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Friday, 13 July 2018

ONE EVENT, TWO NEWSPAPERS, SAME COVERAGE, DIFFERENT FACTS

Media outlets strive to get unique content. Exclusive content stands out, and potentially enhances ratings or readership. The challenges though, is to differentiate your content from that of your competitors, from a coverage of same events. The risk of two newspapers reporting different facts from one event,  is never far, it seems.



What or who is the audience supposed to believe, when two of Kenya's top newspapers give a contradictory interpretation of one court ruling?

Both papers can't be telling the truth, can they?

And is it safe to conclude that one paper is lying?

The angling of the story could perhaps be the cause of the differences in the coverage.


But looking at the two headlines in the two papers, the writers of the two articles could as well not have been referring to one court session.


How else could one court ruling spawn opposite interpretations?

This is one sure way of courting controversy!






Thursday, 5 July 2018

NATIONAL PAPER, LOCAL ISSUES: SO WHY A FOREIGN IMAGE?

It's a good idea to think global and act local. In Africa though, what is local stands a very good chance of being despised. And what is perceived to be global, which might actually be just foreign, is readily espoused. That's why a newspaper that primarily targets a Kenyan audience, will use a foreign looking image to illustrate local situations.


It might be deemed to be inappropriate or even unfair to ask whether a newspaper in the U.S. might find it useful to use images depicting a setup in Kenya, nay Africa, to explain a situation in America.

Here, the Kenyan writer of the article is highlighting the folly of equating a relationship to a source of income.

The couple chosen for the illustration of this situation can pass off as African, with a lot of imagination.

But the worrisome detail from the image in this context, is the currency in view.

Is it that Kenyan money (and couple) was found wanting, or hopelessly insufficient to capture the essence of the story?

And only the 'mighty' U.S. dollar could do the job?

This is a sure way of diminishing local value systems, and adding value to the notion that that which is foreign will always be superior.

Away with this inferiority complex!






Wednesday, 27 June 2018

HEADLINE WRITING 101: THE 'DUMB-AS' EDITION

A single newspaper is a reflection of the work of many media professionals. And the published product is by design meant to cater for the interests of a diverse readership, especially if it's a national paper. Each publication follows a defined editorial policy and house style. But this does not mean there's a fixed template for writing headlines, like this 'dumb-as' edition.


In an astonishing display of an acute lack of imagination, the Kenyan daily inundated its readers with article headlines hinged on the same style.


From the front page depicted above...


...the trend continued unabated, and unashamedly.


So there was this...


...and this.



That also...

...and this one too.

And there was more...

...of the same type.


It seemed not to matter which page an article was placed...


...or the subject matter.


The sport section too...got its 'unfair' share of the 'conjoined' headline format.

And that concludes this 'dumb-as' edition of Headline Writing 101.

I hope you've not learnt anything worth emulating!






Friday, 22 June 2018

CASE FOR EQUATING EDITORIAL ERRORS TO FAKE NEWS

The standards of Kenyan media outlets may really try one's patience. For many are the editorial bloopers and blunders that regularly pass through the hands of clueless gatekeepers. At this rate, fake news should no longer just be about inaccuracies and misrepresentation of facts. Throw in errors that look too wanton not to be deliberate.


In the news briefs article, presumably taken from an established foreign media entity, an inexplicable decision or indecision by the sub-editor causes an almost unbelievable and truly unfathomable piece of information to be published in a national paper.

A typo does not even stand a chance in explaining why the article begins with words:
'Ethiopia's Egypt's President...'
What in the name of how, why, who and the remaining Ws!


Then there's this other one highlighted above.

And here's a good case for not championing the Newspaper for Schools cause.


No teacher of English would want the risk of learners entrenching...um...'Am', in their compositions and essays.

Moreover, there are times the typo is so unsightly...that one might even be persuaded that the factual error is the lesser evil.


Herein lies a good foundation for equating editorial errors to fake news.

And therein the truth should be awakened!


