As Ghana hosts world media, a trip down memory lane

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari
As Ghana hosts world media, a trip down memory lane

This week the Ghana media have been revelling in the high honour of our Government jointly hosting with UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2018, the 25th such observance.

The two- day event in Accra, May 2 – 3, was under the theme: ‘KEEPING POWER IN CHECK: MEDIA, JUSTICE AND THE RULE OF LAW’.

Not only did the world’s media converge on Accra, a wide variety of events also took place.

Furthermore, it was an occasion to reunite with old friends and make new ones. Not surprisingly, additionally, for some, there were reminiscences about how we entered journalism.

The following account of my entry into journalism, and my relationship with this paper, was first published in the issue of December 13, 2013, as part of the article headed ‘My Mandela handshakes and The Mirror identity’:

I was a somewhat idealistic student of the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), finishing an unprecedented, crash one-year course in Journalism – instead of the standard two years – when one day I went looking for the Editor of The Mirror.

I wanted to show him a short story I had written in the hope that he would accept it for the paper’s Short Story page.

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I sometimes wonder how my life would have turned out, if the Editor, Mr. Eddie Agyeman, had turned my request down.

However, the gentle, ever-smiling Mr Agyeman was very cordial, took my story and asked me to come back later for his assessment.

Not only was that story published, he accepted others, too.

Then, one day, out of the blue, he invited me to try writing a column for the paper.

Thus it was that although I was yet to graduate from the GIJ, I became a columnist for The Mirror, writing the weekly column I called ‘Yaa Yaa’s World’. After graduating, I continued working as a freelancer for the paper before becoming a full-time employee.

I worked there for more than 16 years, rising to the position of Deputy Editor, before I resigned to become a freelancer again, working mainly for the BBC and West Africa magazine, now defunct.

I remain eternally grateful to Mr Agyeman for giving me that rare opportunity and all the encouragement although he had practically nothing to base his trust on.

‘Yaa Yaa’s World’ was the forerunner of the ‘Thoughts of a Native Daughter’ column and, similarly, was devoted to a wide range of social and topical issues.

After a couple of years, the column was rested and most of the articles, published between 1970 and 1973, were compiled into a book and published as The Best of Yaa Yaa.

At the end of 1975, the International Women’s Year, I was invited to write another column by the then Editor, Mr.Nicholas Alando, and thus the ‘Thoughts of a Native Daughter’ was born – precisely in the issue of Friday, January 23, 1976.

There was a time when the trademark of the Mirror was the photos of beautiful women on its front page and its fashion pictures on the centre pages led the country in fashion trends.

Perhaps this is where I should take readers ‘backstage’ of the then Graphic Corporation, publishers of the Daily Graphic and its sister paper, The Mirror, for some insights.

Anybody who visited the editorial offices in the 1970s and 1980s would have been bemused at the number of names I was responding to at that time, including Ajoa (my own name); Yaa Yaa; Yaa; Nana Ama, Nana and, last but by no means the least, ‘Native Daughter’. However, there was no mystery; I was all of the above.

I have already explained the ‘Yaa Yaa’ and the Native Daughter bits. ‘Nana Ama’ was the name that the then Editor, Mr. Nicholas Alando decided that we should give to the Advice Page when we deemed it time to give it a new focus.

Before that, the Advice Page was being handled by a non-staff contributor and was known as ‘Auntie Mary Advises You’.

Auntie Mary was a very sympathetic and Christian person and Christian principles and prayers were central to her solutions to readers’ problems.

However, in the absence of a dedicated Career Guidance programme in the schools, we found out that more and more of the letters were from youth in search of pragmatic direction as to choice of a career, what subjects could qualify them for certain professions.

As Features Editor at that time, I was in charge of the Advice Page and thus found myself spending more time doing research in order to give the right guidance to those writing for advice.

Thus it was that Mr Alando decided that the advice should be more practical and I should take complete charge of the page.

I should add that the sort of problems readers were sending to the Advice Page, eventually led me to suggest to the Editor that we should introduce a ‘Mirror Lawyer’ (in the person of Mr. Ray Kakrabah-Quarshie) as well as ‘Mirror Nurse’ columns.

The Nurse column eventually turned into a Health page handled by medical doctors, first Dr Sam Debrah and later Dr Sam Adjei.

A well-kept Mirror secret: Older readers may remember that when male readers felt that the ‘Yaa Yaa’s World’ column was being unfair to the men, they demanded another column written from a male perspective and they did get one: ‘Male Mutterings by Koo Pia’.

However, what readers didn’t know, as it was a closely guarded secret, was that Koo Pia was actually the pen-name of a WOMAN writer, a good friend of mine. However, it seems that my friend, who now lives in Botswana, represented the male point of view so well that readers never suspected the truth!

I can’t end this piece without a sentence or two on the Short Story page, through which I got a foothold into the Mirror.

The fiction page was always a favourite with me and I like to think that during my time as Features Editor, and later Deputy Editor, we were able to promote short story writing tremendously.

The above are some of the untold stories, strategies and columns introduced during my time and under a number of editors, which helped in the building of the unique Mirror identity.