If you feel a news story does not measure up to expected journalistic standards, bring it to the Journalism Dry Cleaner. Through our collective wisdom, we will strip it of all offensive dirt.

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

BYLINES, NON-NAMES AND NEWSPAPER GHOST WRITERS

Writers of articles in a newspaper can be credited directly by having their names published, usually at the beginning or the end of the piece. Bylines are a much coveted element in print journalism. The publisher after all, can decide to use non-specific labels to indicate the writers of stories. But even these 'non-names' ought to be linked to the media organisation.

And if not, the use of such orphaned or ghost writers can be indicative of, but not limited to:

- The publisher not being comfortable with being associated with the content of the article.

- The publisher not ready or willing to take ownership/stand by the substance of the article, (legal suit evasion?).

- The writer not having contributed sufficiently in crafting the article, to deserve either a direct credit, or 'privilege' of being associated with the publisher.

- The subject matter of the article being too hot or potentially explosive, to warrant such distancing between the 'anonymous' writer and publisher

- The article being malicious or not having been published in good faith.

- An honest omission or dishonest commission.

In other words, there would be no need for such 'wide and wild' speculation, if there was the familiar pattern of using either a byline, Reporter or Correspondent of this or that media organisation, or even an external source providing the story

Not unless a general Reporter, with a visible general email address, adds hidden general news value.






Thursday, 25 June 2015

FOLLY OF DELAYED ATTRIBUTION AND QUOTES THAT MISS

Attribution gives authenticity and authority to news stories. It plays a big role in determining whether the information is believable. It also crucially helps to separate fact from opinion. Attribution thus needs to be close to the information being published. The folly of a delayed attribution could make the views expressed being equated with the standpoint of a media outlet.


Enclosing the information in quotation marks obviously indicates the details should not be interpreted anyhowly. There could be need to accord a specific context, like merely reporting without shouldering the burden of proof.

Or it could signal there's some doubt with the information, and the details are being published with some editorial reservations.

But enclosing an entire headline of a news story in quotation marks, then expecting the reader to connect it with an attribution buried elsewhere in the body of the article, is living dangerously.

It's dangerous because the headline at times is all that a reader focuses on, and thus a wrong impression could be unwittingly propagated. (It could be subtly deliberate, though).


But in some case, the use of quotation marks does very little to salvage any meaning a headline writer hoped to convey, like in the above example.

Just whose suspension did the Nacada team call for?

And by using a definite article, isn't it expecting too much on the reader to be aware of the salient afore details of the story?

Such hanging headlines should not be allowed to survive the sub-editor's noose!

There are also instances, when quotation marks are missing, where they are badly needed, in a news story.


This particular newspaper has smartly decided that 'evil spirits' are empirically capable of haunting a girls' school, without any shadow of a dark doubt.

There's also a big hint of the reporter having had a first-hand experience of the torment unleashed by the diabolical forces, to warrant the direct reportage.

But don't quote me on this!

Friday, 19 June 2015

TV NEWS FAIL: HISTORICAL TRUTHS MINUS GEOGRAPHICAL REALITY

Is it a virtual deception? Then maybe all that is required is a computer-aided correction. Or is it a physical misrepresentation of facts? Then it's humanly possible for a set designer to mend the mistake. But if the broadcast station is in denial, then historical truths need not change the geographical reality. So in this TV news fail, let there be one Sudan, for the South never parted with the North.



That's the impression created and propagated for months, by one of the leading news channels in Kenya.

And this inaccuracy continues to be beamed authoritatively to the local audience, during the channel's prime time newscasts, and globally through various online platforms.

An untrained eye can hardly fail to see the graphical obliteration of the territorial integrity of an independent state.


For any single trained mind not to have noticed the discrepancy internally, it's a travesty of canonical journalism, reeking of professional negligence and editorial irresponsibility.

Attention to details, (demonic or angelic), after all, is at the core of the news business.

And if you can't even get your own station identity right, why should one expect you'll not go wrong with dissemination of information in the public's interest?


I'm not familiar with a channel called Kenya's Television Network. But I'm willing to be welcomed home to be schooled, and hopefully not miseducated.

Friday, 12 June 2015

DEHUMANIZING HEADLINES OF THE LACTATING TYPE

There is absolutely nothing shameful about breastfeeding. Even in this age of formula milk, mothers ought to proudly carry on with raising the next generation, as they deem fit. But some sensitivity is in order, when describing that vital activity by gallant mothers. And if they happen to be still active in sport, the headlines need not be dehumanizing.



Yes. We are all members of kingdom animalia. Our biological functions are identical on some level. And even though basic instincts can be subdued by humans, maternal instincts still kick in powerfully, once in a while.

But to say a human being is lactating is downright degrading, mostly because it reduces her to the level of... er... well...a cow!

You see, the reason why I find such a description repulsive, is informed and affirmed by my belief that motherhood is sacred, and one of the most selfless acts, especially among humans, (no disrespect fellow animals).

So Mr. Sports Editor, (Mrs. I highly doubt), I would rather not have my appreciation of a nursing mother, used interchangeably with that of a lactating cow.


Come to think of it, sports headlines have an uncanny way of being 'creatively' twisted for a presumed extra punch.

And the resultant effect, given the slight chances of the headline being taken out of context, can be alarming. In the above example, the editor can easily be accused of glorifying violence.

