Today’s journalists need to make sense, not news

Author: Odoobo C. Bichachi is the Nation Media Group (NMG)-Uganda public editor. PHOTO/FILE.

What you need to know:

One thing to recognise is that many people do not have so much time to spend on consuming news because of the many distractions and competing tasks. How much we serve is therefore as important as what we serve.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day was “Journalism under digital siege”. However in his keynote address at the Uganda national celebration of the day organised by the Uganda Media Sector Working Group (UMSWG) in Kampala last week, Robert Kabushenga rephrased the statement to “Journalists under digital siege”.

His argument was that the digital revolution had opened more opportunities for journalism than it had killed. Instead, he said, it was us journalists failing to transition from “analogue” journalism to digital journalism, and that the window was closing fast!

In many ways, Kabushenga has the bragging rights, so to speak, having transformed his #360 Mentor on Twitter Spaces into an evening phenomenon threatening to knock off the often paid-for radio talk-show programmes recycling panelists and topics.

He saw the gap and the opportunity in the new digital technology in terms of content and platform. He also demonstrated that you don’t need a licence, a studio and audience ratings to broadcast to the public! We are certainly going to see more such “journalism” in the coming years.

One other opportunity citizen journalists have seen and picked up is in international news reporting and it is playing out on a platform previously associated with mostly entertainment – You Tube!

Until recently, I watched international news TV for its depth and breadth of coverage of the big stories. During the second Iraq war of 2003, ‘Dateline London’ talk-show on BBC was one of my favourite programmes because of the powerful and well-informed debates it hosted.

During the ongoing Ukraine-Russia war, however, I have found the traditional international news channels limiting (to be polite) and I now spend at least an hour a day watching the You Tube channels (vlogs or video blogs) of independent citizen journalists that are sailing against the tide to share perspectives on events around the war that you may not find on CNN or BBC. They produce at least one or two vlogs every day which are usually greeted with anticipation and appreciation by the hundreds of thousands of subscribers that each has been able to marshal up.

One of these vloggers is Alex Christoforou who is based in Cyprus. He has an interesting format of presentation, mixing news, perspectives, geography, the weather, etc. He usually shoots his videos while taking a walk in the city streets as he makes his commentary on the news of the day mixed with many asides. In one recent episode, he was in the city of Larnaca, Cyprus and started off by showing the church of St Lazarus, the final resting place of the famed man Jesus brought back from the dead in a miracle, before delving into the day’s events and what they mean – from his perspective.

This approach achieves many things; it informs, entertains and educates!

Yes, many of us consume news today from both the traditional media and social media. We recognise that traditional media and journalists still represent many things that social media and citizen journalists are not; namely credibility, balance, perspective, brand, trust etc.

But citizen journalists are stepping up the challenge so innovation is the only way traditional journalists shall keep the pace or stay ahead. We can do what Christoforou is doing to the Ukraine war on many stories in our midst and tell them in a less stiff and more involving way, and make them available on the go.

One thing to recognise is that many people do not have so much time to spend on consuming news because of the many distractions and competing tasks. How much we serve is therefore as important as what we serve. If you are a newspaper, focusing on the number of pages is therefore a losing strategy, just like if you are an online platform, counting the number of stories posted per day is also a loser.

So what is the winner? Christoforou, his vlog colleague Alexander Mercouris, and Zetland, a Danish online and subscription only media outlet, are my winners. Zetland posts no more than four stories a day of long-form journalism explaining issues. Its mantra is, “we make sense, not news”! Yes, news is all around but audiences wants to be helped to make sense of the news. That’s what Christoforou and Mercouris et al are doing with the Ukraine war – helping make sense of it.

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