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Headlines that don’t sell a newspaper

An opinion published by the People Daily last Wednesday said that the media is stressing Kenyans with bad news. The opinion was boring, but it was correct. And therein lies journalism’s problem. How do you sell boring stories? You don’t. You can’t.

“Media should give constructive journalism a chance,” said the headline of the opinion by one Sabina Akoth in the People Daily, September 18 (p.11).

Not sure what “constructive journalism” is, but the columnist probably meant journalism that does not scream “murder,” “rape,” “corruption,” “tangatanga,” “exam cheating,” or “septic tank” – of course nothing was ever wrong with a septic tank until Dutch millionaire Tob Cohen was recently found murdered and dumped in a septic tank in his Sh400 million property in Kitisuru, Nairobi.

Or was that property worth Sh500 million? Who knows! Journalists are notoriously bad at mathematics. Or singing in harmony.

Take this continuing coverage of Cohen’s murder. The media can’t agree if the man’s home was worth Sh400 million or Sh500 million. Heck, they can’t even agree if he was a millionaire or a billionaire.

The Standard reported last Saturday that “Cohen bequeathed his property worth Sh700 million” to his brother, sister and children of his sister. This came at the top of a story by Edwin Maina, titled, “Revealed: Cohen’s widow won’t get a coin of his money.”

A few paragraphs down, the same story told us that the Cohen’s will also came with “other surprises,” among them, “the acclaimed billionaire status of the man.”

The Star reported the same day that “Cohen willed a huge sum of money said to be in hundreds of millions to his brother Bernard Cohen.”

No press coverage showed us Cohen’s billions.

We’re talking about the will that Cohen’s lawyers at Nairobi’s Bruce House reportedly unsealed for the first time last week, never mind that a Dutch newspaper had already reported with gospel certitude that the widow, who boycotted the will reading, would get nothing in it.

What did we say, harmony is not one of the media’s strong suits! Yet things that don’t fit define journalism.

So, what was that People Daily’s opinion whining about? Did it imagine that newspapers will sell stories if headlines like these below sat on the front page?

“Man lost car as he prayed rosary at the Holy Family,” the story thick with unstated irony of a man, God and thieves (Star, September 14).

Or “Mathai vs Maathai,” another of John Kamau’s gripping history reading on how a little-known man who died last week divorced a woman who would be Kenya’s only Nobel laurate, Wangari Maathai, because of politics and power (Nation, September 23).

Or “Heritage set to reward good drivers,” a story about how an insurance company plans to plant in your car a gadget that monitors good driver behaviour and, thereby, compel the company to reward you with lower monthly premiums.

Or “Tourists flock Maasai Mara to see uniquely coloured zebra foal,” – did you know that the baby of a zebra is called a foal? (People Daily, September 18).

None of these headlines would sell a newspaper. Yet the opinion in the People Daily, backed by compelling research, was right. Too much blood in our news. Our air is saturated with negative stories.

Why do we wonder, then, that a Standard Seven pupil at Nairobi’s Consolata School let loose last week on social media in a video filled with shocking anger and unprintable epithets?

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