Wednesday, 13 June 2018

FACTS AND THE TRUTH BEGETTING AN UNTRUTH

The moment the media puts out a news story, it develops a life of its own. If something is not clear in a particular story, clarification can be sought within the newsroom. But that is not the case with the audience out there. There's nobody to ask for further explanation, or additional context. The result could be facts and the truth begetting an untruth in a reader's mind. 


In the newspaper article above, the headline contains factual information, but at the same time, a very misleading and negative impression could be created about a 'reputable' medical facility.

Yes, a patient died at the hospital indicated by the headline.

But a reader glancing over that headline might easily conclude this tragic incident began and ended at the same medical facility.


Only by reading through the body of the story would the reader be able to know that this case started in another medical clinic, and the patient only passed on at the hospital reflected in the headline.

The medical facility would rightly take offence if this story ends up making inappropriate insinuations, by directly linking it with the botched operation and subsequent death of the patient.

In other words, the truth here begets untruths, by virtue of the way this newspaper is treating this story.

The result could be a high-speed chase, involving a reputation damage ambulance chaser!


Saturday, 9 June 2018

CRIME, FOOTBALLERS AND ENTERPRISE REPORTING

In a rare departure from the beaten path, a sports journalist delivered story of footballers, who had a promising career, only to end up behind bars. Getting access to film in Kenyan prisons is not easy. And convincing the sportsmen to open up on camera about their doubling in crime is quite an achievement. The result is a powerful depiction of the impact of enterprise reporting.


In this era of converged newsrooms, it was quite refreshing to see one journalist masterfully piece together a fantastic tale on both print and broadcast platforms.


The local media outlets are known to mostly dwell on diary stories that are almost predictably going to be about negative developments, personality-based politics, press conferences, and the occasional breaking news that again is likely to yield uninspiring coverage.


So, when a gem of enterprise reporting hits your screen and newspaper, the impact is unmistakable.

The meticulous planning that was involved is very evident and the multiplicity of voices within the prison and in the outside world all build up to an inspiring story about the futility of crime.

The convicts now hopefully have a better conviction about life.


Saturday, 2 June 2018

QUANTIFYING DESTRUCTION: MONEY FIRST OR MONEY LAST?

Loss of lives or property often get well-accommodated in the media. Such coverage does not seek to celebrate calamity or someone's misfortune. The unfortunate bit could be that the press seeks to capitalize on this sense of loss to get the attention of the audience. Quantifying the value of destruction appears to be quite a challenge though. Should money come first or last?


In the newspaper headline above, the reader is first being asked to process the amount of money 'destroyed' before relating it to a particular product, in this case wheat.

From the way this information is packaged, the headline writer is stressing the amount of money lost... but in terms of wheat.

To a reader like me, this is rather confusing.

'Floods destroy wheat worth Sh 150m' would sound more natural and easier to process than 'Floods destroy Sh 150m worth of wheat'.

In other words, the loss should first be established to be of wheat, before the value of the wheat lost is given.

And if you are not fully convinced, try listening to a similar sentence construction in a radio or TV news broadcast!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

PICTURES, CAPTIONS AND THE NEWS COVENANT

For any piece of news to make sense, certain details need to be included. The reader needs to be provided with critical information to not only understand what is being reported, but also the context of what has happened. Pictures without relevant captions break this news covenant.


A picture, they say, is worth a thousand words. But keywords are needed, if the pictures appearing in the press are to be meaningful to the reader.

This is where picture captions come in.

In the stand-alone photo story above, the caption says:
'A police officer issues instructions to casual workers who were clearing debris from the site where a house under construction collapsed, injuring two people yesterday. The county inspectorate is investigating the incident.'
Quite a clumsy threading of words, but perhaps the writer was trying so hard to ensure as much information is squeezed into the available space.

We can tell what is happening, who are involved, what they are doing and also when this happened.

However, it's almost impossible to know the location, from the supplied information.

