The Sinkor Palace in Monrovia was the center of attraction over the weekend, as veteran journalists and media practitioners gathered to witness the official launch of Liberia’s first young journalist award.
The event was organized by Youth Media Action (YMA), with funding from Internews-Liberia, through the USAID Media Activity project, aimed at recognizing and celebrating outstanding young talent in the Liberian media.
The award identified young reporters between the ages of 16-25 years who have practiced for two years and demonstrated passion for learning, commitment, brilliance, and career potential.
Out of the 23 applicants received from Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Bong, Grand Kru, and Nimba counties, five young journalists from high schools and mainstream media were awarded for their exceptional and investigative articles.
24-year-old Siaway Miapue of Kool FM bagged a brand-new HP laptop as the Young Journalist of the Year award winner, while Laymah Kollie of Women TV finished as 1st runner up, and ELBC’s reporter, Emmanuel Kollie, finished as 2nd runner-up, to win one digital recorder each.
Student Adell Wollee of Kings and Queens International School won the Emerging Journalist of the Year award, while Maurene Brown from Bassa Seventh Day Adventist High School in Buchanan City, Grand Bassa County, finished as runner-up, to walk away with one smartphone each to climaxed the young journalist award ceremony over the weekend.
Journalist Miapue’s story, titled ‘Illegal Mining, Limited Logistics Threaten Conservation at Sapo National Park,’ is about rampant illegal mining activities within the protected Sapo National Park in Southeast Liberia, the country’s largest protected area, rich with valuable plant and animal species.
The story, which was done with grant support through Internews’ Liberia Media Activity Investigative Fellowship, being implemented by the Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP), sheds light on the detrimental impact of illegal mining activities and the logistical constraints park rangers faced that posed a serious threat to the conservation efforts within the park.
As a result of Miapue’s investigative story, the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), in collaboration with traditional leaders of the area, closed 24 illegal mining camps occupied by thousands of illegal miners and declared it a “No Go Zone” for them, and the Park, which is one of Liberia’s most valuable assets, is now saved.
Serving as the keynote speaker of the first Young Journalist Award program, veteran journalist, Torwon Solunteh Brown, challenged young reporters to avoid the pitfalls of yellow journalism.
“Yellow journalism is the derogatory term for journalism that uses sensational headlines, exaggeration, and dishonesty to attract listeners or readership,” she added.
Madam Brown, who started her journalism career at a high school press club in Voinjama, Lofa County, asserted that it is unfortunate that yellow journalism is prevalent in Liberia today, which is derailing the credibility of the media and creating a sense of mistrust among the public.
“Journalism is not just a career but a calling, a vocation that demands sacrifices, commitment, and a deep sense of purpose; It is not for the faint-hearted – it takes guts, courage, and resilience to succeed in this profession,” she emphasized.
She also encouraged young reporters to stay true to their values and maintain their integrity in the face of pressure or powerful interest.
“Many of our young journalists think that they have arrived and because of that, they do not seek good mentors; I encourage you to find good mentors who will mentor you in the profession and always pursue opportunities for professional development,” she concluded.
For his part, the Executive Director of Youth Media Action, Varmah Kamara, reaffirmed his organization’s commitment to providing a firm media foundation to youths through quality media training and broadcasting exposure.
“As you may be aware, Youth Media Action has not only moved from Montserrado County, but has established over 150 high school press clubs across Liberia, and developed the country’s first youth journalism manual for high school press clubs, aimed at providing young people with a firm practical background in journalism,” Kamara asserted.
“We have also successfully held the national press club exhibition, a news presentation challenge for the 4th time, the child broadcasting program, and the vacation journalism school, amongst others,” he added.
Kamara added that youth journalism is the future; as such, there is a need for local and international organizations to invest more if the Liberian media is to become more professional and independent.
He asserted that the award is to stimulate young journalists’ passion, motivate them to the right and ethical forms of journalism, and promote quality content delivery and independence in the Liberian media.
The Youth Media Action Executive Director thanked Internews Liberia, USAID, and ELBC for their continued support, and the vetting committee for a transparent and credible process.
Speaking on behalf of Internews, the program officer of Internews Kenya, Musa Sangarie, thanked Youth Media Action for the initiative, while he reiterated his organization’s support for media development in Liberia.
“We are happy and impressed to be working with Youth Media Action, in terms of working with young people who epitomize credible journalism, to counter misinformation and disinformation, to become responsible citizens, and contribute to national development,” Sangarie added.
Meanwhile, the Young Journalist of the Year, Siaway Miapue, thanked Youth Media Action for organizing such a unique event, while he challenged other young reporters to focus more on impact-driven stories.
“I started my journey in high school; as such, I want other young people to see this award as a motivation to aspiring journalists in Liberia,” he concluded.