African News Sources (WE1S Area of Focus Report)

Report by Tyler Shoemaker

Final Version Created June 2018


Shoemaker, Tyler. “African News Sources.” WhatEvery1Says Project, July 3, 2018. 

1. Overview

What is your area(s) of focus?

Other Nations & Regions: Africa

Why is this area of focus important to the WE1S corpus?

Expanding the scope of the WE1S corpus will better capture the broad scale, shared, and sometimes conflicting discourses on the humanities the project has set out to analyze. Key to this expansion is looking beyond American and Western news outlets. A view toward the African continent represents one part of a general attempt to level out implicit bias, putting Western discourses on the humanities in perspective and providing valuable knowledge about alternative discourses that lie beyond those frames.

2. Source Scoping Process

How have you been selecting sources for the WE1S corpus? (e.g. collecting from particular databases, using “impact” lists, etc.)

I have formulated the criteria of my primary selection process on the basis of availability and a few lists of news sources. The latter are by no means impact lists; the point of my initial scan was to simply survey the field of available resources: what’s out there, not what has been deemed important. Without deep knowledge about the news dynamics among the 54 different countries on the African continent, I felt it was better to cast as wide a net as possible when it came to selecting potential candidates for corpus inclusion. My reliance on databases (primarily Nexis Uni) alternatively widened and narrowed this survey: while looking for articles I was able to find additional news sources not present on any of the initial lists I first scanned, and likewise, some sources on those lists were unavailable, which meant I had to retune my scoping parameters. Selection, in other words, has been a recursive process as I’ve swung between identifying any and all sources and determining which of those are readily available on databases.

If you are using external lists to guide your selection of sources, include links here and indicate who produced them, for what purpose the list was produced, and any potential bias issues involved.

An important list for identifying news sources has been TheBigProject, a news aggregator run out of the UK. The site does very little to frame its contents, and it is not always clear why particular entries have made their way onto its lists. Sometimes too the site has a pronounced skew toward European audiences, especially in its reference to other aggregators, which often seem to be produced by foreign writers who take European readers as their addressees (see, for example, Africa News). Nevertheless, the site was a key way to get baseline information about various news sources in countries across the African continent. See African News in English.

Wikipedia’s list of African newspapers served as another resource for the beginning of my survey, especially when it came to gathering information about the history of a particular source: Wikipedia Category: African newspapers.

3. Corpus Representativeness

How representative do you think your corpus is? (“Representativeness” can be interpreted and addressed in a number of ways, so tailor it to be most productive for your area.)

There are still large gaps in this corpus, with some countries going by without inclusion. After determining what sources were available on databases, I have fallen back on the category of the nation state to guide my way in the selection process. My goal has been to gather at least two news sources from each country on the African continent, with a(n ideal) total of 108 sources in all. Short of delving into the 54 individual public discourses in these countries, I felt this was the best way to at least produce a general picture of what those discourses might look like. But due to constraints (and sometimes surfeits) in database availability, I have at times departed from the above goal. South Africa, for example, has five entries in this corpus, three more than my required baseline. When faced with a generally thin bank of resources, I have at times jumped at the opportunity to gain more information, wherever and whenever I could, but I wonder if this reproduces some disparities that already inform the structure of the WE1S corpus, ones that make African countries illegible or underrepresented in the first place. Consider the following train of thought: South Africa contains Africa’s largest communities of Europeans; it has a long history of colonialism, often due to that population distribution; relative to other countries on the continent, its economy is quite strong; is the wider availability of its news sources related to this string of factors?

What challenges in achieving representativeness have you encountered?

See the point directly above. Challenges in achieving representativeness have mostly had to do with a lack of general knowledge about how news sources work across the African continent (to say nothing of political categories such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’) and the reduced availability of those news sources on databases.

Provide a tally breakdown of the various facets of sources in your area of focus that WE1S is considering as possible measures of overall corpus “representativeness” (for example, by source or media type, nationality, region, political orientation, identification with specific racial, ethnic, and gender audiences, etc.).

Source Count: 29

Average Press Freedom Ranking: 35.85

Distribution Method

  • Print: 26
  • Broadcast: 1
  • Online: 2

Circulation Area

  • International: 6
  • National: 22
  • Regional: 1


  • Algeria: 1
  • Botswana: 1
  • Cameroon 2
  • Egypt: 1
  • Ethiopia: 1
  • Gambia: 2
  • Ghana: 2
  • Kenya: 1
  • Liberia: 1
  • Nigeria: 3
  • Rwanda: 1
  • South Africa: 5
  • Uganda: 2
  • Zimbabwe: 2

Sources from countries not on the continent of Africa: 3 (Africa Confidential, afrol News, BBC Monitoring)

4. Reflections

What challenges or difficulties have you encountered in the source selection or collection process? Do you anticipate any challenges emerging from your work going forward?

At times, it is hard to come by rich, informative metadata for these sources, either on databases like Nexis Uni or sources like Wikipedia. To draw a structural similarity, generally it seems that there is about as much information floating around on well-travelled English language venues regarding the typical news source in Africa as there is on local newspapers in the United States. This makes getting a sense of circulation numbers, ownership, and general histories of particular sources difficult. More, because this information is harder to find – if it is available at all – it is difficult to form a framework in which we might adjudicate more ambiguous tags that the WE1S project has developed. For example, political orientation is a particularly thorny category because of a set of nested problems: my own initial lack of knowledge about African politics cannot be resolved by reading the tea leaves of metadata when that metadata isn’t available. I have largely left those entries blank during my collection, just because I felt it would be too editorializing to be of use.

 5. Research Scan

Conduct some preliminary research on the questions or challenges that you provided in sections three and four.

Have other scholars reflected on these issues? Are there publications that address these problems? Has research been conducted on how to overcome these challenges or at least acknowledge them productively?

There is a considerable amount of research dealing with the “newsworthiness” of a story in the context of international media systems, starting, as early as I can tell, with Galtung and Ruge’s “The Structure of Foreign News” (1965). While this kind of research bears on many facets of the WE1S corpus, and is perhaps well worth looking into as its own field of inquiry, there are several people writing more particularly on the global representation of stories from the African continent. Below are a few, which often contend with a perceived sense of Afro-pessimism. I have included one scoping paper (Scott [2015]), which deals with this alongside a wider review of scoping as a methodology and which summarizes the more pointed aspects of this present report.