By Justice Baidoo |

Before I arrived here from Ghana to begin work as an Alfred Friendly Journalism Fellow, Los Angeles was just that distant city of big lights, fashion, stars and, of course — Hollywood. I was never going to come here, it seemed. I stopped watching movies before I turned 10 as my life took a turn (a topic for another time) so I barely knew about Hollywood stars. Anytime I said to anyone I was coming to LA for five months and got the usual Hollywood buzz response, I didn’t know how to feel.

Yet, I was so looking forward to a different experience.

Justice BaidooIn April, I joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times —America’s fourth largest newspaper. It’s the biggest on America’s West Coast, kind of The New York Times of the west, founded in 1881. In the words of nearly everyone I’ve met in this city, there couldn’t be a better time to work at the Times.

But this family-owned newspaper, cherished by its thousands and thousands of readers through many decades, had been in distress before I got here. The wave of challenges that forced many American newspapers to shut down was taking its toll and many of its best workers who could leave already had done so or were on their way out.  

Then last June, the paper was bought by billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong. One of California’s most successful surgeons, he was described by Forbes in 2014 as “The richest doctor in the history of the world.” Soon-Shiong quickly made huge investments into every facet of the news organization’s work. And so yes, this is a great time to be here. The paper recently moved into a seven-floor building in El Segundo, 20 miles south of downtown, overlooking the busy LAX airport.

This is the third time I’ve visited the United States for a journalism program. Each time, I felt at the beginning that I was such an ignorant journalist. In two years of coming here, I’ve learned so much — so much that would have taken me a lifetime and a fortune go experience. This time I was going to be working on a newspaper’s video team that, -as many parts of this organization, was expanding. And here I was at the right place at the right time and right at the heart!

I have been a TV journalist for seven years now and have always done the BASICS — basic reporting with no extra skills. Here, I have been handed a camera of my own and all the technology that goes with working as a true 21st Century multimedia storyteller.

The day I stepped into the LAT newsroom, I was greeted with life. Young, ambitious and tech savvy journalists were full of smiles and ready to help.  Before I came here, myself and eight other journalists from Russia, China, India, Afghanistan, Moldova and Macedonia had been through a month of intense training at the coveted Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. Founded in 1908, Missouri is America’s first and one of its most respected journalism schools.

Justice and other Fellows spoke to students taking the main reporting class at the Missouri School of Journalism, and answered their questions about what it’s like to practice journalism in their countries

The four week period was a real eye opener for me. I learned about new trends in multimedia journalism and data journalism tools that would prove to be game-changing resource materials as I settle into this five-month internship phase of the fellowship. As the second Alfred Friendly Fellow to focus on food security as a specialty, I will be telling stories on how climate change will impact the availability and quality of food in the U.S. My first assignment is about the place of black farmers in the American food and agricultural systems. I am in for a roller coaster ride of a lifetime and I am giving everything in me for the lessons involved. It’s been a great first one month and I am bracing myself for the rest.

During the panel discussion at Reynolds Journalism Institute, Justice said reporters in Ghana often take on life-or-death subjects like violence, hunger and health problems.

I have so far been to Hollywood, gone into the same theaters that Wesley Snipes and Tom Ford have been to, driven through Beverly Hills, taken a hike up to the hillside Hollywood sign and a strolled on its famous boulevards. The feeling has been priceless. More importantly, it is the journalism journey that has piqued my interest. I made my first reporting trip up to Sacramento, the state capital of California, to report on the state of black farmers in America. I am hoping my first story will be published before the end of May.

I did my first major solo shoot on this assignment, working with a Cannon 5D Mark III on a Beachtek sound gear. I am writing an entire newspaper article, editing myself on a new Adobe Premiere suite and learning to do graphics in the Adobe After Effects and Lightroom. There’s more: I am soon to begin my training for drone operation certification this will hopefully be certified to fly drones in a couple of weeks. All these experiences would have cost me a lifetime fortune. Thanks to the kind supporters of this fellowship whose benevolent donations have kept this program running for more than three decades, I’m having these and more.