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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?





Thursday, 14 May 2015

MEDIA MENACE OF PERSONALISED PUBLIC INTERESTS

Issue-based politics. That's a favourite media catchphrase, often thrown around during election campaigns. But personalities in political circles, do drive the Kenyan media agenda, after all. That's why a serious graft allegation can be packaged as a clash between rival politicians. It's a growing media menace of personalised public interests.


Prominence, no doubt, is a strong determiner of newsworthiness. But should the personalities involved be accorded premium attention, and the weighty matters at hand pushed to the periphery?

A healthy balance would be a more sensible approach, although given a choice, I would prefer the media to consistently dwell more on issues afflicting the nation, than reducing their coverage into personality contests or political duels.

But a press that puts a premium on commercial interests would readily justify having supposedly feuding top politicians in the headlines.

So politician A dares politician B one day. Then politician B responds to the threats by politician A the following day.

And this sickening developing story continues...possibly drawing sustenance from the sustained media coverage.

Is it any wonder then that the Kenyan corruption dragon has been regularly slaying those seeking to put out the fire in its belly?

The direction the press will take has become predictable and it's no longer hard to discern if the local media is getting too involved in proxy wars, without keeping a professional distance from the players/politicians involved.

The way to public interest is far away from personalising issues!



Friday, 8 May 2015

AN EXTRA MILE ALONG THE NILE: A LIVE BROADCAST JOURNEY

Live broadcasting can be very challenging. The coming together of creative ideas, editorial supervision, financial controls, as well as technical capabilities, is at the centre of such an elaborate TV production. And this was clearly demonstrated along the Nile, during a seven-day live broadcast journey.
 

The prior planning had been meticulous, and already, there were amazing features awaiting to be aired.

The only elements required were the live links. Did I just say only?

The locations required had to be scouted and authorisation sought in advance from relevant government departments and property owners.


Then the technical support crew had to set up their equipment, and ensure everything was working.

This is daunting, if it entails changing locations, and considering the need for reliable power supply, especially in remote areas.


Then the editorial team has to brainstorm and craft the content, which in turn has to be achievable, production wise.

So grand ideas easily get discarded, if the camera angles are not able bring out the desired sequence of visuals.


Then there is the establishing of a live link, which could mean a signal crossing continents, followed by audio and video level checks.

Here, it's instructive to note that, no matter the zeal of the location crew, if the material being sent out to the broadcasting centre does not meet set technical specifications, then it simply will not be transmitted.

Professionalism rarely gets compromised, no matter who is giving the orders.


And as for the on air talent, numerous rehearsals are part of the routine. And when it's showtime, there's constant thinking on the feet, as they balance between recalling their talking points, while implementing instructions from the director, (without the luxury of an Autocue).

Behind the scenes, there could be numerous activities, with a number of people constantly ensuring the broadcast is smooth.

All manner of challenges do arise, but with such teamwork, the audience would hardly realize something had gone wrong.


Such was the experience, in an amazing live broadcasting journey along various points of the River Nile, in Egypt, of which I was very privileged to have been part of.






Wednesday, 29 April 2015

VISUAL TORTURE, SASHAYING CENTRE PIECES AND TV NEWS PRESENTATION

Two eyes one brain. That's all viewers of broadcast news have, to appreciate the visual elements. The field of view is 180 degrees. But it places an awful lot of strain on the eyes, if a TV news screen has many areas of focus. There could be added value from the presentation style, but at times, this is reduced to visual torture, delivered in multi-screens.



Already, Kenyan TV station managers have conspired to divert attention from the news content to the deliverer of the news.

So there is always a walking, talking, smiling and sashaying centre piece, oozing raw sex appeal, often disguised as sophisticated news presenters (seldom anchors).

Then you throw in screens behind to further add to the futile competition for attention with the centre piece, possibly laden with supposed relevant pictures or computer graphics.


But it's simply mind-boggling trying to understand the complex reasoning that necessitated having the exact same elements repeated in two windows/screens.

It could also be a novel way of trying to expand the coverage of an issue, by having multiple angles, as highlighted by a battalion of news presenters and TV reporters, all squeezed into the safe areas of a TV monitor.


Some find this engaging. But I see it as too much work for my slow brain, tasked with picking up all these visuals, and trying so hard to have an enriched sense of the day's main news.

Insisting on delivering the news via a 'mass choir' of presenters, equally delivers the same killer punch to my 'besieged' eye-brain co-ordination inadequacies.


This also poses auditory discomforts, when the sopranos and bass 'representers'...voila...go into interlocution mode at the same time, al a off key!

La la...la la la... la la...lalalalala.




