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Kiptum was world record holder, deserved world-class coverage

While driving along Eldoret-Ravine road the night of the Africa Cup of Nations finals, world marathon record holder Kelvin Kiptum, 24, reportedly lost control of his car and veered off the road. His Toyota Premio rammed into a tree. Or a concrete wall – media couldn’t immediately decide in early reports.

But that little struggle with accuracy wasn’t the only muddle.

The life of a young, world record holder had been swiftly cut short. The world would be paying attention. The world would be digging through our news channels, hungry to know what happened.

Surely, when your audience is the world, only solid journalism will do. When the subject is a name currently sitting in the Guinness Book of Records, only stellar reporting will do.

But, newspaper reporters failed Kiptum. Take a look:

The Standard, February 13: “How crash ended promising career of fast-rising Kiptum”

Repetitions:

  • The story by Stephen Ruto said, twice, that Kiptum and his coach, Gervais Hakizimana, died on the spot. Once was not enough.
  • The story killed the two many more times. Halfway through the story the police is still quoted: “Upon arrival, the police established that world record holder Kelvin Kiptum and his coach Gervais Hakizimana were dead.” The “dead” or “died” news is provided four times.
  • Cause of accident? Paragraph 14:  “… the cause of the accident […] could not be immediately established.” Then, Paragraph 20: “… investigations into the exact cause of the crash are ongoing.” The two mean the same thing.

Acronyms:

  • The only survivor, a woman, mentioned high up but not identified until halfway through the story as Sharon Kosgei, was treated at Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital. The hospital is henceforth referred to MTRH, a difficult acronym that kills readability and, more importantly, doesn’t register with readers.

Nation, February 16: “Fastest house for fastest man: Ruto’s order for Kiptum’s house”

Assumptions:

  • ‘The family of the late world record holder settled on a four-acre farm he had bought in Naiberi, Uasin Gishu County, where he was planning to construct his home as his final resting place.’

He was planning a home at Naiberi? Who told you? No attribution. And he was planning this as his final resetting place? At 24 a young man had already talked about his burial site? Again, who told you?

Nation, February 18: “Kelvin Kiptum’s father: ‘I want my son’s grave next to my house’”

The story opens with an unattributed assumption, that the wishes of Kiptum’s father to live next to the grave of his only child might come true after the government started constructing houses for the family.

Then, in paragraph 2, “the contractor is working round the clock”. Right, a cliché is all we need to be abundantly informative.

Paragraph 3: “[…] before [Kiptum] met his untimely death last Sunday …” Right, another cliché. Is there death that’s timely? But never mind. Before that, “one of his key projects this year was to construct a descent house for his parents and his family”.

Who told you so? Well, nobody.

Look, a world record holder deserves better journalism coverage, wouldn’t you say?

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