The Impact of Journalism
By James Moore
Latakoo is a technology company. But many of us come from a journalism background. We were trying to solve a journalism problem when we hit upon the idea for our product. Our long-term goal is to help provide tools to make journalism more independent, which means more powerful when it comes time to ask questions and hold accountable institutions and public servants.
This matters to our democracy. To our personal lives. To our culture. To who we are as simple citizens of the world. And here’s a recent example.
A friend told me about a Texas man who appeared to be under illegal detention in the West African nation of The Gambia. He was a naturalized US citizen who had come to this country with his brother to get an education in computer science. They both did very well working on Wall Street and at Pepsico in Dallas. But they could not stop thinking about their impoverished homeland and trying to make a contribution.
The brothers put their money with commitments from investors and went back to build a business that would hire and train young people from the villages. And they won a large contract from the government to produce national ID cards. The first half million were delivered and they sent the central government an invoice. But not a penny had been paid after a year’s worth of calling, writing, and sending lawyers. They had to sue. On the day of their court date, as they were approaching the courthouse, one of the brother’s was arrested and tossed without charges into an infamous African facility called Mile 2 Prison. He was placed in a 9 x 11 cell with 22 other people. There was no place to sit and barely room to stand.
His friends in Texas put up a web site. A friend of mine brought it to my attention and asked me if I would consider writing about his situation. I made some calls to the US Embassy in The Gambia and talked to the man’s brother and brother-in-law. And I wrote a piece for Huffingtonpost that looked plainly at the dictator running the country, stealing from his citizens, abridging their rights, and the details of this one man’s problem.
The next morning I woke up and checked news sites on the African continent and the story was published everywhere on front pages. The US Ambassador to The Gambia had made her first public statement about the dictator, Ahyah AJJ Jammeh, and she was demanding to see the conditions under which all prisoners were being held at Mile 3 Prison. And before the day was concluded, the man I had written about was released and was home with his family. He is now dedicating himself to making certain the other inmates are treated with dignity and are properly given their rights under the law. “The Gambia’s dictator was afraid of the scrutiny he was receiving,” said the man’s brother.
Reporters rarely get to feel or know the impact of their work. But it is almost always there, informing decisions, keeping the bad guys from taking control. That’s what journalism does. It gives us all a voice. And sometimes even turns it into a chorus.
And latakoo’s tools will make journalism an even more powerful force.