One man's mission to keep Monrovia in the know

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The Independent Online

While rolling news in much of the world amounts to endless television bulletins with gaudy graphics and hectoring headlines, in Liberia it comes down to one man, his revolving blackboard and some broken chalk.

Operating out of a ply-wood shack on a run-down roadside in the capital, The Daily Talk has emerged as one of Monrovia's leading news sources.

The man behind the venture is Alfred Sirleaf, 33, a self-taught journalist who writes the day's headlines on his blackboard, while locals gather in search of breaking news.

It's not an orthodox news gathering operation. He relies on a 1970s dictionary, financial handouts, pre-paid mobile phone cards and a network of correspondents who text him when a story breaks. This way he is able to keep a city that has not had electricity for over 14 years, "in the know".

Mr Sirleaf also peppers his news with Liberian slang. The point, he says, "is that everybody should absorb the news".

"I like to write the way people talk so they can understand it well," Mr Sirleaf told The New York Times. "You got to reach the common man."He uses old photographs or pictures from discarded magazines to illustrate his prose.

Many Monrovians who missed out on education because of the war cannot read and rely on his ingenious system of props for information: blue helmets, for example, are hung up on the outside of his "newsroom" if a story is run on a UN peacekeeping force entering the country.