Newspapers and their mirror images online

Friday October 30 2020

Mr Odoobo C. Bichachi

By Odoobo Charles Bichachi

On Tuesday, my attention was drawn to a post on Daily Monitor’s social media pages; Facebook and Twitter. 

It was an article shared from the newspaper’s website with a screaming, if not cheeky, headline and a salacious photo to go with it.

The headline: ‘What can be done about a dry vagina?’ Photo: Colour image of a woman’s crotch with her hands resting on the white underpants, thumb pressing navel area. 

The presentation was typically tabloid, not anything one would associate with Daily Monitor brand.

Indeed, comments on said it all. I quote a few:
Mathew Jesty wrote: “But Daily Monitor really, why ask such a question at this time? We are in the struggle!”

Mulya Gerald wrote: “I am also wondering, what happened to my daily paper today.’”  
Otai Hassan wrote: “Is this becoming a tabloid or someone is wrong?’


Murangamirwa Asiimwe wrote: “It is called Daily Monitor even in the bedroom they monitor…”

Others, however, responded with cheeky - if not extremely obscene - comments straight out of the porn book. One of the milder ones was by Andrew Mugisha, who wrote: “You pour water and voila, it is wet! Thank me later!”

So what happened? Was this a gatekeeping failure? Is this regular Daily Monitor content? Should readers have been shocked or excited?

Readers may wish to know the same article was published in the print edition of the newspaper of October 26 in the Healthy Living magazine column, “Ask Dr Karuhanga”. 

It was accompanied by a sassy photo of a woman’s front with half opened night gown holding a pineapple to conceal the crotch, peeping breasts and generous show of thighs. 

That answers the question as to whether this is regular Daily Monitor content or not, and whether there was a gatekeeping failure. What happened is that a print newspaper article that runs in a specific segment about health was offloaded onto social media news feed, just like other regular online stories. That explains the shock of many online readers.

Social media is such an open forum that it hardly allows the segmentation of content we see in print (sports, features, health, news, etc,) that allows readers to simply go to the content they want; just like in supermarket where buyers only walk to shelves with items they need. 

Social media is like an open pipe (sewer, some say) carrying both solids and liquids.

You will, therefore, likely be hit by both content anytime; news about Bobi Wine as well as how best to use a toilet. For most of the content, context will have been lost in the mixture as it hurtles down the pipe.

The problem in this case was, therefore, the age-old issue media has been grappling with; how different the online edition of a newspaper should be from its print edition?

Jessica E Smith of University of South Florida explored this matter in her 2005 study, “Content Differences between Print and Online Newspapers”. I recommend it to any journalists managing online content.

The advent of Internet as a news platform signalled new opportunities for media to exploit its unlimited space, multimedia tools and power of interactivity. Unfortunately, many newspapers haven’t effectively used this.

Smith, quoting Pamela J Shoemaker and Stephen D Reese, blames it on “structural logic” of newspapers whereby “…staffing structure and reporting norms shape the stories that readers see. 

If a newspaper’s workflow calls for reporters and their editors to produce stories, editors and designers to produce display type and add photos and graphics, and web editors simply to format that work for the web, users will see a mirror of what appears in print.

This structure creates an assembly line mentality… the person at the end of the line, the editor- or in this case, the web editor—may have little investment in the final product.”

Media scholar, Hsiang Iris Chyi, says there is a price for this: ‘A newspaper website that does not differentiate itself from the print newspaper in daily content, has no unique quality to draw users, and without this, a site has no leverage to make a profit with advertisers or through paid content.”

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