When comedy, comics come into journalism

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

What you need to know:

  • Today, scanning the spectrum of Uganda’s print media, there is little comic journalism to show.

Art is one of the most remarkable human talents and it is what, perhaps, enabled the earliest representation of nature, humanity and human behaviour.

Art is many things, but in our context, we will one dictionary definitions of art; 1) “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” 

In the past, we mostly interacted with art and artists through exhibitions at art galleries, through graffiti on street walls, through occasional newspaper profiles, through theatrical performances at theatres, or through music.

Today, the Internet has enabled us to meet talented and young artists at every corner showcasing their art – pencil, pen or good old colour paint brush, or audio and video skits.

Journalism and art have intersected since millennia through two genres: “comics journalism” and “comedic journalism”.

Comics journalism is “a form of journalism that covers news or nonfiction events using the framework of comics, a combination of words and drawn images” – www.wikipedia.org  

“Comics journalism covers real stories through the lens of comics, a combination of words and images with word balloons you’re used to seeing in traditional comics,” Oleksandr Derevianchenko further elaborates.

The first comic journalism was reportedly first published in the Illustrated London News in 1842 and later in Harper’s Magazine in 1850 (New York, USA).

It has since grown as a genre of journalism mostly in the western world. Charlie Hebdo is the most known French comics magazine, founded in 1970.

We do not have typical comics journalism newspapers or magazines in Uganda but we have seen flashes of it in the works of famous cartoonists like Jimmy Spire, Ogon, etc.

Many of us have interacted with comics journalism without conscientiously defining it as journalism but rather as editorial cartoons. The two are different. Editorial cartooning is limited in scope and pokes fun at a story in a single cartoon.

Comics journalism is, however, long-form cartoon journalism that deploys a series of comic strips to explore a story.

Comics journalism is also different from the humour strips we used to see published in newspapers under characters such as “Ekanya” and “Bogi-Benda”. These were pure humour, picking on ordinary issues and giving them a humorous touch

Today, scanning the spectrum of Uganda’s print media, there is little comic journalism to show. “Rastoon on Sunday” was the closest we came to comic journalism in recent times.

If you are a young budding artist, you can make your pitch and start doing comics journalism. There will be space in print and/or online. Look, there are already so many of you drawing portrait images in pencil, pen or colour.

Which brings us to the second genre – comedic journalism. 

“Comedic journalism is a new form of journalism, popularised in the 21st century that incorporates a comedic tone to transmit the news to mass audiences, using humour and/or satire to relay a point in news reports. Comedic journalism has been applied to print media in the past but has experienced a resurgence through the medium of television” – www.wikipedia.org   

Your typical example of comedic journalism in Uganda today is the popular Zungululu show on NTV and Bizonto show on YouTube.

Zungululu is a segment of the 7 pm Luganda language news bulletin, Akawungeezi, and features every Friday. The segment is laced with a comedic tinge to news that many Ugandans sit out the 30 or sometimes 45 minutes news bulletin to get to the end and so they can “enjoy” Zungululu.

Many people that watch Zungululu and Bizonto do not see themselves as watching news. They see themselves as watching entertainment! Interestingly, even the producers and presenters of these shows hardly see themselves as journalists. Rather they see themselves as artists.  

Yet in these shows, there is an intersection of news and comedy that artists used to deliver information to mass audiences. Many of these stories are no longer new, but the way they reach audiences is!

Are comics and comedy debasing news and journalism or adding value?  A recent study in the US, reported by Hanaa’ Tameez (www.niemanlab.org) found that “…so-called ‘infotainment’ genres are not a deterioration of journalistic quality, but that they play an effective role in ‘inform[ing] citizens about politics and eventually engaging them democratically’.”

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