So, there's hardly any relevance in saying 'The county inspectorate is investigating the incident' if the reader is not told the exact county where the incident happened.

There ought to be something more definite, when talking about 'the county' don't you think?






Wednesday, 16 May 2018

WORDS, MEANING, MEDIA CONTEXT AND WRONG FACTS

Words convey meanings encoded in them. But deciphering the meaning of words in many languages is not a simple affair. Other factors like stress and intonation, if spoken, or the context, could vary the meaning of words. For media that use English, wrong use of words can result in misrepresentation of facts.


The word 'deadly' either implies something causing death, or able to cause death, resembling or suggesting death.

In the TV news story above, the woman is narrating her ordeal, meaning her harrowing experience at the hands of her husband cannot be said to be deadly.

The assault was severe, but not to the point of making the woman look 'deadly' or suggest she was about to die then.


Similarly, the writer of the lower third tags, creates the impression of the woman being 'insanely' punished, because of speaking a 'foreign' language.

It turns out the language in question was Swahili!

The language could be 'foreign' to the diabolical husband, but the audience knows it as an official language in this part of the world.


Then there are instances, when the chosen words can ridiculously miss the intended meaning.

And you end up with 'lectures' that have the power to disobey orders to resume duty.








Friday, 11 May 2018

FACTS, JOURNALISTS AND NURSERY RHYMES

Journalists can get facts wrong based on faulty interpretation of information. Some facts though require no additional processing. The've been the same for centuries, are still the same, and may remain the same for eons to come. To help remember them, maybe some nursery rhymes could be of assistance.

Indeed, by the time one gets into any professional career, one ought to be aware of certain stubborn facts...

...Like the number of days in every month of the year!

So repeat after me, dear sub-editor:

Thirty days have September, 

April, June and November.

All the rest have thirty-one,

Except for February alone.

But according to this newspaper article, in a far, far away land, filled with mystical and mythical creatures, which possess magical powers and frequently engage in time travel:

There exists a date like April 31.

And it lived unhappily ever after with the rest of the correct dates!


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

INTELLECT, INSTINCTS AND INSENSITIVE FOOTBALL ANALYSTS

It's the most prestigious club football competition in Europe, and probably the most popular in the world. An ugly blot from one football analyst, however, threatens to ruin this beautiful game. His insights on the performance of one player from Africa were insensitive and offensive. The intellect of professional football players shouldn't be so doubted.


In a Pay TV channel, Tim Sherwood made a controversial observation about the abilities of Senegalese sensation, Sadio Mane.

In the first-leg semis tie between Liverpool and Roma, Mane missed a number of great chances to score.

He did eventually grab a goal in Liverpool's huge but still precarious win.

Sherwood offered to explain the instances when Mane is likely to score, and when that could prove to be impossible.


He argued that the Senegalese finds it hard to convert chances that require 'thinking' and easily scores those that require an instinctive reaction.

So, it all boils down to thinking and instincts!

And Sherwood is of the opinion that Mane relies more on instincts than intellect.

Which makes Mane a what...animal?


Maybe Mane's attacking threat could be more portent, when he reacts in an intuitive way.

But given where he has reached, we shouldn't reduce him to a non-thinking footballer, or disparage his mental abilities.

That is an affront against this great talent from Africa.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

ADVERTORIAL CONTENT AND LANGUAGE EXPERIMENTS

Language is supposed to be dynamic. The aim is to ensure every possible aspect of humanity can be coded in a form that can be meaningfully expressed, either through native or borrowed words. But this flexibility is not permission to violate language structures, especially in formal communication. Editorial and advertorial content should not contain language experiments.


Sure, it's good to be unique, but I'm not sure the media can push the creativity boundary beyond the realm of making grammatical sense.

After all, the central aim of a newspaper is to provide readers with information that is packaged in a way that directly communicates the intended meaning, or at least provides adequate context for relevant interpretation of the information being conveyed.


There's leeway for the one crafting the headline to play around with words in order to come up with captivating headings.

