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Difference Maker

Liberia's only woman newspaper editor packs a 'Punch'

Ora Garway runs the tiny newspaper Punch, which despite its modest size has exposed the need for reform in Liberia, a West African country still recovering from a civil war.

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Garway "is very quiet and unassuming," Smith says in a phone interview. But "once you get to know her and ... see her in action ... you're basically in awe. Ora is very hardworking. She gets up early, she stays up late," Smith says. Garway will work from a cafe or a friend's house. "Whatever she has to do to [get the paper] out."

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Garway's newspaper has ruffled feathers. After Punch published reports of medical supply and equipment shortages at Monrovia's main hospital, Liberian health officials threatened to sue it for disclosing confidential records and for entering hospital wards without permission to interview patients. The lawsuit was never filed.

Punch also reported on faults with new firefighting equipment, sparking an angry response from the supplier.

"He came and said, 'You there, girl, you can't write this story about me. You want to live?' he started saying," she says. The man then smiled. "He turned around and said, 'Congratulations. Every media institution that I visited here I only saw men…. I'm so proud to come to meet a woman here, even though you ran a story against me.' "

Garway's staff of eight – all men – are accustomed to taunts about their boss.

David Patterson Jr. has worked for two Monrovia dailies. "Someone who is willing to change society, someone who has determination, who is determined and willing to work with you, I respect," he says of Garway. "So anyone who criticizes me about working with a woman, I get more motivated so that the paper will get improved and those who criticize will become changed."

The paper recently started an Internet edition in hopes of generating more revenue. But in this country of 3.5 million people, only 20,000 have Internet access, the World Bank estimates.

Garway credits her interest in journalism to her father's encouragement and to growing up in a period of turmoil, a civil war that killed some 200,000 people and sent more than 750,000 Liberians fleeing to other countries. While Garway hopes to inspire young women, she gets more feedback from men, she says.

Has Liberia's best-known woman, President Sirleaf, offered her words of encouragement? "No, never," Garway says with a smile. "Never."

• Editor's note: In July Timothy Spence spent 10 days traveling with and advising a group of journalists in Liberia, including Ora Garway, as part of a project run by Transitions Online in Prague, Czech Republic, and sponsored by the Open Society Foundations, a nonprofit group in New York City that promotes democracy.

• For more stories about people making a difference, go here.
 

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