Liberia, and my class project

I finished my class with Philip Meyer.  The final project was required to be a proposal for a new medium.

Ideas for a new medium are easy. It was more difficult to think of something that is doable for me and combines the values and lessons of the class — such as serving low-end customers or nonconsumers, and putting a priority on people’s “jobs to be done” and their priorities (making it easy for people to do what they want to do, in the way they want to do it), while still making it journalism (well-rounded meals).

The obvious nonconsumer market is youth. Much is already marketed to 15-35-year-olds. It’s smarter to think younger.

But the same lessons can be applied to just individuals but larger markets — such as underdeveloped countries. So I poked around and found a model for expansion, by Alfred Sirleaf, in Monrovia, Liberia. Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times wrote about him, so I wrote to her to see if she knows how I might be able to contact him. 

In the meantime, here’s part of my class paper.

Chalkboard Net

            Chalkboard Net would use chalkboards to bring journalism to people who live on less than $10 a day.

            It would provide news and media service to people with little or no access to traditional mass media and telecommunications. The project would serve those handicapped by poverty, illiteracy, remote location or insufficient infrastructure.


            While many people in industrialized countries suffer from information overload, there is much less available for people who need it the most, especially in failed states or war-torn countries.

            In 30 countries, there is not even one radio for every 10 people. Even if people had money, in some areas there is no newspaper or telecommunication service, or even electricity. For example, for at least 14 years in the capital of Liberia, the only electricity available has been through private generators.

            Phone lines go to only about 5 percent of the country’s population. Service outside Monrovia is negligible.

            Liberia’s infrastructure was destroyed during rebellion and civil war in most of the 1990s and early 2000s. The country is rich in natural resources, but much human capital has been lost. The civil wars killed about 7 percent of the population, and many businessmen fled the country.

            Broadcasters and publishers were damaged by violence and have little money to pay employees.  


            Chalkboard Net would be based The Daily Talk, a chalkboard “newspaper” in Monrovia, Liberia. (New York Times story by Lydia Polgreen, at

            The Daily Talk is produced by Alfred Sirleaf, who writes news and editorials inside a small plywood building he constructed. For people who can’t read, he sets up items as symbols to illustrate the news.

            His work includes challenging the government to provide people with basics such as electricity and water.

            Like most people in Liberia, his income is minimal. He does get occasional gifts of cash or phone cards.

            Sirleaf uses several newspapers and a network of tipsters. Although he has no formal journalism training, his work irritated the government enough that he was briefly jailed and his newsstand was once torn down.

            “Daily Talk’s objective is that everybody should absorb the news,” he was quoted in The New York Times. “Because when a few people out there make decisions on behalf of the masses that do not go down with them, we are all going to be victims.”

Published in: on December 16, 2007 at 6:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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