And the one below can be a ripe candidate for a heavy dose of cleansing of the spiritual type, delivered by dedicated prayer warriors.


What is fun to sports headline writers is not guaranteed to always be funny to the rest rest of us. Stories of athletics, volleyball and football can easily end up being a daytime nightmare involving the devil's children, xenophobic attacks and COWS!




Friday, 5 June 2015

EXIT WATCHDOG, ENTER PRESIDENCY, MEDIA AND MENTORSHIP

In Journalism, we have news sources, usually being pursued by the media, for the benefit of the public. This balance should not be needlessly upset, even if the intention is to be creative in news delivery. If a section of the local media asks the Kenyan presidency for mentorship, it raises non-public interest issues, as the watchdog role exits the stage.


Creativity in the news media is a much welcomed addition. It makes the stories memorable. It could also make the issues being addressed to stand out. But the fundamental and distinct role of the news media should not be compromised in the process.

Getting within the earshot of Kenya's president used to be such a massive achievement, and the few brave journalists, who managed to do so, most probably have framed pictures of that encounter, as a mark of their career accomplishments.

The best I could do was ask a former president a direct question, (from a safe distance at State House Nairobi), which never got answered anyway.

So I can imagine the thrill of an up close one-on-one interview with the Head of State.

But it should not escape the attention of a journalist doing a news story, that a line ought to be drawn between doing a professional job and being caught up in the moment, (perceived fame and beckoning fortune notwithstanding).

Imagine a young CNN reporter getting invited to the White House and asking President Obama to be his mentor. Or a BBC reporter asking Cameron the same, at 10 Downing Street. Just imagine a young journalist at State House in Harare, asking Mugabe....

...Okay...hey....let's not get carried away.

As the Executive exudes patronage, so does the media watchdog role begin to exit.




Friday, 29 May 2015

SOCIAL MEDIA, ELUSIVE TRUTH AND APOLOGIES

Media was driven by trained personnel. Then came new media, which emphasised free flow of information. Traditional media struggled to remain relevant to a digital audience.  Engagement became a conversation and media became social. So why expect only the truth? There are more interesting variants of information like rumours, gossip, speculation, and if need be, apologies!


If social media mimics society, then surely, you shouldn't just expect distribution of fact-checked, panel-beaten information, presented in a straight jacket of truth, ethics and integrity.

One hears something, probably truthful, but likely to be false. Instinctively, it seems, the urge to share becomes too overwhelming.

Simplistic satisfaction could be derived from being the first to break/forward the news/misinformation, or just anticipating adulation and validation among peers, (why....because).

Also, being perceived to be in the know appears to be highly valued, (as demonstrated by the number of followers on social media), which secures a prime spotlight, among hunters, gatherers and distributors of 'raw' information.

The truth shall set you free.

But which truth? (Yes there's more than one):

- That which is peddled by purported believers, hinged on selective application of scriptures.

- What the government wants you to believe, based on preservation of national security, public order and other ex patre considerations.

- Tainted/painted truth in the form of  propaganda

- That which is built on empirical/verifiable evidence... but hurts terribly.

- A convenient white lie, not far from the truth.

- Being economical with the truth is in the best interest of those concerned.

The options were limited in the days of trusted mainstream media.

But with social media, anything and everything, from anybody who is somebody or nobody, can and will be shared at lightning speed, with careless abandon.

Laws and regulations will come and pass but verily verily I say unto you, the man that taketh the Internet from the masses, will haul us back to the dark ages, and pretend to control information flow.

Friday, 22 May 2015

EDITORIAL COINCIDENCE, PICTORIAL CONSPIRACY AND COPYCAT TENDENCY

Product differentiation. Market segmentation. Audience fragmentation. Useful terms for a media business. This model requires monitoring the competition, to identify unique selling points. So, three Kenyan newspapers having an identical picture in their front page, on the same day, could be an editorial coincidence, pictorial conspiracy or just a copycat tendency.


There has been fervent discussion already on this 'different similarity' with some people quickly seeing a compromised media, while others highlighting the 'universal' press appeal of the persona captured in the photo.

But the strengths and weaknesses of such arguments are not my concern here.

It's the valued mark of pride across the Kenyan media landscape, built on a firm foundation of churning out cloned content, delivered in almost the same style.

It's as if the audience has all along been homogenised from the analogue days of yore, to the post- digital migration yonder.

So all the main news broadcasts across different channels and platforms have to be aired during one prime time hour/top of the hour.

Morning/breakfast shows on TV have similar content structures revolving around stale news, studio guests, live music, DJs and presenters wiggling to music.

Newspaper pullouts are almost identical, whether the material is generated in-house or lifted from the Internet.

Radio shows formats use the same template.

Digital/online departments are regurgitating similar content/shovelware, and social media engagements have been reduced to a tired conversation that everyone gets invited to participate in.

The same quasi-analysts and pseudo-celebrities hop from one media outlet to another, in a nauseating circuit.

TV programme formats are so similar that presenters can host shows in 'rival' stations, like they are being welcomed home.


Oh, yes. Blogs too have exponentially sprouted locally, and are doing a good job of circulating the same gossip, falsehoods and innuendo, in their respective spheres of effluent.

So, there's really no cause for alarm, if one picture dominates the front pages of the major Kenyan dailies, in one day, is there?