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.




Friday, 12 October 2018


The media often enlightens the audience about subjects or issues that were hitherto unfamiliar. Publications that ply their trade in English can be particularly useful to learners of the language. But the lesson can at times be hard to grasp, if it's assumed that the meaning will be apparent to everyone. You can't take heart that the deal will be sweet.

In the above article, reference is made to a 'sweethearts deal' in the headline.

An average reader is likely to be perplexed because 'sweetheart' is a common endearment term, that oozes heavy romantic undertones.

There are two parties in this case alright, but one is an institution...the one that employs teachers in Kenya...and the other is a top representative from the teachers' labour union.

A stranded reader may as well be left wondering what a 'sweetheart deal' is all about in this context.

Well, the paper is correct in the sense that this is an acceptable expression, meaning a sort of favourable agreement.

But it's dead wrong to use search a term, without giving proper contextualisation, to enable the reader to derive the right communicative value from it.

Deal with this doubt sweetheart!

Wednesday, 3 October 2018


It's been argued that the media's penchant to broadcast or publish negative stories can lead to emotional or psychological trauma on the audience. The sad news may be factual, but does it distort the reality? That could be the case, especially when the media appears to threaten the very existence of society. A morbid headline promoting child mortality is a sure way of killing humanity.

In the above newspaper article, very critical elements of journalism are missing...and that gives the headline quite a chilling effect.

Even a casual glance at that headline, is likely to deliver a guaranteed repulsive reaction.

And that is only if the reader can survive the shock of the unintended repugnant message.

The elementary attributes of a news story missing in this abhorrent headline are CONTEXT, and...well...ATTRIBUTION!

There's a barely there indication that the headline is drawn from a conclusion of a study.

However, in the absence of a direct link of the findings of the study and the article's headline, one is left with little choice than to think the newspaper has no problem with anyone calling on mothers to kill their children.

Moreover, it's only in the first paragraph that one gets to understand the context of the story...that it has to do with children born with disability, and their parents being pressured to kill them.

These reckless omissions by the editor make the headline morbid, and its details sordid!

Wednesday, 26 September 2018


Skills in enterprise reporting are welcomed in the newsroom. But is the world always going to provide interesting stories that journalists can continue to uncover, discover and cover? Highly unlikely. Inevitably, some stories will be recycled, even under the guise of making follow-ups. But the audience can easily see through regurgitated features disguised as new ones.

If a TV channel heavily promotes an upcoming feature, it builds anticipation and expectation that the story is worth making a viewing appointment.

Even if it's a familiar 'special' feature being hyped, one is hopeful of watching a fresh insight, perhaps a new angle even, or the latest developments in a story that's being retold.

However, in this particular instance, there was little to show that an attempt was made to add to the existing level of awareness about the story.

One gets a sneaky sense that the reporter deliberately chose to try and obliterate any acknowledgement that what was being served was a not so tasty dish of televised deja vu.

This, needless to say, was as futile as it was foolhardy.

Truth be told, this is a story that has previously been featured by both local and international media, from as early as 2010, as captured here.

Behold, however, this late 2018 version was largely centred on the same central 'fact' that the language spoken by the Yaaku community was on the verge of extinction.

The one loosely substantiated 'new' fact was that only three fluent speakers of the Yakunte language remained, (down from 7 in 2010?).

Maybe the media should consider borrowing the principle of specifically adding to the existing body of knowledge, before publishing, which is a key cornerstone in the world of academia.

If a story has already been covered, then it would be a requirement that reference is made to what has already been produced, even if by rival media entities, so that emphasis is strictly put on value addition, for the benefit of the audience.

And a bibliography also won't hurt, (just kidding!).

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


The easiest way to identify people covered in the media is to use their names.  To help the audience understand more about the subjects, additional attributes are added, like job titles. This can also provide the context within which reference is being made to a person. But some descriptions add little value. 

What exactly does a city lawyer do that is different from other lawyers?

The headline for this newspaper article, appears to be making such a distinction.

In the same spirit, would the paper be inclined to identify somebody as a village lawyer?

It can be simplistically argued that if one's law firm is based in a city, then one can be referred to as a city lawyer.

But for arguments sake even, which particular city is the story referring to?

Or are we to 'appreciate' that adding the tag city to something, or somebody for this matter, adds prestige, authority, recognition or an extra sense of accomplishment?

