African Bloggers Not Finding Internet Gold, Yet

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Written by Nana Ama Sarfo

The recipe for blogging and journalistic success on the Internet is both simplistic and a little mystifying. You need a website, perhaps a camera, definitely a lot of ingenuity, and a strong network of supporters.

There are bloggers and digital media journalists who have all, or some combination of the four, yet their websites are largely unknown. At best the sites are part of vast blogging networks of colleagues who support each other — but receive little traffic from those outside the fold.

Then there are bloggers like Ree Drummond of cooking and lifestyle blog “The Pioneer Woman,” and Nate Silver of political blog “FiveThirtyEight.com,” who’ve been able to leverage their sites into multi-million dollar deals. Drummond is now host of her own Food Network cooking show, while Silver’s blog is now hosted by The New York Times.

So, how is the Internet treating African bloggers and digital media journalists?

Consider this statistic: 650 million Africans are mobile phone users according to the World Bank. This figure might seem a little irrelevant in a conversation about the Internet, but consider this other fact: the majority of Africans with Internet access reach the web through their mobile phones, giving African sites a potentially broad audience that of course, also includes readers in the diaspora.

A cursory Google search on any given day unveils reams of fashion, political and style blogs, websites and digital magazines that are tied to the continent. The names are too many to mention, and the majority of these sites seem to be created by Africans in the diaspora, but the most important takeaway is that Africans appear to be harnessing the Internet to wax creatively about the continent.

Dig deeper and you’ll notice that the majority of African blogs and digital media sites, from the most polished to the most amateur, display an astonishing lack of corporate sponsorship (or corporate sanitization, depending on your viewpoint).

This phenomenon begs the question: are African websites making money? Are African bloggers and journalists building empires? And is the African media space developed enough to support these ventures?

From a survey of four African journalists, bloggers and tech professionals, it appears that the concept of digital media as a revenue making tool is in its infancy.

Ghanaian journalist Zandile Blay is a digital media veteran who notched high recognition for her Vogue Magazine-recognized fashion news blog, “The Blay Report,” before branching into the African media space in 2009, when she created Africa Style Daily.

“Africa Style Daily” is an African-focused culture and entertainment website that has since influenced Blay’s most ambitious project to date: Blay recently repackaged “Africa Style Daily” and created the Africa Daily Groupe — an interconnected group of 12 different websites that focus on different themes. African food lovers can connect to Blay’s “Africa Food Daily.” Sports lovers can connect to “Africa Sports Daily.” There’s “Africa Travel Daily,” “Africa Technology Daily,” “Africa Business Daily,” to name a few. And of course, fashion lovers can connect to Blay’s “Africa Style Daily.”

“There are so many African sites that are launching, and they’re all different, smart, savvy, well traveled, and they’ll validate good content,” Blay said. “Africa Daily Groupe was inspired by (the) same motivation: good story telling, good people to profile, good content — and if you need that for fashion, you need that for technology, you need that for business, and you damn sure need that for food.”