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How to waste readers’ time with delayed lead

Why should reporters say what they mean to say quickly? How about two reasons: in print, space is precious; and readers will walk away if you waste their time.

Yet, two recent stories by The Standard and the Daily Nation did just that – toy with readers, wasting many words before getting to the heart of the matter.

The first example was a big story. Two Supreme Court judges had dissented on the recent, sensational judgement by the apex court that gay rights advocates can register an organisation in Kenya.

Obviously, a dissent on such a lightening-rod issue shouts to be heard. The Standard and the Daily Nation promptly wrote about it. But the former disappointed with a meandering tale.

“Why CJ Martha Koome, Isaac Lenaola did not hear, rule on gays case,” said The Standard’s heading on March 4.

The story by Brian Okoth started out that five out of seven judges made their determination on gay rights in the February 24 decision.

First, that intro was incomplete and misleading.

Incomplete: The matter wasn’t about gay rights. It was about if gays can lawfully register an organisation in Kenya.

Misleading: The case was heard by five judges, not seven. Chief Justice Martha Koome and Justice Isaac Lenaola had recused themselves – duh, didn’t the heading itself say they didn’t hear the case?

But never mind. The reporter ploughed ahead with a second paragraph telling readers what the majority decided.

Only until the third paragraph did the reporter get to the heart of the matter: Why two judges dissented. Still, it came out as a by the way.

The paragraphs said: “Two judges – Mohammed Ibrahim and William Ouko – ruled on the contrary, saying they could not understand how their colleagues allowed the registration of homosexual groups when the Penal Code expressly criminalises same-sex relationships in Kenya.”

Compare this with the Daily Nation’s account on the same day.

“Why supreme court judges Ouko and Ibrahim disagreed with LGBTQ ruling,” the Nation’s heading said March 4.

 The story by Joseph Wangui dived into the matter promptly.

After stating that a majority ruled in the affirmative, the reporter wrote that two judges sharply disagreed, arguing instead that, “the government cannot allow registration of an organisation whose mission was furthering an illegality.”

Ironically, about a week later the Nation would provide a second example of how to waste reader’s time.

“Jimi Wanjigi: Why I defended Mama Ngina despite fallout with Uhuru,” said the heading of the March 12 story.

Mama Ngina, Kenya’s first, first lady. That’s what the story should be about, right?

Sure, except the story by Justus Ochieng wanted to tell you about a litany of other random things before even mentioning Mama Ngina.

The first paragraph said that Wanjigi, who was barred from running for president in the last general election, “has promised a major political comeback”.

Oh, he is also blaming the electoral agency, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, for disenfranchising Kenyans.

The next paragraph had Wanjigi saying that President William Ruto needs to address the nation on the country’s debt situation.

And, oh, by the way, Wanjigi explained his decision to defend Mama Ngina Kenyatta from President Ruto over taxes.

That came in the third paragraph.

Dear Nation, this was wasting readers’ time.

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