It’s okay sometimes for reporters to write stories about themselves

Thursday June 22 2017

 Daily Nation

A resident of Nandi County reads a copy of the Daily Nation on November 22, 2016 at Meteitei Trading Centre. Readers want to know details about the journalists and the media who bring them the news. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PETER MWAURA
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Sunday was Father’s Day. On Monday the Daily Nation published a story on page 3 by Saturday Nation editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua on his experiences as a father.

A reader wrote to complain, saying Mr Mbugua was “waxing lyrical about his exploits as a dad”, that the story was “an overkill” and it made the Nation “look like a staff or in-house paper.

He went on to say that “every time a Nation person graduates from this institution or the other, you can be sure to see a photo of the occasion prominently displayed in a choice page”.

JOURNALISTIC INCEST

He described the story as “media incest”, and wanted to know what is the Nation policy on “personal news”.

In law, incest is sexual intercourse between persons too closely related.

In journalism, incest is when journalists write about themselves. Journalistic incest includes collusion and nepotism.

NOTHING WRONG

Collusion is when journalists conspire to report certain things in a certain way.

Nepotism is when they unjustifiably write about people they are related to. 

Basically, there is nothing wrong with journalistic incest -- minus collusion and nepotism.

That is, if it is done with finesse. In fact, personalised or first-person stories are a legitimate form of journalism that can be a fascinating way of telling stories.

INTIMACY

When a reporter puts himself into a story, combines facts with personal insight and detail, the story becomes more immediate and authentic.

His thoughts and feelings can make a dull or obscure topic real.

The method enables him to connect powerfully with readers.

Readers also want to know details, including personal details, about the journalists and the media who bring them the news, especially if they are part of the news such as winning a journalistic prize, getting a college degree or even getting married.

INTERESTING NARRATIVE

However, such stories must be done with finesse.

Otherwise, they can become unseemly or look like they have been done for unseemly purposes.

They could also lead to conflicts of interest. Or the reporter could be on an ego trip.

However, in my view, this was not the case with Ng’ang’a Mbugua’s piece on fatherhood.

It was a most engaging, personalised and interesting narrative to celebrate Father’s Day.

NMG POLICY

It contained gems of universal values and messages, which could not have been told more powerfully.

And there was the added bonus. Readers now know better one their editors.

But on the question of NMG’s policy on personalised news, the answer is that there is no specific policy.

The default position is that the principles that apply to all editorial matter apply equally for personalised news.

“All editorial content will be selected for its inherent news value,” states the policy.

COPY TASTING

Editors must test the value of each story. All other editorial content must justify the space it occupies. 

In addition, material that is vulgar or tasteless editors must be avoided.

The same goes for gossip that “only takes up valuable space that could be better dedicated to more edifying issues”.

Few news organisations worldwide have specific policies.

I only know of Bloomberg News, an international news headquartered in New York, which has a policy, not on personalised news as such, but on news about the company, which can be regarded as journalistic incest.

TAKE CAUTION

Thus when Michael Bloomberg announced he was resuming control after stepping down as mayor of New York City on December 31, 2013, the firm did not report it in its own news service.

NMG in Kenya does not have a real problem with personalised stories or journalistic incest, at least not on the same scale as in Uganda where in 2006 an editor got married and his paper devoted two-and-a-half pages to the marriage, including half its front page.

Still, I have seen stories about NMG staff activities, including parties that may not pass muster.

Let me quote the Bible. In 2 Timothy 3:1-4 we are warned not to become lovers of ourselves and boasters. That applies to all of us.

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