Sensational headlines and how NTV chooses stories to cover

Friday November 9 2018

Odoobo C. Bichachi is the Nation Media

Odoobo C. Bichachi is the Nation Media Group-Uganda public editor 

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

In my inaugural column as public editor last Friday, I put out an open invitation to readers to share feedback about the content on our platforms – Daily Monitor, NTV, KFM and online. Many thanks to readers that responded. I shall highlight a few.
Philomena, a long time newspaper reader, is appalled at the deteriorating quality of Daily Monitor’s writing as well as its choice of news. On the former, she says: “It’s hard to read an article in your paper, these days, without encountering a typo. Sometimes I wonder: How can one article have so many grammatical and syntactical errors? I’m constantly baffled by how carelessly much of the content in your paper is written. Don’t you have editors whose job it is to ensure that articles are properly edited?”
NMG’s editorial policy guidelines require that “…all journalists employed on the English language platforms are able to write and speak clear, concise English and are fully up to date with the modern usage of the language [and]…must have a reasonable numeric competence”.
Clearly there is no excuse for the failings Philomena is pointing at. As she indicated, a newspaper is not just for information, it is also an education tool that helps especially young readers polish their language skills, in this case English. This is a matter the editors must urgently address as typos and grammatical errors do not only irritate readers, they also confuse those who are not yet proficient in English.
With regard to the overall content of the paper, she says: “…lately, I’ve begun to wonder if I haven’t been mistaken in supposing that I could count on your paper to deliver mature and evenhanded journalism. For instance, why do most of your headlines, these days, read like tabloid headlines? It’s getting harder to tell your paper’s sensationalism apart from the sensationalism of, say….”
Perhaps one such story is “Ebola strikes as 260 die at Uganda border” (Daily Monitor, October 30). This is classic case of sensationalism. The deaths occurred in DR Congo, 100km from the Uganda border, separated by a mass of water – Lake Albert. This was clearly stated in the story, but the headline gave the impression that the deaths were so close to the border.
There was no need to stretch the Ebola connection to Uganda in this way. The better way would have been to demonstrate the risk to Uganda based on travel and trade links across the lake. NMG editorial guidelines state that “Sensational, provocative and alarming headlines are to be avoided. …headings must reflect and justify the matter printed under them”. They also command that “Constant care will be taken to ensure that headlines accurately reflect the theme and tone of the article they are based on.”
A communications officer had a lot of commendations to share about Daily Monitor and KFM reporters that cover the education sector. He nonetheless pointed to a key area of improvement. “…we have failed to understand the editorial conduct of NTV team.
In my life time as PRO, I have had only two press events covered by NTV even when we deliver invitations on time like with other media houses. I have failed to know the parameters of NTV’s editorial policy and why they fail to cover events that are critical in my assessment to national development, for example, vocational education.
“Imagine when you get the editor’s contact to inform [him/her] that you delivered a letter and before anything else, the editor tells you ‘I can’t guarantee three days before the event’. I am a member of the core team of government communication officers and majority of PROs of government agencies have the same feeling about NTV.”
All NMG platforms across the region are bound by the same editorial guidelines. With regard to what is covered, “All editorial content will be selected for its inherent news value and not to appease, augment or respond to political, commercial or any other interests. Editors and journalists must test the value of each story, report or article by interrogating the extent to which it satisfies the “so what?” element.
Editors have a duty to treat every request with courtesy, rather than be dismissive and where coverage may not be possible politely state so. Television by its nature is extremely time sensitive with many stories competing for the prime bulletins – usually 30 minutes long! The editor may, therefore, not guarantee space coverage ahead of time. However, content may still be used in development features where it could not be used as news.

Send your complaints to:
[email protected] or call/text on +256 776 500725.

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