monday at MJBHA because Isaac and the rest of the JPDS team were playing the Academy in basketball. JPDS boys won -- girls did not fare quite so well. Take care, and keep writing. -- Debbi

  5. Dave,

    I love the insight you are getting into what those of us who think we have cool jobs face when posed with the inevitable question, "So how was (fill in the country)?" The only answer expected--not unlike the answer to "How are you?"--is "great." You're entire life-changing experience reduced to a single nebulous word. It is disheartening when people cannot relate AT ALL to what you do or indeed, the difference you try to make in people's lives. Looking forward to taking you for a haircut here next week! :-) Dan