Every day at 7 a.m., you can find Alfred Sirleaf working inside a small shack on a busy street corner in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. He reads the papers, consults with his small staff of reporters, and checks text messages from tipsters around the country. Then he picks up a piece of chalk, goes outside, and writes the day’s news headlines in large, clear letters on a blackboard facing the street. He may be the world’s only analog blogger.
Sirleaf’s been running his blackboard newspaper, called “The Daily Talk,” since 2000. Back then, the media was heavily censored under Charles Taylor’s repressive regime. “We had a system in Liberia where a few people reigned and made decisions for the masses,” Sirleaf says. “That’s what inspired me to figure out how to communicate with the people.” The government wasn’t happy with him. The blackboard was destroyed—twice—and Sirleaf was thrown in jail and eventually forced into exile. When a media-friendly government replaced Taylor in 2003, Sirleaf returned to rebuild his news empire.
Sirleaf says people need to stay informed for democracy to survive in the formerly war-torn nation, where outside news rarely penetrates and few people have access to newspapers or the Internet. Despite attracting thousands of Liberians every day and being one of the most influential news sources in Monrovia, he says a single board simply isn’t enough. So he’s trying to grow his business: he’s searching for funding that would allow him to build a network of blackboard newspapers across the country, each manned by a reporter/chalk-handler. “If the citizenry is educated they will be able to positively contribute to society. The best thing is to have everyone educated, and once they are informed, they aren’t going to do things out of ignorance.”