Paean For Philip N. Wesseh: The Citizen Journalist

By: Ralph Geeplay

Philip has given so much to Liberian Journalism over the course of his practice and to the art as we know it, to me though, he is the citizen journalist, his passion is incredible!

Citizen journalists [CJ] in contrast, as the term implies are suppose to be outside of the main stream media, so how come the term is loosely applied to Philip Nimely Wesseh, by this former reporter of his? Because, both in practice and theory that is what he is. But here, the term is employed loosely to paean Philip as a citizen first, because if you follow his reports, and commentaries, he seeks first to influence public policy through diplomacy by putting forward strong views that are often respectful, daring, but honest; it is this no hold bar approach to news reporting and analysis that has earned PNW accolades over the years!

The Inquirer Newspaper Managing Editor knew exactly where he wanted to be in life as early as high school, he would joined the press team at the D. Twe High School in New Kru Town, determined to report the news and influence national debates at a tender age. He has not looked back since.

It is therefore safe to say, that the long overdue recognition which came recently from the Government and President of Liberia in mid July this year as Liberia celebrated its 166 independence anniversary was timely.

Decorated and admitted into the STAR OF AFRICA, with the rank of commander, he said the call came as a complete surprise, but those who know him and have worked with him, were not. His long time friend and colleague veteran journalist Gabriel IE Williams also honored him, calling Philip a trendsetter whose work needs to be emulated by a younger generation of media practitioners.

The fact that he also received his award alongside Tom Saah Kamara, the admired founder and editor of The New Democrat Newspaper, who suddenly passed away recently attests to Philip’s hard work over the years. Kamara who was honored posthumously typified the kind of journalists Liberia need as the country seek solutions to its myriad problems in a new era when reconciliation, corruption and national reconstruction are prime factors of concern. In all fairness though, it is safe to say that both Kamara and Wesseh in contend and character as far as their works are related are both different men [as would be any two great architects who would approach their crafts from different angles], but what cannot be denied is that the tenets and principles that informed journalism are exemplified in their works: Accuracy, Balance and Credibility [the ABC of journalism], but more than that, Wesseh represents, a new age of journalism in Liberia, especially a post war nation so in need of responsible voices.

“As both the newsrooms and courtrooms across this country seek answers…in the coming years, it is likely that journalism itself will be on trial.” Wrote Kathy English, a public editor in a column for the Toronto Star this week, as she posited: Defending Responsible Journalism—What Is Responsible Journalism on Public Interest? she answered that by countering that “…journalists [must] hold themselves to higher ethical standard than ever before. In fact, we must.” She emphasized.

As if reading a page from Kathy’s lexicon, Wesseh, concerned that today, most times editorializing in Liberian papers and its media are not fulfilling this cardinal responsibility, wrote in 2010, that “Editorial[s] should not be written from hearsay or imagination, but must be written based on facts.” It is that kind of pragmatism and honesty that informs Philip Wesseh’s approach to journalism.

But more so, the point cannot be overemphasized that the Inquirer Newspaper under Wesseh guidance also has the singular distinction of being Liberia’s oldest post war daily. Immediately in 1991 when Amos Sawyer and his Interim Government of National Unity [IGNU] settled in greater Monrovia and the adjourning Bushrod Island, Rufus Darpoh would also established the Torch Light Newspaper, other print media facilities would eventually spring up, but the paper and Wesseh since January 15, 1991, would refuse to go away. Philip made sure he stayed in the country, even as some of his best reporters, friends, and employees would flee — from war and for greener pastures.

If Philip is a seasoned journalist, he is because he also started at the Liberian Daily Observer as a reporter under an old hand-editor and publisher Kenneth Y. Best, probably Liberia’s best known Journalist of his time. Philip love for the profession exceeds anyone I have met in the business. From his humbled beginnings as a high school cub reporter, to a reporter at the Daily Observer, to editor, associate editor and managing editor at the Inquirer Newspaper, he would go on to bag a Journalism and Law degree, and also determined to give back, he now teaches the art.

Above all, what the paper under his leadership has strived for over the two decades that it has been in circulation is the truth, as it seek to influence public policy and sustainable development in an era when responsible journalism is much needed to steer policy makers and bring honesty to civic society.

Consequently, When the political Journalist, school teacher, activist and pamphleteer Albert Porte wrote, in August 1951 that “success or failure in a democracy rest… upon each citizen” [a quote that currently adorned the Inquirer Newspaper’s Webpage], his was a higher calling to citizenship: that private citizens, civil servants and essentially everyone within the borders of a nation must contribute to making sure that participatory democracy is sustained though debates, the sort of check and balances that grow a nation and where deliberations and differences are not meant to be reduced to mudslinging and acrimonious petty fight, that mantra has been Philip’s guiding principle in his approach to news reporting, also.

It just but right to say that PNW has fought the good fight and that his flowers are being given him while he is still alive is a thing of beauty!

Philip is a mentor, have always considered himself a citizen first, a journalist and a diplomat in between. He’s also a teacher and a leader, and that is why today this paean is thrown his way in celebration of his achievements!

 The author is a former reporter of the Inquirer Newspaper

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