But the language of poetry might not always work, when deployed in a newspaper article.

Moreover, as it has been argued here on several occasions, a newspaper should not distance itself from the errors contained in advertisements, supplements or even externally produced inserts that form part of the publication.


In my view, everything published in a newspaper ought to have first passed through the usual editorial process.

To believe otherwise is to invite language experiments, and other forms of editorial or advertorial misadventures.
















Thursday, 19 April 2018

LAZY JOURNALISM, ENTERPRISE REPORTING AND AN EMPTY DAM

It's the middle of the wettest season in Kenya. Then comes a very curious coverage highlighting the strange fact that the dam that supplies the capital, Nairobi, is close to being empty. Lazy journalism gets satisfied with the official explanation. Enterprise reporting digs deeper to unearth facts that either independently affirm or discredit a story.



Instead of local media just dwelling on this 'supposed' oddity, seeking more evidence to explain this hard to believe reality would have been more impactful.

Weather reports from the meteorological department have of late been remarkably accurate.

So, their records would easily help ascertain the veracity of claims that there has not been sufficient rainfall around the Aberdare Mountain Ranges, which is the catchment area for the Ndakaini dam.


Instead, the authority being relied on here is an official of a water company that supplies water to Nairobi.

Moreover, the media could also go beyond the confines of the press junket and visit the areas lying further upstream, and if necessary, go up the Aberdares, to establish if indeed rainfall is that scarce.

There was a time I wanted viewers to understand the concept of a 'water tower' and had the privilege of going up the Aberdares, on the Nyeri side.


My observation was that the rainfall up the mountain is almost self-generated, thanks to the massive transpiration from the forest, which somehow makes it look like clouds are rising from the trees below.

In essence then, the rainfall up this mountain could be more dependent on the tree cover, than whether or not there's drought or it's the rainy season, which could also explains why there are so many permanent rivers emanating from the Aberdares.

Another time,  when I was assigned to do a TV news story about the low water levels at Kenya's main hydro-electricity generating dam, I ventured further upstream.

I did establish that the rivers in the region were at that time drying up, probably due to global warming, but something else also became quite evident.

There was water abstraction on a grand scale from the rivers leading to Masinga dam, by mostly farmers upstream, and also through numerous water supply channels to the surrounding communities.


If the local media can afford to deploy reporters to far- flung countries such as Australia, it wouldn't be that impossible to widen the scope of their coverage within Kenya's borders.

And please remember that lazy journalism ends where enterprise reporting begins!


Thursday, 12 April 2018

FROGS, FACTS, FALLACIES AND FAKE NEWS

Reliable and credible news ought to be anchored on solid facts. And the press simply should not convey information. Value addition through interpretative or analytical processing is the now the accepted standard. But if this is not carefully done, the audience may end up being served with frogs, half baked facts, marinated fallacies and steamed fake news.


Whereas the screaming headline above grabs deep attention by suggesting hundreds of thousands of young people are not interested in getting their college education funded by the Kenyan government, it could be quite shallow in substance.

The state, would most likely finance the studies of students enrolling in either degree, diploma or certificate courses.

Out of  the over 600,000 who sat for the 2017 secondary school leaving exam:

- slightly over 69,000 attained grade C+ and above, the minimum university entry requirement

- about 100,000 got between grade C and C- , and these qualify for diploma and certificate courses.

- while over 350, 000 candidates scored between D and E, that makes them eligible for mostly craftsmanship and artisan courses.


This would be a good place to start looking for the 'rumoured' 500,000 who supposedly 'snubbed free college education'.

And while at it, bear in mind that the entire annual capacity for state-sponsored degree, diploma and certificate courses can only accommodate about 210,000 students.

Incidentally, not everybody who applied for financing from the Higher Education Loans Board in the past has been getting it, or the entire amount required, so it will take a lot of convincing to believe that the government is in a position to fund post-secondary education for all the 2017 candidates.

