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Friday, 18 December 2009


The essence of any investigative story is to gain new insights into explored or unexplored subjects, with a view to unearthing fresh information that ideally should spur some follow up action.

And any documented reaction is very much part of the original story. That is why editors often will decide to hold onto a story, in order to incorporate all anticipated angles before running it.

There are exceptions of course, like the UK MPs'expense claims story by the Telegraph newspaper. But of importance is the fact that months after the original story ran, it is still a hot subject with numerous subsequent developments, picked up as well by other media outlets worldwide.

That is the quality mark of a good investigative piece. And this primarily arises out careful selection of not only the subject matter but also how it is going to be treated.

Investigative journalism avoids the obvious

If the angles are not properly identifies from the onset, chances are high the piece may not have a big impact and its shelf life in the collective memory of the audience might be quite limited.

Without any doubt, the series by NTV(Kenya) 'The Price of Belief,' was well researched and material meticulously gathered. But when it came to the actual delivery, it lacked the vital punch needed to move the audience.

Stories of how people have been conned by supposed witch-doctors and swindled out of their hard earned possessions or savings  have been around for so long. This familiarity appeared to have almost been oblivious to the reporters and they led the viewer onto a very predictable path. And away from the wow factor.

I for once would have loved to understand why the victims always seem to fall into the same well documented traps. What do psychologists have to say about this tendency? What is the psychological profile of a con artist or would be victim and how does their belief system lend itself to being duped?

Indeed, the victims should not have been treated as innocent people taken advantaged of but should have been pressed further to help the audience understand what was going through their minds as they willingly allowed themselves to be swindled.

Investigative journalism is incisive

The 'Port of Impunity' story on corruption at the Kenyan port of Mombasa, by KTN was spot on, when it came to the attributes of a good investigative piece.

Although graft is a vice much spoken of in Africa, the piece carried a real and refreshing expose of underhand dealings and the subsequent reactions speak volumes about the impact of the story.

Any sensible government should be moved into action by such a damning evidence of malpractice and a message is also sent to would be unscrupulous business people that the truth will one day come to haunt them.

The difference between a good and not so good investigative piece can thus narrow down to the story angles.

But a lot also depends on the subject matter and what supportive evidence is at a reporter's disposal, like pictures, audio/ video recordings or documentation.

However, there have been some concerns that the KTN investigative team itself uses crooked means to obtain information that feeds their stories.

Whether this is a good thing or not will always be debatable.

1 comment:

Cynthia W said...

Gachiri, I watched the entire three piece and completely and wholly agree with you. The journalists should have asked themselves. "What is the purpose of this investigation? How do we help the ordinary Kenyan in a difficult life situation not fall into this trap"? it basically satisfies our voyeuristic urges of wanting to see for ourselves what goes on in those evil little houses, but goes no farther than that.

I also felt that the delivery was very jumbled up and haphazard. It might be a case of strict deadlines, but it looks as if they got carried away showing us the hows wheres, and forgot all about the whys.