Why journalists should strike iron while it is hot

Friday February 26 2021
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Author, Odoobo C. Bichachi is the Nation Media Group-Uganda public editor. PHOTO/FILE.

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

Strike while the iron is hot” is an old English saying derived from the wisdom of iron smiths. They learnt that a piece of iron can only be shaped when it is made malleable by heat. When it cools down and is cold and rigid, it cannot be shaped into something else. 

The wisdom of this saying is that is important to take advantage of a situation and shape it the way you wish rather than wait for to settle its way or shape. 

In journalism, this same wisdom is embedded in the story structure that seeks to maximise readers’ attention when their time interest in that story is highest. Thus we have been taught from journalism school – and have it breathed down our necks in the newsroom – to use the inverted pyramid structure for storytelling. 

In short, the inverted pyramid (base up and tip at bottom) is divided into three sections. The first carries the most newsworthy information – who, what, where, when, why, how? The second section carries important details about the story, and the third part carries other general information and background.

With this in mind, Oscar Okech Kanyangareng had issue with our story,  ‘Government projects public debt to rise to 54.1 per cent by 2023,’ Daily Monitor, February 3. He wrote to me thus:

“This story states that Uganda’s public debt as a share of GDP will be 54.1 per cent by 2022/23 and 49.9 per cent by June 2021. Then it goes on rumbling with so many statistics, but at no point did the writer mentioned what the current situation is. What is the current percentage share of debt to GDP so that we can know how worse off we are or not? That is what I was looking for in the first one to three stanzas and I move to another story. That is the news. Where are we now? Nothing. So, the news was incomplete.” 

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As Mr Kanyangareng indicates above, readers do not have all the time in the world to read journalists’ rumblings in newspaper, or watch television pictures that do not answer the questions quickly. So if you are writing or editing a story, “strike while the iron is still hot.”
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