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Print newspapers face competition in Liberia, too – from a chalkboard

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Sarah Birke

(Read caption) Locals pause to read the Daily Talk, news written in chalk.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

New forms of mass communication are all the rage, but one country has been doing it its own old way for years. Liberia’s Daily Talk consists of news written in chalk on a blackboard on Tubman Boulevard, the main strip in the capital, Monrovia. Each day, hundreds gather around the board to read up on the latest, which is often delivered with humor. Over the Christmas period, seasons greetings were dedicated to a list of people ranging from President Ellen Sirleaf JohnsonAfrica’s first female head of state – to ex-warlords, imploring them to act for a better 2011.

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The founder and managing editor of the “paper,” Alfred Sirleaf (no close relation to the president), launched Daily Talk in 2000. It was shut down for a while under former President Charles Taylor – now in The Hague on trial for crimes against humanity perpetrated in Sierra Leone. Relaunched in 2004, the news has been regularly chalked up ever since.

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Mr. Sirleaf sees the role as developmental in a country that is recovering from the atrocities of a 14-year civil war that ended in 2003. “People need information, but many are too poor to buy newspapers and have no electricity to access Internet media or TV,” he says. Daily Talk news comes from local papers as well as contacts calling in to the office – no money is made. It is disseminated in a way that is accessible to all: using street language and including taped-up photographs related to the news. “No other news organization uses the language of the people in the way we do,” says Sirleaf.