Big words may sound great but it is all noise

Friday May 31 2019

Odoobo C. Bichachi

Odoobo C. Bichachi  

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

Journalism is very much about the written and spoken word through which diverse audiences receive and share information on multiple platforms – print, broadcast and lately electronic. The essence of mass journalism is to communicate the story; to tell a story so that the subject and the object are well understood.
In every communication, there is “noise” or interference standing in the way of the message. For journalism, one of the biggest/loudest “noise” is language. When journalists write or speak in complicated language in their stories, readers/viewers fail to understand the message and are left confused or put off. Thus the noise will have suppressed the story and, therefore while there was talk, there was no communication.

Two examples of this were brought to my attention, one by Kevin O’Connor in his e-mail titled ‘Kadumukasa Kironde II - a good chef but a bad journalist’ and the other by Grace Natabaalo, who shared a link to a Daily Monitor editorial ‘Engage media Owners not sources over salary’ on Facebook.

O’Connor, who is a native English speaker, wrote thus: “In most of his articles, A. Kadumukasa, who writes a food/cuisine column, uses words that most Ugandans would not understand. Please find some examples below in his article last Sunday (“Wedding meals well done”) together with simpler English words, he should have used instead”:
l “semi al fresco” – partly outdoors and partly indoors; l “repared” – this word is so little used that it is difficult to know whether it is actually an English word. Could be linked to “repast,” which means “a meal”; l “haute cuisine” - high quality French cooking.

On May 22, Natabaalo shared a paragraph of a Daily Monitor editorial that read thus: “Whereas we applaud Mr Moses Mulondo’s expedition to advance the welfare of some journalists, we roundly reject his thoughtless calculation to achieve this through a counter-productive and unethical bypass. His pitch beguiles, but the spiraling ramification for Ugandan media fraternity is self-emasculation. And we will not midwife this tragedy”

Some of the reactions to the May 22 Daily Monitor editorial in relation to language are worth noting here. David Rupiny wrote: ‘Linguistic malapropism; the focus and intention are right, the structure no!” Stephen Ilungole wrote: “Hehehe! Very emotional editorial indeed! I have laughed hard! Did they hire Mzee Nagenda to write it? Too much ‘beguiling emasculation”.
The News Manual available online ( Volume 1/volume1_10.htm) makes some recommendations to journalists on this subject. I quote:

“Many young journalists think that they have to use the whole of their vocabulary when writing even the simplest news story. You may wish to show off your knowledge of the language, but remember that your knowledge is not what matters. The vocabulary of your reader or listener is more important. Whether you write for newspapers, broadcasting or the Internet, you should always use words and sentences which provide the maximum amount of understanding with the minimum risk of confusion.”


It adds: “Your main task as a journalist is to help people understand what is happening around them; in their village, in their country and in the world. Most readers or listeners will not have your knowledge of language, so you must simplify it for them. You should be able to examine the most complicated issues and events then translate them into language which your audience can understand. If you fail in this, people will stop buying your newspaper or tuning in to your radio or television station. You will be failing in your job.”
Different internal and external research have over the years shown that Daily Monitor is a most difficult newspaper to read on account of language that is deemed “hard” and verbose.
Yes, many people – especially politicians – pride themselves in verbosity and get away with it because politics tends to be more about image than substance.

For journalist, however, verbosity most times undermines communication and defeats the purpose of journalism. It should, therefore, be avoided.
As journalists write their stories or “voice over”, it is important they understand that communication is only complete when the message has reached or has been understood.

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