When I last held a fulltime job in a newsroom I was a big campaigner of ‘Day Two journalism.’
My pitch always started with the background that “recent developments in the media landscape have made asking and answering contextual questions more important than ever before”. These developments included the rise of the Internet, digital outlets, 24/7 radio and television stations as breaking news providers; proliferation of media outlets; and the resulting competition.
The editorial management at our media group had bought into this fully and decreed that our outlets, “especially newspapers, must move beyond making it possible for our audiences to KNOW the news, to helping them better UNDERSTAND the news”.
Three years later I notice that many Ugandan media outlets still report the news as if they are the first to break it.
Let’s take the coverage of the June 16, 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier between Uganda and Congo-Brazzaville. The match was covered live on many radio stations and on television. A good number of people were also sharing updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Sunday Monitor, as was expected, carried a picture of victorious Uganda Cranes players on the front page with the headline “Celebrations. Uganda 4-0 Congo Brazaville.” (Never mind the spelling mistake). The paper’s only story, on the back page, had the headline “Cranes crash Congo.” The story largely described what had happened in Namboole Stadium and carried a single quote from a “very delighted” coach Bobby Williamson.
For anybody who had watched the game or followed it on radio, Monitor’s coverage was such an anti-climax.
Sunday Vision did much better. Their front page headline, “Cranes Close to Africa Cup,” took the story forward. The back page story, “Fantastic” carried some good background to spice up the description of the previous day’s proceedings at Namboole, but above all the inside story, “Bring Any Team”, told readers about Uganda’s likely opponent.
Sunday Vision’s reporting answered two basic questions that their competition didn’t answer—so what? (Uganda is close to qualifying for AFCON) and what next? (our opponents will be one of the teams that participated in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon).
In short, Sunday Vision gave its readers Day Two journalism while Sunday Monitor offered Day One reporting.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what labels we give our journalism, but we must help readers make sense of what we cover, especially in this age of information overload.
Ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Congo Brazzaville many Ugandans were confused by our involvement in another competition, the 2014 World Cup qualifier.
Yes, many watched the game in which the Cranes drew with Senegal at Namboole and followed on radio the previous one in which we drew with Angola, but did not realize those were World Cup qualifiers.
Commentators and sports writers could have done a better job explaining over and over that this year’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers was different because of the switch that will see the continental competition held in 2013 and every two years thereafter.
For many people like me who follow sports, such utility information would be more important than telling them the final score and goal scorers.
About the Author: Dr. Mwesige is co-founder and executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence. He is a former head of the Department of Mass Communication at Makerere University, where he was also a senior lecturer, and a former executive editor of the Monitor.