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Gutter press: If you want to be uninformed, read the gossip columns

Who writes and edits newspaper gossip columns? Do they have any background in journalism? We don’t think so. Because if they did, we would at least read a story that is weaved with a recognisable, basic structure.

The basic structure would at least pretend to address the reader’s curiosity. What happened? Where? When? To whom or by whom? Why? How?

Now, we would understand if names are redacted, because the short stories run 100 per cent with anonymous sourcing and are grapevine for potential libel.

What we do not understand, though, is why the stories show zero attempts at verification – in a newspaper.

And what we really struggle to understand is why the writers seem to specialise in opacity, being unintelligible. You read a story and it tells you, well, nothing.

For illustration, consider “Corridors of Power,” The Star’s notorious sidebar on Page 3.

“MAJOR POLITICAL REALIGNMENTS are looming in Mt Kenya East,” one piece stated on October 6.

Why capitalize “major political realignment”? If you have something credible to say, don’t shout. Just say it. Shouting it in uppercase is a red flag for sensationalism.

The story goes on: “Sources whisper to Corridors that a senior politician from the region has received intelligence that his competitor, a sitting senator, could be handed a direct ticket.”

Sources whisper, huh? Why the need to whisper? Because, you’re saying, no need to give this any importance. It’s just gossip. A senior politician from the region? Describe senior, please. Is it an elected politician, a former legislator, a party official, or just mpiga debe?

More darkness: “Thus, the politician has been meeting with a key political leader to plan a different lineup.” Ah, so the former “politician” is not a “key political leader”? A different line-up. Different from which one?

But the entanglement with words gets worse. “Another politico, who is exiting the scene, has also reportedly made up with his 2017 political rival.”

Let’s count this, shall we? We had a senior politician. Then, a political leader. Followed by a politico. Now, a political rival. What in the world is this writer talking about?

Wait for clarity: “The plan is to make the area enemy territory for a particular presidential candidate. Only time will tell whether they will succeed.”

The plan, huh? What plan? By whom? Does it really harm to name the presidential candidate? And, oh, the story is incomplete without the maddening, meaningless cliché, “only time will tell” – if who will succeed?

Whenever you meet “only time will tell,” the writer has quit pretending to report anything objective. They’ve jumped into the story, throwing in their opinion, making the story now about themselves.

At the end of that news snippet, readers are annoyed. Because they started out knowing nothing. And they end knowing nothing.

One more example: “JUST WHO WILL rescue an elderly woman who was conned out of Sh400,000 by a sister-in-law promising to facilitate her son’s hiring by the Kenya Defence Forces? While the matter was reported to a police station in Nairobi on March 2, no action has been taken against the suspect. Corridors of Power is apprised that the suspect enjoys the protection of unscrupulous police officers both in Nairobi and elsewhere with whom she works in cahoots. Those in the know are further questioning the long period other investigating agencies are taking to probe and bring the matter to a close to ensure justice is served.”

An elderly woman? Age is more informative. A police station in Nairobi? Which one? Corridors is “appraised”? Told is fine – oh, and by whom? Unscrupulous police officers, huh? In Nairobi and elsewhere? Where is that, Loyangalani? “Those in the know?” Who exactly is considered to be “in the know”? Long period? Put a number to it.

What purpose do these gossip snippets serve? Disinformation? In information business?

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