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HOPE Nyambe.

Journalism: Need to add depth to news content

I HAVE to state from the outset that the perils of being a journalist in Zambia are well documented.
There has been a systematic increase in violence and intimidation directed towards journalists.
In-house editorials have sometimes meant that journalist are not allowed to be creative or perform to their greatest abilities. General working conditions and remuneration is generally poor.
The culmination of all these ills can understandably result to sub-standard work.
I also have to state that as a media practitioner, it is not easy to be self-critical of ‘our’ own work as journalists. The chance for bias is high.
However, the problem I am highlighting in this article hinges mainly on the competency or qualification of journalists. Over the years, there has been growing sentiment over the quality of news content on all media platforms.
Consumers of news have mostly complained about the lack of depth in news content.
It has almost become a norm for journalists to report news without providing any background to the story or providing any analysis. With due respect and for lack of a better term, most reporting in some of these media houses is very shallow.
The cause of this hugely points to the qualification and competency of ‘journalists.’
The advances in digital technology and in particular social media have meant that people can easily publish information they deem interesting on many platforms. This kind of citizen journalism, to a great extent, has also given rise to fake news, as most of the information published not only lacks credibility but depth of content too.
The ability to write and publish a story, or having the oratory skills to sound good on radio, does not necessarily make one a journalist. Oftentimes, I have heard ‘journalists’ interviewing professionals on radio or television and you can literally tell that the person does not fully understand the subject matter.
In some cases, the interviewee actually comes with prepared questions that the interviewer literally reads out.
In a developing country like Zambia, information is key to both economic and political growth. The general citizenry need to make informed decisions on government policy and other information, and this can only be achieved when journalists are able to provide a critical analysis on any policy. The first step to achieving this requires that people in the journalism field have the right qualifications and competency for the job. Journalists need to further their education below the minimal qualifications required to practise. Apart from their journalism diploma or degree, a journalist can also major in other areas such as economics, politics and science. This therefore enables them to understand information and add context to it.
Secondly, journalists need to know who the end focus of any information is. It has become a norm for them to largely concentrate on the ‘news makers’ such as government officials or political opponents without focusing on the masses or people the information is intended for. It is the masses that bear the brunt of any government policy or public pronouncement, and it is therefore pertinent that they are the main focus of news. The masses should not just be seen and it is treated as mere inept beneficiaries of news.
Thirdly, there is need for them to be investigative. Currently, it is the norm for journalists to literally wait for something to happen, or receive press releases from public figures or companies, and merely channel these as news on various media. In a developing country like Zambia, journalists need to be at the fore of investigating any happenings that are affecting or will affect the lives of the general public. This information is not generally available from behind the desk. It requires that journalists actually go out in the field and do ground investigations; speaking to the masses, experts on the subject matter, policy makers, and presenting this information in an objective and critical manner.
The provision of in-depth news content can only be achieved when you have journalists that are both qualified and competent. Priority has to be on analysing and giving context to any news. Pronouncements, press releases, statistics or even neutral occurrences need interpretation by journalists, and in most cases specialised journalists.
The author is a corporate affairs specialist for Stimuli PR.