The second paragraph describes the same lawyer as being flamboyant, which perhaps correctly reflects his attention-grabbing lifestyle.

A city lawyer title, though, is nothing short of a forced newspaper flamboyance.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018


The cost of living in Kenya, it is now widely feared, might be about to get dangerously close to being unbearable. And the local media has been firmly locked on highlighting this issue, as the country awaits a decision by the president on a critical piece of legislation. But this pressing matter it appears, is now even confounding the press. The result is 100% value added inaccuracy.

After consistently reporting on the merits and demerits of the president assenting to the Finance Bill 2018, it's a bit surprising to see an article in the mainstream media that is seemingly out of touch with the basics of this major story.

This in turn could easily leave the reader as 'confused' as the said newspaper.

To begin with, does anyone have a clue as to what exactly the 'VAT Bill' captured in the above headline is referring to?

There has been widespread coverage of the calls to shield citizens from high fuel prices, courtesy of a 16% Value Added Tax on petroleum products that came into effect at the beginning of September.

Pressure has thus been mounting on the president to assent to the Finance Bill, which has a clause suspending the implementation of the VAT on fuel.

Then suddenly, this article audaciously turns the facts around!

My head is still spinning from this spin-off.

Friday, 7 September 2018


If the work of journalists was to simply report what newsmakers say, then it would be very difficult for the audience to distinguish between fact and opinion. The media's role should revolve around adding value to expressed views, not simply relaying utterances or public pronouncements.

It is quite disappointing that comments made by Kenya's deputy president, with potentially serious implications on the earnings of a certain cadre of workers, were not subjected to an equally serious interrogation, before being published.

The main argument being advanced is that the monthly contributions to a national health fund should be much higher than they currently are, for those earning higher salaries.

On the face of it, it sounds like a sensible suggestion....but the reasoning behind it...is worthy of at least a counter-argument.

I can't help but wonder why it doesn't seem to count that the higher income-earners already shoulder a weightier tax burden.

And probably due to shortcomings in the public health system, this same group has people paying for expensive private medical insurance covers, to access better quality healthcare.

Shouldn't the government be challenged to first improve public health facilities and ensure taxes are properly utilised, before calling for higher contributions to the national health fund?

Would there even be the need for private medical cover, if public medical facilities offered superior services?

These are some of the issues the media should have picked on, and including the voices of experts, to enable the audience to have a clearer perspective and wider context of this call to increase health fund contributions.

But I guess that would deny the Kenyan media it's 'favourite' pastime of reporting 'he said-she said-they-said' which actually doesn't say much to the audience.

Saturday, 1 September 2018


If one tunes into a TV station in Kenya, one's mind can easily wander off from the substance of the content. A major driver of this phenomenon is the distraction that news or program presenters create. The over-emphasis on physical attributes of the on-air talent is often believed to be responsible for this concentration lapse. And then there's the spiritual spectacle.

These particular presenters begin their show with an 'animated' prayer.

There's probably nothing wrong with this set-up on set.

And it might actually not upset any of the channel's viewers.

I just find it odd...that's all.

The viewer might expect content that travels through the narrow path of piety, or that which is broadly centred on religiosity.

Fortunately...or unfortunately...that's not always the case!

Thursday, 23 August 2018


Information channelled through the media needs to be unambiguous, if it's to be useful to the audience. The challenge though, can come by way of using a not so straight-forward language like English. And the press in Kenya appears to be prone to linguistic shortcomings, which at times result in vague headlines or even doubtful information.

The heading of the above editorial can leave the reader a bit confused because though it may not be apparent, the chosen words make it open to two interpretations.

Crafting headlines is an endeavour that seeks to maximise the impact of chosen words, sometimes against minimal use of available space.

It thus becomes very necessary to leave out 'empty' words like determiners or definite and indefinite articles such as 'the', 'a', 'that', 'an', etc.

Instead, emphasis is put on keywords that are l'oaded' with 'meaning' and words that convey a powerful sense of 'action'.

After all, news revolves around something happening, and reporting this involves use of words that capture the action well.

Going back to the article above, the chosen action word is 'clear' meaning 'remove', 'act' or do something about changing a situation.

Well, the same word also conveys the sense of something being evidently easy to perceive, and hardly possibly to disprove.

So, is the newspaper calling for the 'clearing' of any doubts around a new polio vaccine?

Or are readers being told there are 'clear' doubts about this vaccine?

I need to 'clear' my mind, (you probably should do the same).

