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Breaking news no excuse for armchair reporting, get out, speak to witnesses


We took a look at how four newspapers covered the recent skirmishes in Sondu, Kisumu county, that left at least seven people dead, tens injured and many more displaced, according to various media.

At critical breaking news moments, The Star initially seemed absent on the ground, attributing all reporting to police statements only.

The Star story, “Sondu tension: renewed clashes leave seven dead”, by Faith Matere, got substantially refreshed in the online edition with anecdotes from the field. This injected more of initially thin credibility. The earlier police-said editions vanished online.

The Standard and the People Daily showed inadequate, unconvincing presence on the ground.

The People Daily made sweeping claims and didn’t back any of them up with tangible voices from persons on the street. The stories leaned heavily on top-down sourcing.

For example, PD’s October 5 story, “Death toll from Sondu clashes rises to seven”, by Noven Owiti, cited only statements by Azimio leaders, the Assistant County Commissioner, his boss, the County Commissioner, Luo Nyanza governors and Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot.

A “spot check by People Daily” would bring only one voice of a warm-blooded local witness, at the bottom of the story.

The Standard’s story on the same day, “Three dead as fresh ethnic clashes rock Sondu”, by Clinton Ambijo, cited administrators and mentioned “witnesses”, but quoted only one.

The problem with top-down sourcing is that it does not paint the picture on the ground.

Only the Daily Nation’s breaking story indicated reporters went to the ground from the start.

The Nation’s story, “Seven dead as fresh clashes resume in Sondu”, by Elizabeth Ombima and Dominic Ombok, won the day for finding enough first-person witnesses everywhere – at the marketplace, in the hospital and in the villages – all on day one.

And this was in addition to providing multiple voices from a cross-section of leaders, which went beyond the typical administrators to teachers’ union.

So, while others churned out mostly armchair reporting, the Nation’s story proved that with effort, it is possible to tell all sides of breaking news, with real witnesses, on day one.

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