Standing in one of the infamous “sugar lines” in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, in southern Africa, yesterday, National Geographic Travel correspondent Andrew Evans became aware of a growing buzz pulsing through the people around him. “This being Africa, everyone was communicating with their networks through their phones and social media,” Evans said in a phone call shortly after arriving in Johannesburg, South Africa, today. The news surging through Lilongwe was big: President Bingu wa Mutharika (78) had been taken to hospital after suffering a heart attack. Some rumors speculated that he was dead.
Evans is the author of the popular Digital Nomad blog. He is currently traveling through Africa as part of his latest “Where’s Andrew” adventure. He is a one-man news machine, punching out what he sees and hears through Twitter, YouTube, and his blog.
“People wait in line for 6 hours to get
#sugar. Limit was 2 bags per person, now 1 bag. Most stores have none at all,” Evans tweeted from the sugar line yesterday. Then: “Everyone’s talking: President of #Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika has collapsed & was rushed to the hospital in Lilongwe.”
Ever the newsman, Evans started making his own calls, and quickly got on top of a breaking story. Tweeting along the way, his on-the-spot reporting was soon being picked up by the world media. The Huffington Post published screen shots of some of his tweets.
Evans jumped into a car to race off to the hospital where Mutharika had been taken. The news was not good. According to our blogger’s sources, the President had been pronounced dead on arrival. “President of
#Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika believed to be in a coma. Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe surrounded by police,” Evans tweeted. Then: “Rumor on streets of Lilongwe is that President of #Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika is now dead. #unconfirmed #Africa #news” and “RT @howden_africa: RT @malawaiman Bingu Wa Mutharika has died in Lilongwe #Malawi. We have called the Hospital to confirm this.”
Not content to simply tweet the news, Evans started trying to take photos of the hospital unobtrusively, but he did not escape the notice of plainclothes police. “Detained by 3 police detectives for taking pictures at Kamazu Hospital where President of
#Malawi Bingu wa Mutharika has died,” Evans tweeted, while he was being questioned by the police. A short while later: “Secret police try to get me to delete my photos but I refuse. Trying to take my #iPhone & try to take keys from my driver.”
After a few more strong words with the police — all tweeted by Evans to the world — the blogger announced: “I have been released, I am safe. Been told to ‘Get out of here & go away from here fast!’ by secret police. Driving away now.” Later: “Malawian driver says he’s never seen someone stand up against police before. I tell him that
#police only have authority we give them.”
It’s only today that the rest of the world’s media are able to confirm that Mutharika is dead. Andrew Evans used his basic reporter tools — a smart phone and a Twitter account — and his nose for a good story to be one of the first to break the news a day earlier. “We got the story out through social media,” Evans said in his phone call from Johannesburg. “We have the tools to report news as it happens, and we do.”
But it takes more than digital technology to break a good news story, of course. It requires a news professional determined to tell the story, even if it means having to stand up to intimidation by the police.
Related Digital Nomad Blog Post:
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Watch this video of Andrew Evans talking about how thousands of people follow him in real time: