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.




Thursday, 26 September 2013


Kenyan media, undoubtedly, went above the call of duty, to relay information (some misinformation too), regarding developments around the deadly Westgate Mall siege. But the coverage did expose serious gaps in both sensible and sensitive reporting. Hence the need for an urgent media audit, in tandem with probing the country's intelligence and security apparatus.

For starters, some media houses elected to do phoners with some of those trapped or hiding, after the gunmen struck. The outrage directed at the news anchors (see below) is evidence of this journalism faux pas.

It is now only human and professional, to also call the same people to establish if they made it out successfully.

If so, then they should be recipients of an apology from the reckless media houses, who put their lives at grave risk, while pursuing 'their' story.

If, unfortunately, the people called died during the siege, then the media houses should take responsibility for compromising the safety of those they called, in spite of the unfolding hostage situation.

A boot camp should also be organised for local journalists, to instill in them the necessary skills of effectively covering war, conflict or serious crimes, to be infused with a heavy dosage of attendant media ethics and security concerns.

The English language skills exhibited during live reporting, have also been measured and found to be wanting. It might not be one's first language, but that's no licence to kill its grammar and semantics.

And this, in my opinion, is exacerbated by the 'needless' need to have reporters on location and anchors in studio continue talking, long after they have made their points, and recycled them in numerous repetitions.

The good thing to note is that the audience is ever vigilante and alive to the erring ways of the media. This remarkably forced the CEO of the largest media house in the region to issue a public apology, after a horrendous and distressful choice of their newspaper's front page picture.

As depicted below, nowhere was the criticism more scathing than in social media circles.

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Oddity as an element of news is acceptable. But it helps to restrict the coverage to realistic, proven, verifiable or probable occurrences. For a national TV station to lead its prime time news with a story of how a young girl had allegedly been 'discharging' metallic objects in her stool, is a a good example of how not to masquerade hearsay as news.

For starters, there was no evidence to suggest that this unusual episode did actually happen, other than the parading of the alleged metallic objects, (which onlookers generously handled).

The entire story, it seems, hinged on the claims by the girls mother, that she actually witnessed the bizarre phenomenon. But what happened to the journalism tenet of using multiple sources?

And more importantly, did the need to seek an expert's opinion not arise? Is it even biologically possible to excrete sharp implements without suffering from internal bleeding, or other health risks?

The TV station did attempt to seek views on this story. But alas! The target was the general audience.

Time and time repeatedly, news producers delight in bringing in studio guests to analyse stories or provide expert opinion. But for this particular one, it was deemed fit to augment the apparent gaps in the story, with more uninformed reactions from viewers.

Indeed, there has been a disturbing trend of debasing news by dwelling on sensational reporting, as opposed to sticking to the factual elements and rational observations.

And that, is how not to masquerade hearsay as news!

Thursday, 12 September 2013


A while back, a newspaper used to be revered as a useful tool for improving English language skills. Schools strived to get fresh copies regularly, which students would devour rapaciously. But presently, any school will be well advised to reconsider how frequently its students are exposed to local dailies, because good grammar, no longer lives in Kenyan newspapers.

Indeed, without beating about the bush, chances of encountering harrowing incidents of the massacre of the English language in the papers, have greatly augmented. And this worrying trend, it appears, is set to continue being on the card, in most, if not all Kenyan newspapers.

It is all well and good to keep the citizenry informed, whether statistics is their cup of tea or not. But in so doing, newspaper editors should take care not to 'miseducate' readers about elements of the English language.

The opposite of import has been, is, and will likely continue to be export. The creative effort above, of coining 'emports' is noted but severely rebuked!

Similarly, no linguistic resolution has ever been passed to alter the past tense of seek from being sought. Editors need to properly sort their tenses.

And, users of the English language are not into the habit of 'magically' transforming the gender of a person, in one sentence.

It is pretty much evident that Helen Obiri is one of Kenya's fine 'female' athletes.

Moreover, readers run the risk of getting confused, if two English newspapers differ syntactically, in crafting identical headlines.

The small matter of whether or not FBI joins, or is supposed to join, could present a big headache to a learner of the English language, never mind both sentences could be correctly constructed.

It is also appreciated that titling the wife of a prominent leader has its challenges. Prominence, after all, is one of the recognised news values.

But, 'Deputy President William Ruto's wife Rachel' is a mouthful in a convoluted way.

Never underestimate the power of the comma!

Thursday, 5 September 2013


Who said Investigative Journalism has to be centred around unearthing the vile, despicable, deceitful, hidden atrocities or malpractices? Must the exposes focus on matters to do with crime, scandals or injustices? Kenyan media outlets need to also churn out investigative pieces with a happy ending.

A recent undercover story, heavy on dramatic narration and liberal use of shocking (unethical)? footage, indicates just how much resources can be put at the disposal of journalists, to very much facilitate their 'detective' work, so much so as to 'rival' that of official law enforcement agencies.

If this challenges the police, for example, to up their game, then it's largely agreeable. However, investigative journalism should not just be confined to 'comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable', in my view.

Compare the intricate, time consuming preparation and the elaborate delivery of the print and broadcast series on terrorism, with the rush to break and move forward the story about the identity of the father of the 'Namibian' winner of Big Brother Africa, and his Kenyan roots.

Going by the precedent set by the same media house, why wasn't a team from the investigative desk dispatched to Namibia, to talk to the mother of Dillish Mathew, and Dillish herself, after establishing contact with the Kenyan man claiming to be the father of Dillish?

The interviews in Kenya and Namibia would then be recorded, including the initial online chat between the Kenyan man and the mother of Dillish, where she puts the man's assertion to the test.

Then the journalists would find a way of exclusively covering the upcoming birthday of Dillish, and the resultant reunion with her hitherto unknown father. Imagine the drama from Dillish's denial of her 'Kenyan father' until her mother intervenes and intercedes to finally bring the two together, as the cameras role.

Then the investigative desk weaves the tale, tying up all the loose ends and ensuring their is a coherent flow and maximum suspense build-up, with all the trappings of TV exposes, like an arresting sound track.

And then creatives will be tasked with crafting an effective promotion across various media platforms, as a teaser, aiming to generate a deafening buzz about an upcoming family saga like no other, featuring the winner of 300,000 dollars, at this year's Big Brother Africa, and the surprise Kenyan twist.

Then on the chosen transmission date, the story is broadcast either in one piece or in instalments, within the usual newscast, or as a stand alone program.

But, my dreams aside, what did the TV station decide to do? Step one: 'exclusively' air the story of a man claiming to be the father of Dillish, and capture the denials from Dillish on social media.

Step two: hurriedly arrange for an Internet video chat between the supposed father of Dillish in Nairobi, and the mother of Dillish in the Namibian capital, and also broadcast this. Less than 5 days and the deed is done and dusted!

While its efforts are commendable, the allure of a short-lived glory, derived from breaking the story, denied the media house a wonderful opportunity to potentially present an investigative masterpiece, (with a happy ending).

That is why I strongly feel there was an ill-advised dash to dish out a delicious Dillish expose!