Tuesday, 14 August 2018


Words are the building blocks of communication. Whether in isolation or combination, they are used to convey meaning. But frequently for the media in Kenya, words are carelessly stitched together. And it's no longer shocking to find TV graphics alluding to infertile news couples or childless parents.

Only a fertile imagination, perhaps, can come up with the details in the straps above.

What in the name of procreation, is the viewer expected to make of the words, 'news couples' and the supposed fact that 2 million of them are infertile?

That pseudo-statistic arises from a very minor error, but the outcome is a major source of editorial embarrassment.

Another critical element is context.

Each of the words may appear to make sense, like the lower-third information above, but what they collectively imply may not be sensible at all.

How such an obvious contradiction can escape the scrutiny of editorial gatekeepers is another newsroom wonder.

But the on-air result is far from being wonderful!

Thursday, 9 August 2018


Broadcasting stations in Kenya have raised their rivalry a notch higher. And this has in turn sparked a scramble for star talent, perceived to be critical in curving a competitive advantage. But there's a growing need to re-engage the audience, because a personnel-centred approach in TV news can only deliver so much. The writing is on the camera lens.

In these 'post-millennial' days, it was surprising that the above live cross with the 'seasoned' reporter/editor, had to be aborted on account of such an elementary technical challenge.

As if the battery status message appearing on screen was not damning enough, the news production crew allowed the live signal to continue, until the camera gave up the ghost, leading to an on air freeze.

It's likewise important then, not to ignore any indication that a channel could be deviating from its core functions.

Enough with 'Tanite' and its associated TV foolery, and let's get focused on the needs of the viewer.

A station may opt to bring together a star-studded team to enhance the delivery of content.

If the content is wanting, however, no amount of 'fine' delivery would compensate any lack of serious substance to offer the audience.

May 'tanite' find its way back to 'tonight'!

Thursday, 2 August 2018


It's not easy to find media reports that are agreeable with the entire audience. That's why being objective or balanced ranks high in journalism. That way, the audience gets to draw their own conclusion. So why should a newspaper purport to use a universal description of something? Adjectives like 'ultra-modern' could as well be describing crap.

The caption above describes one thing, but the picture seems to show another.

What is actually meant by 'ultra-modern' and is it applicable across the board in terms of perceptions?

In other words, if according to the newspaper something is 'ultra-modern' are readers still allowed to hold a different opinion?

A good journalist tries to avoid such superficial use of generalised adjectives, especially when dealing with hard news.

Such kind of value judgement is suspect!

But you be the judge.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018


Interpretative storytelling is the crown of journalism, and many an editor will frown upon stories that merely state obvious facts, or regurgitate what news subjects said or did. But the media sometimes subtracts meaning and adds nonsense, which leaves the audience none the wiser.  

In the above picture caption, it's being suggested that physical well-being is an attribute that's being directly linked with home ownership.

If 'healthy' individuals own some of the depicted houses, is the reader supposed to imagine there is another group of 'unhealthy' individuals in the same settlement scheme that don't own houses like those captured in the photo?

And just how insensitive can that kind of reporting be?

Here, it looks like there's inadequate editorial 'wealth'...

...and that is not healthy!

Friday, 20 July 2018


Delivery of information is critical in media operations. If important details are not passed across in a clear manner, then the entire point of communication is undermined. It doesn't make much sense to spend so much time and resources in news gathering and processing, then do a shoddy presentation. Such has led to the lowering of the quality of TV news lower thirds.

Why should a viewer struggle so much to read what is being splashed across the TV screen, as part of the editorial content of a news story?

The lower third story tags are supposed to provide additional context to a story, or even enable one to immediately get the gist of a news item, from the choice of key words on display.

Moreover, a viewer could be in a place where the TV is on but the volume is turned down, and so the on screen text acts as valuable conduit of pertinent details about a news story, in summary form.

The challenge for news producers is extracting critical information from a story, and deploying the resulting text in a limited space.

In some news production systems, the software automatically leaves out any excess characters and you either end up with an incomplete set of information, with the missing text making it difficult to understand, or an unintelligible mash up of pseudo-characters.

Other systems accommodate the extra characters but also in the process, reduce the font size.

This is great, but only to the point of not making viewers squint, as they try to navigate through the now miniaturised body of text, battling for a breathing space.

That is not a favourable bottom line!

Friday, 13 July 2018


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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 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.