The state, most likely, would realistically be more worried by the nearly 6,000 qualified candidates who failed to secure university placement this year, due to inadequate cluster subject scores for their chosen courses, or the fact that they did not apply at all.

The fixation by a section of the local media with the figure of 500,000, is apparently then not as warranted, as the picture being painted.


Now what is left is the small matter of frogs.

Anyone out there who can croak a believable explanation?




Thursday, 5 April 2018

FIGURATIVE WHIP AND LITERAL WHIPPING

Information is most effective if its shared in a way that directly makes sense to the intended audience. That's why the media ought to communicate in a clear and simple manner. If the words deployed in an article are ambiguous, it could lead to an unintended interpretation. Whipping figuratively could conjure images of weeping, after a literal whipping.


That's why the use of jargon is especially discouraged, where the context is not immediately familiar to everyone.

For those aware of parliamentary procedures, the headline above makes no allusion to legislators being 'flogged' so as to follow a particular political inclination.

There could, however, be a group of 'clueless' readers, who would proudly profess their ignorance on matters politics or the conduct of parliamentary business.

Indeed, someone could have been made to believe that Kenya's former Prime minister assaulted Members of Parliament using a whip, to dissuade them from abandoning a political line.

But the whip needs to be cracked on ambiguous headlines!

Friday, 30 March 2018

ADVERTISING CONTENT CRYING FOR EDITORIAL CONTROL

In many Kenyan media outlets, the relationship between the newsroom and the sales or advertising department is either pretentiously rosy, or downright hostile. The management knows these two teams must co-exist, if the organisation is to stay afloat. Profit often takes precedence over public interest. Editorial control ought to also be exerted over advertising content.


The input of a copy editor is invaluable in ensuring news content is primed for publication or broadcasting, devoid of factual or grammatical errors.

In the above piece of advertising in a local daily, a second eye would have probably spotted the mistake.

Indeed, if the mandate of a revise editor was to be extended to the advertising copy, many ignominious blunders would be eliminated before they are a sniff way from getting published.


But there is just one small problem with the prescribed solution.

Even in their core duty of cleaning up journalistic content, copy/revise editors have been known to fail miserably.


How safe then is advertising content, if placed under editorial control?

It's easy to conclude the terror of errors, in the press, will continue to depress us.









Wednesday, 21 March 2018

EPISODIC NEWS COVERAGE AND MISSING THE BIG PICTURE

News has moved from cycles of 24hours for newspapers, hourly for radio and TV, around the clock on websites and even 69 seconds a minute on social media. Traditional news outlets have all but lost the battle of breaking news. But providing context and analysis remains a bastion of legacy media. Episodic news coverage, however, helps the audience to miss the big picture.


After heavy rains pounded many parts of Kenya, local dailies narrowed on a particular area that had developed huge cracks across a busy highway, with the fault lines extending for quite some distance.

Initially, the reportage was anchored on what officials in charge of road construction and maintenance had to say, and efforts to ensure urgent repairs allowed the traffic to move again.

But days earlier, one of the dailies had a story about a community worried about repeated tremors, not so far from where the ground appeared later to be opening up.


Yet there was no indication that the views of an expert were sought, or a corroboration of the reported seismic activity with relevant geological data.

Thereafter, TV news channels trained their focus on the unusual fissures that emerged after the heavy downpour.

And now perhaps sensing there could be a more 'juicier' story, there was suddenly talk of Kenya splitting, an tectonic plates shifting.


To underpin the supposed seriousness of this 'newfound' issue, the story got a page one treatment, and this time, lots of experts were captured in the article.

The latest instalment of this episodic coverage is a an editorial.


All these elements appear to be connected:

- the tremors,

- the heavy rains,

- the emerging fault lines

- even the country splitting

- and the possibility of Kenya finding itself in another new continent, detached from mainland Africa, with other neighbouring countries.

But the information shared by the media did not adequately equip the audience to make sense of these related developments, in my opinion.

Let's see where the next episode takes us.