Thursday, 23 April 2015

OF SOURCING RESOURCES AND SOURCES OF SAUCY STORIES

Sources can either be direct providers of news, or indirect providers of information that can lead to big news, or even misleading news. And yet this is a gamble, almost all news organisations have to continue taking. The end result can be embarrassment, or even legal suits, arising out of publishing inaccurate information. So, sourcing resources, should not just lead to saucy stories.


Confirmation of key facts has never stopped being an important pillar of journalism.

However, the decision to publish or broadcast a story is often not determined by the availability of conclusive facts.

The juicy details of a story, (well aligned with driving up newspaper sales perhaps?), at times can't wait for comprehensive due diligence, given the fickle nature of news.

That's why a right of reply must always be accorded to those adversely mentioned.

But one could rightly expect that a person mentioned in a story, should be contacted, before the story is published, to either confirm the details or give their own side.


The only problem then is that, a whole complement of obstacles could arise, ranging from court injunctions, non-cooperative news sources, decoys, to even the killing of stories.

This is often after the intervention of internal higher forces in the managerial or editorial chain of command, acting on pressure/inducement from external 'sources' with vested interests

So you either choose to publish and be damned, or hold the damnation and have no news for your target audience.

There is though, a small time-tested principle advocating for the use of multiple sources, to corroborate details of a story, before going to press.

To go ahead and publish the fact that a story was based on a single 'reliable' source... is self-incriminating, and counter-indicative of the credibility of a news organisation.

Now that is a 'source' of concern!.







Wednesday, 15 April 2015

NO RIGHT TURNS AGONY AND WRONG TURNS IN THE TV STUDIO

TV news relays the reality of a day's major occurrences, but often relies on a lot of visual manipulations and technical illusions. So the audience gets to see orderliness on their TV screen, although a news presenter could be surrounded by all manner of chaos. A recent discussion on the no right turns agony on Nairobi's roads, shattered this perception, with wrong turns in the TV studio.



A guest had been invited to a live newscast, to analyse the effectiveness of new changes meant to decongest the main road networks in the Kenyan capital.

It may seem like a straightforward arrangement in the studio set, with TV cameras calibrated to get various angles of the guest and news presenter, to be picked by a vision mixer, as instructed by the director.

But of course there are other people in the gallery, some tasked with managing lighting, sound, graphics, autocue, etc, and all seeking to ensure there's a flawless news delivery.


Expectedly, there's bound to be lots of movements and conversations off camera, which the audience at home never gets to see or hear.

Never...well...maybe not.

Like in this instance, in one of the major local news channels, a hand suddenly appeared, as the studio guest was making his point.

video

And in the following few seconds, as captured in the short video clip above, the local, (global perhaps?) audience was treated to a rare instance of the reality that never gets projected, during TV news presentation.

There was a glass and bottle of water behind the studio guest, and these items were perhaps giving the camera operator(s) a hard time, in framing some shots, (or somebody got really thirsty).


So off with the annoying glass and bottle. But oh no...not in front of the whole world!

Obviously, there was a breakdown in communication, in the gallery.

But that's not a good enough reason to interfere with the 'perfect' world of TV news presentation!




Thursday, 9 April 2015

TERROR, LATE STATE RESPONSE AND A BELATED EDITORIAL

The Kenyan government has been heavily criticised for what some say was a lethargic response to the horrific terror attacks in Garissa University College. An editorial in a leading local newspaper was particularly stinging, while castigating the late and inadequate response by state agents. But behold, truth be told, that editorial was belated.



Granted, a more timely and well coordinated rescue mission, moments after the terrorists stormed the institution, could have saved many lives and lessen the amount of anguish across the country.

Better still, preventive measures hinged on compiling and acting on prior intelligence and a visible security on the ground, could probably have thwarted the planning and execution of the despicable and highly diabolical mayhem.

And in the aftermath of the senseless bloodletting, the leadership could have better steered the country from the forefront, in mourning the departed and consoling the bereaved, be it from the government or opposition ranks, while assuring there's sufficient public safety.

These appear to be points validly raised in that rare font-page editorial.

But in pointing out these shortcomings, is the local media beyond reproach, in its coverage of the Garissa massacre?


Not a single local newspaper felt the need to publish a special edition, and yet the terrorists struck in the early morning hours on that 'cursed' Thursday.

Does it mean the publishers weighed between the gravity of the news and the potential earnings, and found costs involved surpassed the need to inform the country?

It took more than five days for the second deadliest terror attack in Kenya to merit that front page editorial.

Does it mean the publisher was incapable of being alive to the pain being experienced from the very onset, to feel obliged to accord the tragedy such a powerful editorial lamentation?


May families, friends, colleagues and relatives find strength to endure the loss of their loved ones.

May the injured and traumatised get quick healing.

May the government be more responsive to the needs of citizens.

May the media provide responsible coverage that relieves the psychological burden of the affected, without forcing the survivors to relive their pain.