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.




Tuesday, 27 October 2009


A very central pillar for any credible journalist, is the ability to truthfully and accurately portray news or events. To achieve this may appear deceptively easy perhaps, because many are the times it has been assumed that factual reporting, is an absolute necessity in journalism practice.

A hugely untold story however, is the fact that once in possession of the truth, many news editors have to agonize over what to do with it. Strange as it may sound, it is not far fetched for news gatekeepers to even consider that the audience might not be in a position to handle the truth. Or even the possibility that knowing the whole truth might actually not be in their best interest. And so what eventually is published or broadcast can be at best only approximated to a qualified accuracy.

If for example the details of a piece of news are depressing and likely going to spread despair in the general public, is it not better for an editor to tone down such extreme aspects, while still retaining the gist of such a story? Say for instance, there has been a rising spate of crime and a reporter justifiably includes  a very detailed background, the overall impression created in the script could be that insecurity has reached dangerous levels.

When this script comes up for subbing, an editor can view such a perspective as not properly contextualized, and having the capacity to unwittingly spread fear and alarm. Investors or key players in economic sectors that could negatively be impacted by such news, like in the tourism industry, have been known to especially advocate for responsible reporting of such matters. And them being key advertisers, their views are not often ignored..

So when accuracy comes into conflict with ideals such as patriotism, which one of them should be given preference? Chances are, although the pursuit of a truthful account in a news story might be the ideal approach, the accuracy bit is often qualified, in order to take into account other extraneous but inter-related factors.

Does this amount to censorship, whether self or imposed? Or is it a question of allowing interference in the news process and independence of the media? There is no denying that. But advocates will be quick to add that it is for the greater good. After all,they are likely to argue, the practice of journalism cannot exist in a vacuum and if overzealous reporters end up triggering destructive forces that destroy their  own country, where would they go?

The flip-side of this argument is that it negates the very essence of a free media. Indeed, it follows the same line of argument that many governments have used to justify the existence of punitive legislation that restrict access to information. How can the press on the one hand clamor for the right to information laws or the repeal of the Official Secrecy Act and on the other hand, deny or filter the information reaching their audience?

Some can argue that the same way the media would want the government to believe that the press can be responsible enough with any information in their hands, should be the same way the media should trust that their audience will be able to handle correctly, any information the press passes to them.

Whichever way you look at it, it is not a simple affair. Throw in public security, peace or safety, and the level of complexity goes a notch higher. And the very uncomfortable truth could be that, the media and the government, act in similarity at times, when it comes to gauging what information is appropriate for public consumption.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


A news report from Somalia captures the depth of lawlessness that has descended on that troubled land to unbelievable levels. Many media outlets were quick to pick up the story of Somali Islamists awarding the winners of a quiz they had organized, with prizes of AK-47 rifles, hand grenades and other ammunition.

When confronted with such a story, many a news editor will not hesitate to run with it, what with all its trappings of oddity and debased priorities in a conflict region? The focus and angle taken in most cases like this would dwell on the bizarre nature of the story, and milking it for its twisted amusement value, especially if the purveyors of such information are detached from the raging Somali civil strife.

But therein lies a problem. When covering such a problem, is it sufficient for the media to simply expose the story in its barest of elements? Isn't there a danger of news organizations, in all their global grandeur, being reduced to and steering their audiences towards becoming spectators at the theatre of human suffering?

Instead of appearing to entirely glorifying the warped reasoning of Al Shabab militants, what harm would have been done to the story, if some sober expert opinion, warning of the dangers of such competitions and their effect on escalating the insecurity in the region at large, was infused, even as a footnote?

Those weapons being dished out hapharzardly can eventually find their way to Nairobi's Eastleigh estate, becoming accessible to armed robbers and other criminally inclined people.

History and fate tend to judge harshly, those who see elements of entertainment, as their neighbour's house burns down. And in this context, one is best advised to think of the world as a global village.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


A good journalist is not a passive participant in the news process but a constantly active inquirer, in pursuit of truthful accounts that inform important occurrences. In the arduous tasks of chronicling events, assisting the masses to make informed choices, keeping those in authority in check as the people's watchdog, or even rallying society towards important public agendas, a journalist unwilling to probe and ask pertinent questions is doomed to come up with a mediocre or substandard report.

And many media practitioners will probably agree that the surest way of churning out outstanding reportage is through a deliberate attempt to ask as many relevant questions as possible, to either have issues clarified, get statements by news sources substantiated and even get to uncover fresh angles in a story. Journalists who opt to take the lazy approach of just relaying to the audience who said or did what, when, where, why and how not only reduce themselves to mechanical appendages but also negate the very essence of helping the public understand the significance of news items. The, 'so what' question now increasingly has to be responded to by  journalists, with the move towards interpretational reporting getting entrenched in many a newsroom.

This analytical approach should not to be mistaken to be a deliberate attempt to infuse personal opinions, beliefs, attitudes or biases in a new story. Rather, it is a premeditated decision by a journalist to endeavor to always provide depth and value addition to a given story, either by drawing correlations that create new perspectives, or capturing the views of experts to help with the understanding of issues and raising other areas of concern that are pertinent to the issue at hand.

But if a reporter, for example, goes back to the newsroom to prepare a story, straight after coming from a press conference, where no questions were asked, in the false belief that all the journalistic ingredients are present, at best, the end product will be a shallow depiction of the subject matter, devoid of crucial insights or substantive interrogation of the issues.

And tied to the inability to ask relevant questions is the tell-tale sign of an ill-prepared journalist on a given assignment. It is indicative of a lack of serious research into the subject matter or even a background check into related issues. It is rather appalling for a journalist to entirely base their copy on the issues raised by other colleagues attending the same function, granted that it is not always a guarantee that everybody will be accorded a chance to ask a question. But effort should be made to engage a news source whenever the chance presents itself, other than allowing the, 'are there any more questions,' window to go begging.

This however does open the door to other journalists from competing media houses to get an inkling as to the news angle being fronted and increases the likelihood of all channels carrying similar content. But the astute or more seasoned reporters seek private interviews after a function, which many a times yield exclusive angles.

The mark of a great and outstanding journalist is therefore in many ways hinged on the ability to ask questions.

Monday, 12 October 2009


The main reason why it is hard to enforce standards in Journalism is because it is rooted, nay, it is centered on the freedom of expression.

And since this freedom has been elevated to a fundamental human right, there is no way to deny one the leeway to put forth one's thoughts in the market place of ideas, as envisioned in a just and democratic society.

The First Amendment in the American Constitution safeguarded this requirement decades ago. Is it any wonder that pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry there?

That being the downside of freedom of expression, the flipside is that journalism, more than any other discipline, cuts across many so-called professions.

Lawyers, doctors or even ordained ministers can have their own journals but is it possible for a journalist to one day decide and straight away begin to practice some law, or administer to patients or even join a couple in holy matrimony?

So yes. Journalism might not be a profession in the strictest of sense, but it is a more powerful engagement, because in the most trying of circumstances, it constantly attempts to dialogue with the truth.

And what is that saying about truth and freedom?