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300 dead cows and other short stories: Where are details?

At its most basic level, good journalism should answer the 5W’s – what, when, why, who and how. What happened? Where did it happen? Why? Who were the actors involved and how did it exactly happen? If a reporter can conclusively answer these questions in a story, the rest of the details can follow later.

However, it’s still easy to spot incomplete stories in newspapers and even on online platforms, which begs the question, where are the other details? Are media houses deliberately short-changing their audiences, or it’s the overall standards that are drastically falling because there are not enough gatekeepers?

Take, for example, this news article: “Over 300 Cows Die After Drinking Dam Water in Tana River” (Citizen Digital, July 25).

The story said “water from a suspected poisoned dam” was the cause of the tragedy. The article said it took residents up to “3 months to realise the damaging effect of the poisoned water dam.” A highly fascinating story and of great human interest that deserved justice from both the reporter, editors and other people involved in the news process.

But that’s not what happened.

More than 300 cows are killed in a poor county like Tana River, where residents often grapple with drought and famine, and overall living standards are nothing to write home about because of historical marginalisation and neglect. But the article does not even touch on those issues. Coming in the wake of the need to create more awareness about the effects of climate change, a bit of context was required.

In the entire story, only two residents are quoted, and they are not named. No one else is interviewed.

As expected, the distressed folks call for urgent government attention to arrest the situation, which is evidently causing them enormous losses and suffering. Not a single national government official is asked to comment on this monumental tragedy.

The news article abruptly comes to a sudden end like someone applying emergency brakes, leaving the reader wondering: Is this story even credible?

Story credibility is an integral part of cultivating trust among readers. When a news article adheres to the fundamental elements of journalism, it reduces the chances of inadvertently spreading misinformation or disinformation.

In the end, in order to convert readers grappling with constant digital distractions into paying subscribers, a lot of investment is needed in tightening stories to achieve the desired effect of great journalism that informs and imparts pertinent lessons to the audience.

Imparting vital lessons, however, does not mean omitting crucial details, as is evident in this Nation.Africa story titled “After 20 years in jail, Bomet man gets second chance at life” (August 23). It’s another of those ‘prison stories’ that try to reinforce the idea that serving a jail term is not the end of life. One can always diligently serve his sentence, even as he reflects on the crime that brought him to prison and learn a useful handicraft course to help him survive outside prison. The idea of prison being a rehabilitative institution rather than a place to merely punish a convicted person.

The story checked all the boxes in terms of outlining the rehabilitation aspect of prisons and how reforms are helping in the early release of prisoners who have served a significant part of their jail terms. The reporter even emphasised what a judicial officer said about how “good behaviour is the key to reducing a prisoner’s sentence under the presidential amnesty.”

The subject of the story, Wesley Kipsang Rotich, is overjoyed to reunite with his family, including his wife, who is overwhelmed with excitement to see her husband again after two decades. After reading the article, there’s a feeling that there’s nothing impossible for any man when he decides to change his life for the better and become a productive member of his society.

But what were the man’s crimes that drove him to jail and had him waste 20 years of his prime life? We are not told. The question is: what are we learning from it, apart from the excitement of a man reuniting with his family after a long stretch of prison life?

 

1 thought on “300 dead cows and other short stories: Where are details?”

  1. Sourcing for a good story is expensive.The amount of time and resources invested are some of the factors choking traditional media. Evidently changing media dynamic and pressure to break news has resorted media houses to contract ‘flexible’ people who can help them break stories. Everyone wants a share of this digital audience and with such little effort is put on efficiency and quality of the product fed to the audience.Pressure to break the news first.

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