Why readers should pay attention to official voice of the newspaper

Friday August 9 2019



Odoobo C. Bichachi

Odoobo C. Bichachi  

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

The “Leader” or “Editorial” column of the newspaper is not one many readers pay attention to. This is partly because it is buried somewhere inside the newspaper far away from the attention-grabbing lead story or “splash” in newsroom-speak, and the colourful lifestyle magazines in the middle of the paper.
The manner of its presentation is also mundane; a small standard size headline, short (word count) and precise. In design terms, it is largely overshadowed by columnists on the same page or opposite page that are announced by their mug shots (passport-size photos). In Daily Monitor, the Leader runs on the same page as the lead cartoon and opposite is the Opinions page followed by the Letters page. Together, these pages constitute what is termed as the Op-Ed!
The “Editorial” is a critical part of the newspaper and in many ways perhaps the most important in as far as defining the position of the newspaper on different issues in the news, or outlining the agenda of the newspaper and its commitment to its readers. Daily Monitor makes the following commitment just below the editorial comment.
We pledge:
*To be accurate and fair in all we do
*To be respectful to all in our pursuit of the truth
*To refuse to accept any compensation beyond what is provided by Monitor Publications Ltd for what we do in our news gathering and decision-making.
*Further we ask that we be informed whenever you feel that we have fallen short in our attempt to keep these commitments.
An email address:
editorial@ug.nationmedia.com is provided to enable direct feedback.
Because of the importance of the editorial, its writing is not casually approached. It is supposed to be a product of consensus among newsroom leaders and is guided by restraint, logic, facts, etc. The NMG Editorial Policy Guidelines specifically say this about the editorial:
“The Group’s editorials will base their conclusions on demonstrable and comprehensive research. They will be balanced, constructive and informative and will represent the authoritative voice of the Group and not only that of the writers. Like all other editorial content, leaders will justify the space they occupy in cogent, unrepetitive and reasoned arguments. Editorials will be regarded as the flagship of the various media platforms and planned with appropriate care. Except in rare circumstances, they will comment on the most significant events of the day. Like news stories, they should contain facts not generally known. They will not be spiteful, prejudiced, propagandist or extremist; they will avoid the bizarre and offensive and will always maintain standards of decency and good taste. Wording should be temperate and non-inflammatory. Where an editorial is based on an issue in any of the East African countries, efforts must be made to verify the facts with the appropriate officials in the respective countries and not unnecessarily or gratuitously contribute to inter-country tensions.”
The editors are expected to remain true to the letter and spirit of the policy. Yes there have been failures sometimes, but these are usually flagged and corrective action taken to ensure that all editors charged with writing the editorial (usually senior editors) remain emotionally sober, coherent, deeply reflective, respectful, and balanced without being dull and boring. It is important to note, though, that while editorials are always ensconced in the inside pages, there are occasions when it will flow from the cover page. When this happens, it is a signal to the reader that this is not an ordinary editorial; that the matter being written about deserves extra attention because it is important to the country.
Daily Monitor has not done this often in the recent past. To my recollection, it has done so on two occasions: When the paper was re-opened in 2013 after government shut it down for two weeks after the publication of Gen David Sejusa’s letter on perceived “Muhozi Project” and in 2016 on the eve of the general election when the paper called on Ugandans to turn up in big numbers to exercise their civic duty.
It is important to note that the “leader” is primarily a print journalism relic. However, when occasion demands, electronic media (TV and radio) too will put out a “leader” or editorial position of the station. This would normally be done before, in between, or after the main news bulletin. But it doesn’t happen every day like in print.