By Fatou Dahaba
Many Gambian journalists, some well-established in the media, are quitting newsrooms for better-paid PR and communications jobs, and the trend is showing no sign of abating.
The trend is not affecting Gambia alone, as reports elsewhere in Europe and the US say many professionals are leaving newsrooms due to low wages and editorial differences and policies.
In this unique feature story, Alkamba Times explores why Gambian journalists are opting for PR and communications jobs.
27-year-old Samsideen Ceesay is now employed as an information officer at the Ministry of Gender, Children, and Social Welfare after abandoning his 5-year stint in journalism because of scarce opportunities.
Ceesay worked as an information officer at the Constitutional Review Commission for career development and financial stability outside the media.
Samsideen, who thinks there needs to be more motivation and resources available to equip reporters despite the proliferation of media houses in the country, had to leave journalism for a communications job.
“I had to leave my previous position (journalism) because of unforeseen personal circumstances. My departure allowed me to pursue a career in communications. I realized that communications will equip me to become a better communicator within my specialization.”
However, Mr. Ceesay does not intend to return to the media anytime soon. He believes media chiefs can do better to motivate and provide incentives to reporters to perform their duties better, provide gadgets to journalists to carry out their functions, build the capacity of journalists within their area of specialization, and award-deserving staff with better remuneration.
In The Gambia, most journalists earn less than D3000 a month, a discouraging factor forcing many to quit.
But even those that earn D10, 000 which includes transportation, house rent, and other needs, need help to meet living standards considering current inflation and market realities.
Lamin Jahateh, former Editor-In-Chief of The Point Newspaper, a leading independent newspaper in the country, also left the newsroom after ten years of professional practice.
Mr. Jahateh now works as National Project Officer for UNESCO Dakar Office in The Gambia. He said he left the newsroom because ‘the growth prospect there is limited, career-wise, and the same is true financially.’
“I left the newsroom as an editor, which is the highest I could achieve, no matter how long I stayed. But, in terms of take home, no matter how long I stayed, the local media houses I know in The Gambia will never be able to pay me the barest minimum to take care of my family.”
For Jahateh, no matter how much you love the newsroom, personal career growth comes first. So he had no option but to try something outside the newsroom.
He has yet to make plans for returning to the media and believes there is a need to up the game in media establishments and for media chiefs to find innovative ways to generate more revenue.
“Across the world, reliance on the traditional revenue generation through advertisement is no longer sustainable. So they need to find better ways to attract more funds because no matter how much reform you want to undertake in the newsroom regarding a pay rise and better conditions if there is no money to support reform, it comes to nothing. However, while the monetary aspect is important, it is not the only thing needed to attract and retain a competent workforce in the newsroom. So a lot needs to be done to improve conditions in the newsroom,” Lamin told Alkamba Times.
Lamarana Jallow, a former reporter with The closed Daily Observer, said she has no plans to continue her watchdog role ‘because there is no motivation or encouragement in the newsroom.’
Lama, also a communication officer at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, believes that if journalists’ working conditions are not improved, more will continue to leave the newsroom.
She urged media chiefs to pay those who can do the job better.
In 2020, The Gambia Press Union researched journalists’ working conditions, revealing that over 30 percent of journalists in the country are paid less than D2,500 per month on average.
The research also informed the Union to develop a comprehensive collective bargaining document that will capture the welfare of journalists and media workers.
Stakeholders, including media chiefs, validated the document, and GPU has championed media houses to sign the document, which entails minimum wages for journalists according to their experience and academics.
Muhammed S. Bah, the President of The Gambia Press Union, said it is not the wish of the Union to see journalists moving from journalism to Public Relations but admits people are forced to leave for better pay and working condition.
He said reporters would continue to leave if the status quo did not change.
The GPU President said the Union is working with various media houses and chiefs to implement a collective bargaining agreement that addresses issues affecting journalists and media workers.
“I believe if journalists’ welfare is well taken care of, it will encourage them to stay.”
However, Malik Jones, a veteran journalist, advised journalists to go the extra mile and take other jobs outside the newsroom that can give them money to sustain themselves because newsrooms do not pay well.
He said journalism has no money, especially in The Gambia, so one needs multiple jobs to survive.
“If you want to rely on and make ends meet in the newsroom, then certainly you are prompt to do practices that are not ethical, meaning people will corrupt you in exchange for money. So the best way is to look for a job outside the newsroom,” the veteran journalist said.