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Standard’s Ruto defiance story had sin of omission

A missing nut graph in The Standard’s September 25 story about Ruto’s “defiance” exposed distracted, shallow journalism that, unfortunately, is all too frequent.

“DP defies Uhuru, meets candidate in Kwale poll,” said the headline. It was a story about what happened after the Jubilee Party secretariat decided, without reference to the Deputy President, to not field a candidate against ODM in the upcoming Msambweni by-election.

In the story, a little thing was forgotten. The Standard omitted to remind readers why there’s going to be a by-election in the first place.

That omission was important. It was the nut graph, usually a stand-alone sentence that puts everything into context, telling readers why what they’re reading is important.

Okay, they planted the nut graph in a four-line photo caption, where nobody expects to find it. The caption said, “Deputy President William Ruto addresses the media when he drove to the party headquarters in Nairobi on September 23, 2020 to push to have a candidate for Msambweni by-election which was occasioned by the death of MP Suleiman Dori.”

What are the chances that readers will read a photo caption?

The omission in the story unfortunately exposed a narrow media perspective. It showed media as obsessed with the politics of the matter (a Ruto vs Raila affair), rather than the substance of it (for example, governance, a vacancy in the Legislature that interrupted representation of the people of Msambweni).

That substance did not show up anywhere in the story.

Media loves and is easily distracted by the prospects of theatrics – a circus, a contest, pang’ang’a – at the expense of substance.

Ok, politics is a hotly contested sport. And if a newspaper does not have a headline with “Raila” or “Ruto” in it, sales tend to plummet.

On the other hand, there’s this little thing called democracy. And the press is an indispensable pillar of it. Will we sound preachy if we remind you that the press plays a critical part in shaping public discourse? And that an ignorant electorate or one that’s fed only pang’ang’a day after day will surely wreak havoc on a democracy?

An enlightened electorate, on the other hand, not only ameliorates heat (the kind of heat that can make a country ungovernable), but more importantly, it provides for a stronger democracy. The opposite, endless preoccupation with the heat, catalyzes chaos, apathy in the democratic process and reverses patriotism.

So, focus on the heat at the expense of substance is not journalism at its best. It is distraction.

Sin of omission is still sin. If media increasingly misses opportunity after opportunity to enhance an enlightened citizenry, it hurts not only democracy but the very idea of a republic. Or does it not?

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