A few months ago, US news magnate New York Times was agressively criticised for a graphic photo it had published in January this year, following a terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Many at the time had slammed the newspaper for the "insensitive' image and questioned the editorial judgement (or rather the lack of it) that went into approving the printing of picture. now, about half a year later, the organisation is facing flak once against from Kenyans on twitter, this time for a rather racist job advertisement.
Seeking a new News Bureau Chief for its Nairobi Office in Kenya, NYT posted the following job-advert:
“Our Nairobi bureau chief has a tremendous opportunity to dive into news and enterprise across a wide range of countries, from the deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and the shores of Tanzania,” the job description read.
The advert mentioned the topics the bureau chief was expected to be covering:
“It is an enormous patch of vibrant, intense and strategically important territory with many vital story lines, including terrorism, the scramble for resources, the global contest with China and the constant push-and-pull of democracy versus authoritarianism.”
NYT further specified the skills the ideal candidate should have:
“The ideal candidate should enjoy jumping on news, be willing to cover conflict, and also be drawn to investigative stories. There is also the chance to delight our readers with unexpected stories of hope and the changing rhythms of life in a rapidly evolving region.”
The description did not go down well with netizens, especially Kenyans in particular and Africans in general. Many accused the language of the ad of being racist, patronising and suffeering from the "white gaze". Critics raised issues with use of terms such as "deserts of Sudan and the pirate seas of the Horn of Africa, down through the forests of Congo and the shores of Tanzania", adding that such descriptions added to the prescriptive notions of Africa encouraged and harboured by white Western nations and media.
Some also accused the ad of acrrying forward the tradition of fetishization and exotisisation of Africa, leading to neglect of its real issues and sensitive cultural differences.
The @nytimes are seeking a replacement Nairobi Bureau Chief to reinforce their paternalistic, fetishizing correspondent gaze. Here's an ad to help them get the right person for the job (using actual text from the job posting). Apply at https://t.co/7xXD8nfTEc #BureauChiefNiWewe pic.twitter.com/PoQUXNeoxs— Jim Chuchu (@jimchuchu) July 5, 2019
those NYT guys are just getting it wrong day after day. I wasn't shocked when I read that job advert. If they post dead bodies during an ongoing attack then whats a biased job advert?— 🇰🇪 Turquoise 🐳 (@ssbo) July 8, 2019
I'M NOT OFFENDED by NYT Nairobi job advert. I understand we're not in control of how people think about us. I'm concerned with how we think about us because that's well &truly within our control. Can we say we're good and decent people, who care for the right thing, all the time?— Steve Ogolla (@steveogollaw) July 5, 2019
Whenever I see an article on Kashmir, specially in NYT & Washington Post...I first check the writer...then I decide to read further. It tells me exactly how biased or not that piece is going to be.— Rolee Kachru (@Rolee_Kachru) July 8, 2019
But perhaps the most stinging response came from the Lam Sisters, a trio of African performers, who enacted the job -advert in full traditional costume and mock enthusiasm to showcase how the advert really read like to Africans. Their performance made it easier to spot the paternalistic attitude of NYT (or at least the proprietor of the advert that ppeared on July 3)
Thew sting was so sharp that even NYT's International Editor Michael Slackman, the man behind the objectionable advert, responded to it, thanking the Lam sisters and stating that he deserved it.
"That job posting was my doing and I want to explain what happened. We are currently looking for three correspondents to cover Africa and I saw this as an opportunity to find the best there is," he wrote.
That job posting was my doing and I want to explain what happened. We are currently looking for three correspondents to cover Africa and I saw this as an opportunity to find the best there is.— Michael Slackman (@meslackman) July 7, 2019
Owning up to the "mistake" that the advert was outdated, he said, "But I plead guilty to taking a short cut: Rather than write a new job description, a posting from about 18 months went out. I gave it a cursory look, and approved it. Mea Culpa."
But I plead guilty to taking a short cut: Rather than write a new job description, a posting from about 18 months went out. I gave it a cursory look, and approved it. Mea Culpa.— Michael Slackman (@meslackman) July 7, 2019
He further clarified that though the language may have been ill-thought of, the purpose of the advert was not as he looked at Africa not as a stereotype but as an areas that mattered in news. He requested that the NYT Africa reporters be judged on the quality and content of the stories they produce in Africa rather than the job advert.
As International Editor, I have the privilege to lead one of the finest reporting staffs in the world and @nytimes is committed to covering Africa, not as if it were some stereotype, but because it matters.— Michael Slackman (@meslackman) July 7, 2019