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.

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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!