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Renowned athlete Mo Farah and editorial omission in Nation online

A sports story published in the Nation online, April 23, 2024, about former Olympic champion Mo Farah titled, “Mo Farah: Kenya made me who I am”, had a sensitive grammar error of omission, whose effect created a contradiction in the athlete’s story.

Journalist Victor Otieno stated that, Mo, who was in Kenya for three days as the global goodwill ambassador of the International Organisation for Migration, met President William Ruto at State House and paid tribute to Kenyan athletes for supporting his talent development as an immigrant, having welcomed him to hone his skills at Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet County.

However, an editorial paraphrasing error in the second paragraph contradicted Mo’s statement of gratitude within the first and third paragraphs, which consequently misrepresented facts from him.

First para: “Former Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah has said that he will forever remain indebted to Kenya for his decorated career in athletics.”

Second para: “The 41-year-old retired Somali-British distance runner said that, were it not for Kenyan athletes who encouraged him to come and train with them in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet, he would have made it in the sport.”

The omission of ‘not’ or ‘never’ in the last part of the paraphrase so as to read ‘…he would NOT have made it in the sport’ watered down Mo’s gratitude in the first and third paragraphs, as it appeared contradictory. 

Additionally, the missing ‘not’ leaves the reader with only the option of tracking through Mo’s thoughts, to understand what he intended to mean.

The third para complementing the thoughts in the first one read:“Kenya will always have a big place in my heart because, without the Kenyan athletes, who saw my talents and encouraged me to come to Kenya and train with them, and showed me what I was capable of, I would have never achieved what I have,” said the four-time Olympic gold medalist.”

For the first paragraph to be consistent with the second one, it should read: “The 41-year-old retired Somali-British distance runner said that, were it not for Kenyan athletes who encouraged him to come and train with then in Iten, Elgeyo-Marakwet, he would not have made it in the sport.”

The error would have been easily avoided by writing the same message in simple, clear sentences, and avoiding confusion usually associated with complex sentences.

For example, the same second para could have been written this way: “The 41-year-old retired Somali-British distance runner said that he made it because of Kenyan athletes, who encouraged him to come and train with then in Iten, Elgeyo Marakwet.”

The writer could have avoided the error and delivered the same message far more clearly, instead of tasking the reader who has to read through a long complex sentence.  

To a journalist, the rule of communicating is simply the uncomplicated one; to communicate with simple words and simple sentences after understanding what you want to tell. Organise your thoughts in a story-telling manner; don’t be complicated or you will lose your reader.

Then go through the story just in case of that glaring error which might undermine your effort to tell it as it is and tell it well. 

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