Media ‘talking heads’ help public navigate infodemic

Odoobo C. Bichachi

What you need to know:

  • But beyond the specifics of her feedback, Ms Mukasa was in effect highlighting the value opinion journalism carries in the media ecosystem from a reader perspective.  

Last week, Ms R. Mukasa, a Kampala-based reader, shared feedback on my column of September 8. She wrote:

“I am an ardent reader of Daily Monitor’s online columnists. You guys are doing a great job with those well-articulated pieces. The main reason for this email is to appreciate your honest and wise thoughts expressed in the piece titled; “Africa’s big talk on climate buried in heaps of garbage”. 

It really speaks to me and I can honestly attest that; waking up to garbage and seeing it in my face, everywhere, all the time makes me sick to the stomach. Being the neat freak that I am, garbage depresses me and the most annoying bit is seeing no future in a clean Uganda. The top leaders don’t seem to care and I keep wondering how and where they were raised. Even if it was in the ghetto, they would have known better that clean is beautiful.

They spend billions on benchmarking but it is such a pity that they implement nothing here. I wonder how they feel when they keep flying out to clean countries and come back to a dirty Uganda.

Look at the worrying state of deforestation and forest cover loss! How can one ban charcoal burning and remain tightlipped on the cost of gas and electricity? This climate change fight is a big joke in Uganda. There is a lot to sulk about! Be blessed for being that incorruptible voice. 

My regards to the great heads; Charles Onyango-Obbo, Nicholas Sengooba, Alan Tacca, Karoli Ssemogerere, and “the poor man’s freedom fighter” [Daniel Kalinaki]. I highly adore them.” 

In the business of journalism, it is always great to receive feedback from – positive or negative – from readers or viewers. It is what powers journalists to carry on in the challenging trade, especially now when social media has turned everyone into a journalist.

But beyond the specifics of her feedback, Ms Mukasa was in effect highlighting the value opinion journalism carries in the media ecosystem from a reader perspective.   

David Haynes, a journalist with Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and quoted by Abigail Steinberg in her article, “In opinionated times, what is the future of opinion journalism?” captured this well. Writing in the University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication online journal (December 17, 2020), she quoted him thus:

“… opinion journalists help to evaluate, contextualise and explain the news in ways traditional news reporters may not have the capacity to do. Without opinion journalism, people lose a resource that helps them make sense of what is happening in the world, their country and their community.”

Today, the internet and social media have reduced the world to a small village where we instantly know what is happening in nearly every place at the tap of a mobile phone app. It has also unleashed a bevy of opinions and perspectives on nearly every subject on earth. This would ideally have diminished the role of media’s “talking heads”. Not so!

This is primarily because the “infodemic” (an overabundance of information – some accurate and some not) that we have in the world today has more often ended up confusing or misinforming the public, rather than informing them.

We saw this recently during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic where millions of opinions on the safety and efficacy of the vaccines left many people confused as to whether to take the jab or not, and public health at the mercy of conspiracy theories.

We have also seen it during the recent rage over DNA testing in Uganda where a matter of science more or less turned into a political and “national security” matter! Or even during times of political distress where reckless opinions on social media can generate more animosity in the community.

It is in times like this that the public derives utmost value from the media’s “talking heads” – both in print and broadcast. Sewell Chan, editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, quoted in the same journal, perhaps summarised it best:

“In our hyperpolarised time, it seems sometimes as though there are too many opinions. But in fact, there is not enough thoughtful opinion writing — opinion writing that takes into account the complexity and ambiguity of all human affairs; that is empathetic toward people who disagree, and that truly adds insight and perspective. We need [this] high-quality opinion journalism more than ever.”

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