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Journalistic tenets lost to 'hits' and the quest for followers

26 Sep 2021 at 19:50hrs | Views
One of the greatest problems currently confronting journalists on the Zimbabwean media landscape is the emergence of social media, with the attendant proliferation of platforms populated by content producers who are anxious to attract followers to their sites.

This happens at a time when the readers have at their disposal so much to choose from on their phone, laptop or their tablet.

Competition for journalistic relevance has become painfully stiff, especially among a cadre of journalists whose brief professional career is driven, quite understandably, by a desire to become instant, household names. The loser in this scenario is the public as readers who rely on journalism as their only source of important, interesting, relevant, reliable news and information about their immediate surroundings.

I regard myself as a typical user of media products. Because of the diversity available, the general news and information consumer of today is routinely spoilt for choice. There are so many Zimbabwean sites or platforms that I never visit or access for the simple reason that they have nothing on offer that attracts me. This is not because I hate or dislike the journalists, both professional and citizen, who do their utmost to keep their followers well-fed with news and information.

Levels of frustration must be quite high among content producers when hits remain defiantly low. Some have become creative, as a result. The outcome has been the deluge of fake news and otherwise misleading content, all designed to lure unsuspecting news and information-starved consumers to otherwise clearly dubious sites.

Nehanda Radio came out guns blazing on September 24, while launching an onslaught which targeted me for instant demolition through undermining my image and credibility. The well-packaged weapon was a brief article which appeared under the false and defamatory headline, "I was cheated by Tsvangirai: 'Shameless' Nyarota slanders a deadman."

Back in 1979 the Thomson Foundation, a global leader in media development, ran a newspaper sub-editing training programme at The Rhodesia Herald. I had the good fortune to attend this training, which contributed much to the course followed by my future career as a journalist. We were unconditionally enjoined never to make even a single error when crafting the headline to an article.

"Errors made in headlines are sacrilegious," our tutor repeatedly instructed us. "So are errors in the first paragraph of the story."

If such a programme was to be organised in Harare today, I suspect that it would have few takers. But it has become an absolute necessity.

The 10-word headline crafted over the Nehanda Radio story cited above contains a total of no less than six errors of spelling, fact or syntax. Our tutor back in 1979 would have experienced a mild heart attack. So did I on Friday night after this article was finally brought to my attention by a shocked sympathiser. Something needs to be done about the training of our journalists if the long-suffering Zimbabwean public is to be rescued from the ignominy of routine confrontation with such journalistic malpractice or aberration.

To start with, the headline itself should have been extrapolated directly from the content of the article, as happens in normal journalism sub-editing practice.

Instead, while the text of the article quotes me categorically as stating that I was cheated "by my own party, the MDC-Tsvangirai," the headline upgrades this simple statement to the shockingly defamatory, "I was cheated by Tsvangirai". The headline thus equates the persona of the late MDCT founding president (MHSRIEP), with the organisation which at the turn of the century presented the ruling Zanu-PF of then president Robert Mugabe with its greatest challenge since independence.

As if this were not terrible enough, the headline then defames me by alleging that I defamed the late MDCT president in turn, when I quite clearly never did anything of the sort. Nehanda Radio then proceeds to punish its long-suffering readers by referring to the late Tsvangirai as a deadman. In fact, my research revealed to my utter astonishment, that this word does exist in the vocabulary of the English language.

The word deadman, has two meanings, the first being "a bottle after the contents have been drunk". The second meaning refers to "an object buried in or secured to the ground for the purpose of providing anchorage or leverage."

Normally I would not take seriously enough to read any article, which is encumbered with so many serious errors. But I was forced to do so on Friday after my name was abused cunningly to attract hits to Nehanda Radio.

Sadly, the profession of journalism has now become the storehouse of so many dubious characters who, strictly speaking should never be allowed to venture anywhere near a newsroom, I speak on this matter with the authority of one who has been editor of four print newspapers, as well as one online newspaper, two motoring magazines, legal journals and five manuscripts for books, four of them published.

As if all these errors were not enough, the reporter, whose name I defiantly refuse to promote by associating it with my own, as was his deceptive intention, proceeds to call me a former journalist. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only am I quite clearly a current journalist, I am so active a journalist as to sustain this column week in, week out, without fail.

How can I be classified as a former journalist in those circumstances? In fact, if I was his editor this Nehanda Radio reporter would soon become a former journalist himself.

Then the journalistic wannabe goes on to make a startling claim that "Nyarota is best known for exposing the Willowgate Scandal in 1987." This is a complete falsehood. The issue of The Chronicle, which carried the first installment of the Willowgate Scandal on its front page, hit the streets of Bulawayo and Harare on Friday, 21 October, 1988.

The enterprising reporter then attempts to make short of my venture into opposition politics as a candidate for the MDC-T in Makoni South Constituency in Manicaland in 2013. My bid failed in shameful circumstances when I lost to sitting candidate, Honourable Pishai Muchauraya after I was cheated on available evidence by the MDC-T.

"Nyarota is now claiming that he was not wanted by the MDC-T leadership despite being allowed to contest for the seat. Nyarota claims the leaders then were afraid of him," the reporter pontificates.

To the reporter my so called claims can only be outrageous.

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Geoffrey Nyarota is the founding editor-in-chief of the original Daily News. He can be contacted by email on: gnyarota@gmail.com

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