Demystifying Liberia: Reflections on Class 1

As a broad introduction to what the News Design course will entail, I found much of the content we went over during the first day of class to be very interesting. It’s been years since I’ve taken the time to ruminate on the definition of design, so I found touching upon that to be a very refreshing exercise. However, one of the most impressionable lessons I learned last Monday occurred not during class, but immediately afterwards.

While paging through an issue of Front Page Africa and listening to Assistant Professor Ken Harper describe the general background of Liberia, I couldn’t help but think back to a shocking documentary I had watched online about two years ago called “The Vice Guide To Liberia.” The documentary, which follows Vice Magazine CEO Shane Smith as he navigates Liberia, portrays the country as a veritable “hell on earth.” The film relentlessly serves up one incendiary clip after another of instances where extreme and often fatal dangers lurk around every corner.

Prof. Harper’s photos and description didn’t paint a rosy portrait of the current state of Liberia, but they didn’t come close to reinforcing the country’s depiction as the uninhabitable war zone shown in “The Vice Guide To Liberia.” With this in mind, I approached him immediately after class ended to ask him if he had any familiarity with the Vice Magazine documentary.

Indeed he did. “It’s complete bullshit,” Prof. Harper curtly responded. He went on to explain how Vice’s documentary has been widely discredited by numerous news outlets, and that the ensuing controversy after its release had made some people in the Liberian government skittish about the intentions of international journalists coming into the country.

I was surprised by his response, yet extremely grateful that he had an opportunity to dispel the myths that I previously believed about Liberia. I learned a great deal during Prof. Harper’s rundown of the culture and troubled but hopeful state of journalism in Liberia. It proved to be a perfect gateway into our upcoming collaboration with Front Page Africa, a project that intrigues me more and more with every passing thought. I am looking forward to learning more about the various facets of this particular assignment as I continue forward in this course.

– Nick DeSantis

Nick DeSantis