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5-min read

NYT Faces Flak for 'Racist' and 'Insensitive' Job Advert for Nairobi Bureau Chief

The journalists are supposed to cover terrorism, conflict and 'unexpected stories of hope' in Africa. Many have accused the advertisement to be written under the 'white gaze'.

News18.com

Updated:July 8, 2019, 4:20 PM IST
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NYT Faces Flak for 'Racist' and 'Insensitive' Job Advert for Nairobi Bureau Chief
Image credit: Reuters
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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.

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.

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."

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.

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