Print media can embrace news analysis for relevance

BY JACOBS ODONGO SEAMAN

On Friday, 15 February, Dr Stella Nyanzi appeared before Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court for a ruling in which she had sought to stop her trial for the offences of cyber harassment and offensive communication.

Nyanzi, a former research fellow at Makerere University was arrested in November last year and charged in regard to her post about President Yoweri Museveni’s mother. Her lawyer had argued that the two charges were duplicates of the other. They lost the bid.

By the time early editions of the weekend print dailies hit the newsstands, audiences across the country would have known what transpired in court. They have at their disposal radios, TVs, social media bloggers and online news portals.

However, chances are high that if one picked a copy of a Saturday paper, they will find the story about Dr Nyanzi’s court ruling still covered as hard news. This means that newspapers are basically practicing “archive journalism”- news reporting about what is no longer “new” and done for record or future reference purposes.

Newspaper editors have many reasons for archive journalism; primarily that not everyone has access to the internet or other news platforms such as social media (Freedom House 2018 Freedom of the Net report places internet penetration in the country at 21.9%). The argument therefore is that what is archive content to an urban audience (who dominate internet access and use in Uganda), may still be news to an offline audience in a remote or hard to reach area of the country.

How can print media avoid serving ‘cold’ news while still catering for needs of its different audiences? How can newspapers continue to reap from urban copy sales while reaching out to ‘offline’ audiences? This should not be a dilemma to any editor today. One way is to make news analyses a daily part of our print media content.

In journalism classes, students are told to stick to the facts in their stories. Over the years, newspaper readers, its public, have also been accustomed to believing that a reporter’s job stops at ‘he said, she said’. Ironically, when the same reporter leaves the print media at 5pm for a radio or TV talk-show, they will be lauded for having expert knowledge on the subject. They will be expected to analyse the implication of the ruling in Nyanzi’s court case, or reveal what is going on in Ugandan security that saw the MTN Chief Executive Officer deported.

To liberalise the reporter’s mind is to get them to understand that analysis is part of modern news stories and the reporter is knowledgeable enough about what they are writing about to be able to comment about it. But in so doing, an editor also liberates their own mind. They begin to appreciate that every story has another angle to it that a reporter can pursue if given the liberty “to roam freely.”

In order to do so, journalist must know the difference between analysis and news opinion.

Glenn Halbrooks in an article, “Is there a difference between news analysis and opinion?”, explains that a news analysis is an evaluation of a news report that goes beyond the represented facts and gives an interpretation of the events based on all data. It is an effort to give context to the occurrence of the event. Halbrooks writes that news traditionally is supposed to relay information “in an objective manner covering the who, when, where, why and how. An analysis discusses the news from all angles, gives perspective and addresses consequences”.

The difference is remarkable in sports reporting.

For instance, in a report about KCCA FC’s fall to Congolese side Otoho at Lugogo, Daily Monitor’s Andrew Mwanguhya goes beyond relaying information about the match’s scorers, who got booked and who squandered a chance. The article, “It was already toll order for KCCA, then came rain” looks into the weather and its impact on the pitch condition, the mood of the fans, the groundsman, etc. This is not a story that only sticks to the 5Ws and H but analyses the game from a professional viewpoint. And this is common in sports reporting.

The question for newspaper editors then is, if sports reporters have been getting it going with news analysis, what is too hard for the rest of the reporters? Is there a fear that news reporters would tamper with “truth” – the holy grail of journalism – if given that freedom to analyse events?

The challenge for editors is to train reporters in news analysis, giving them the green light to hone their ability to analyse, to question and comment or expound what sources have said. It’s possible. The readers will see the difference and will value them.

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Editor’s Note: Do you keenly follow the news and media work in Uganda and elsewhere? Send us your pitch or idea for an opinion article, an analysis or a think piece about the media.  Write to hanena[at]acme-ug[dot]org and rmugarura[at]acme-ug[dot]org

 

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