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‘Daily News’ story on Mtwara port needed tight editing

There is so much valuable information on crucial aspects of life one can easily get online these days. It’s one of the reasons for diminishing concentration span in human beings, nudging journalists, and media practitioners to present information in short, pithy, catchy, and diverse ways. Consumers of information instantly frown on long, winding and factually loaded writing.

The Daily News published what promised to be a powerful feature on the port of Mtwara in southern Tanzania on Sunday, March 17, 2024. Titled ‘Why Mtwara port is rising to prominence’ and stretching over 1,320 words, the article was a sure bait for close watchers of the country’s maritime commerce, generally, and users of the deep-water facility, particularly.

However, a determined reader must have realised that the article was a typical fishing expedition by a writer who was clearly carried away by – if not fully transfixed to – a single official source, making the report twisted to celebrate a facility without harpooning out relevant and convincing data on the trade in the sea.

The writer dedicated the first 16 paragraphs to what read like a painful catalogue on the history of the port of Mtwara: Which colonialists used it in the days of yore and why. It added no value to a reader’s understanding and appreciation of the strategic location of the national resource. Nay, the long and drooling sentences did nothing to support the promise on why the port was gaining prominence [although the word efficiency would have been more apt].

Here are the first three paras of the story, just to demonstrate how the reporter’s choice of furnituring the story was awash with historical suffocation of a story that demanded fresh and cogent maritime economic facts:

Para 1: “In the past six years, Mtwara port has risen to prominence, finding itself in the perch of Tanzania’s top three ports — Dar es Salaam, Tanga and Mtwara.”

Para 2: “To trace its development, Our Staff Writer visited the port recently and went through its archival documents in order to explain why the port’s development has been slow. He reports that Mtwara is a very old port.”

Para 3: “It could not develop because of its unfortunate history of being located in southern Tanzania and hence bordering Mozambique — a country that had to be liberated via a bloody guerrilla war. He reports that today, with one of the latest shipping scanner capable of scanning [sic] 30 containers an hour and a ship to shore gantry crane (SSG), Mtwara port is known beyond Africa and handles ships coming and going to as far as India and Vietnam…. Mtwara port is a very old port with a long history.”

Up to this far, eager readers were waiting to be told ‘Why Mtwara port is rising to prominence.’ Nothing! And the state-of-nothingness continued until para 17 when it became clear the writer was harvesting information from an official of the facility: “A statement on the port’s performance prepared by the Port Manager Ferdinand Nyathi attributes the growing importance of the port to equally increasing economic activities in the Mainland southern regions and Zanzibar.” He would then give some detailed information on the port, including the number of vessels that had docked in and out since the year 2018, cargo types, haulage, and latest technological installations to speed up clearance of goods.

Whoever edited this article should have gone straight to fetch the intro from para 26 and let it flow all the way to para 33. The history of the port should have come at the tail end as a quest for context.

Para 26: “But there is an inside story behind this performance. Mr Nyathi says Mtwara port has risen to this kind of performance because there has been infrastructural development. The old berth that is 385 metres long is now capable of handling 45,000 DWT.” The good official then mentions several incentives the port is giving its users as comparative advantages.

Lesson learnt? Reporters must gather a lot of relevant information before embarking on a journey to the field. All information gathered from officials on a beat must be verified so as not to turn publications into conveyor belts of bended statistics for institutional and personal preservation.

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