In journalism, the intro is the first paragraph of a story. It’s the most important part of the story and is supposed to arouse the interest of the reader and make him want to read the rest of it.
Journalists, therefore, put more time and thought into writing the intro than any other paragraph in the story.
A recent Daily Nation story had an intro that talked of a “Toyota Sunny”. Ngugi Muriuki noticed the anomaly.
Yes, there is Nissan Sunny, the car built by the Japanese automaker Nissan from 1966 to 2006 and phased out of the Kenyan market in 2012.
But there is no car known as Toyota Sunny.
So he e-mailed the writer, pointing out the blunder. But he was shocked by the response he received from the writer, who I will refer to by as “YZ” to (partly) protect him from the public editor’s lynch mob!
“You should be focused hard enough to know the story is not advertising motor vehicles. If you cannot concentrate on serious matters at hand, matters about disability, then there is very little in common that we have,” YZ responded.
It’s true the story is not about cars. It’s about birth-related disorders. All the same, Mr Muriuki is justifiably offended by YZ’s response. “His response was meant to subtly insult me,” he says. “It was in bad taste and should not go unchallenged. Your columnists and writers indicate their (e-mail and Twitter) contacts so that, if need be, we can engage further in a way, and should avoid taking offence and ‘catching feelings’ when small issues in their work are pointed out.
“No one is perfect. Please have a look at our e-mail communication thread and have YZ advised appropriately.”
YZ is not the first writer readers have complained about because of their rudeness and reluctance to engage. I say this while also recognising that there are readers who also annoy writers by unending questions and comments. One writer was so irritated that he finally told the reader: “Get a life!”
But the main problem is that most journalists and writers are oversensitive to criticism and unwilling to engage with readers on the statements they make.
In my article, “Ups and downs of public editor’s job, and the interests of readers” (Daily Nation, December 22, 2016), I pointed out the general reluctance of writers to accept criticism or engage with readers who question what they write. It’s one of the most astonishing characteristics of journalists, at least in this country.
“Of course nobody likes to be criticised, myself included, but journalists have a special obligation to own up to their mistakes and make corrections,” I wrote. “Still, many of them do not do so willingly and freely. It is strange that journalists, who are in the business of criticising others, do not visualise themselves as people who can and should be criticised.”
Nothing has changed since, which is a pity. Journalists spend their whole careers criticising others but they don’t like to be criticised by those who read what they write. It’s as if journalism is not about public service but ego-tripping.
LACK OF DILIGENCE
It’s one of the greatest mysteries of this noble profession why some journalists do not easily accept criticism or respect their readers.
Mr Muriuki is right about YZ. It’s not part of NMG writer’s contract of engagement to insult readers. Besides, in journalism, there is no such thing as ‘a small mistake’. The so-called small mistakes are indicative of the lack of diligence and discipline on the part of the writer.
In essence, journalism is a process of verification. If a writer cannot be trusted with the verification of small things, how can he be trusted with the verification of the big things in the story?
NMG writers are accountable to the readers they write for. YZ broke the implied covenant between him and his readers by being rude and refusing to take criticism.
Send your complaints to [email protected] Call or text 0721989264