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Reporter, editor: Journalism’s cat and mouse?

I WOULDN’T describe the relationship between reporters and editors as rosy. At least not in the print media where I have spent half of my working life.
Theirs is a cat-and-mouse type of relationship. This minute they are best friends, the next they are sworn enemies. The reporters are the mice and the editors the cats.
When a reporter’s story has come out in the newspaper very well – catchy and clever headline, punchy intro and good gramma – they will grab the credit, all puffed up with self-importance.
The reporter will not mention, let alone think about the poor editor who selected and lined up their poorly written story and suffered to bring it to publishable standard.
But when the story does not come out the way they expected it to, or it does not come out at all, even Satan himself is shocked at the terrible things they say about the editor behind his or her back.
If you are or have been an editor in a newspaper then you must understand what I am ‘talking’ about here.
For the uninitiated reporters are the field workers in our world of work, who go out into the field to bring raw materials to be processed into news and feature articles for publication.
They cover scheduled and unscheduled assignments within and outside the country, interview sources or obtain press releases, and then write stories which they later submit to their editors.
Editors are the desk or section managers who receive the stories – news and feature articles – from the reporters and make the tentative decisions as to whether they are worth publishing or not.
In short it is the editors who ‘pass’ the reporters’ stories either individually or through an editorial meeting/conference.
With the help of chief reporters, the editors assign, guide and help reporters on how to approach complicated or difficult assignments and how to angle the stories from such assignments.
I have been privileged to work as a reporter, sub editor, senior sub editor, bureau chief [or chief of bureau], an assistant editor and editor in the 18 years I have been earning my family’s daily bread through journalism.
Therefore, I have a fair understanding of what goes on in the newsrooms and the kind of relationship that has existed between the reporter and the editor for ages.
As a reporter I said some of the most unflattering things about editors, and showered them with praises depending on the circumstances.
And as an editor I have closely observed the behaviour of the reporters under my supervision. My fellow editors will agree with me that despite the open friendship and respect these people show us they secretly hate us with a passion.
In the psyche of the average reporter the editor is always looking for an opportunity to mutilate their stories beyond recognition, or even ‘kill’ it.
The reporters regard the editor’s computer as a little mortuary or pathology lab where the latter enjoys cutting up and stitching up their hard-gotten stories.
They are always suspicious of us.
Of course, sometimes we are forced to mutilate stories from say 15 paragraphs to a mere brief of not more than three paras. But it is all part of editing.
My dear reporters, you don’t understand what kind of pain you subject us to sometimes because of the terrible manner in which you present your news or features.
Imagine rewriting almost every paragraph, including spellings of simple names of people and places?
I am sure you are aware that our job does not just end at sifting through your sackfuls of stories to select the best few while strict deadlines are nipping at our heels each minute of the working day.
We have to employ the usual determinants – timeliness, relevance, proximity, topicality, prominence, currency, freshness, novelty, flow and many more.
After selecting the stories the editor’s misery begins. There is editing to be done.
When you open the stories written by some of the reporters on your computer sometimes you don’t know whether to cry or laugh, sob or scream, be sad or happy.
You just have to bite your lower lip and keep cursing the lazy or under-skilled reporter until you ‘panel-beat’ the story into publishable shape.
Imagine sitting in front of the computer for hours rewriting almost every paragraph of a 400-word news story or 1,200- word feature article!
Besides the kindergarten level misspellings you have wrong usage of parts of speech, wrong tenses, wrong word forms, transposed words or clauses and clichés to contend with as you navigate your way through the thick forest of verbiage.
This disease is in every newspaper, big and small: tabloid, broadsheet and Berliner.
Please, dear reporters, show mercy to your overworked editors.
Go through your stories at least once or twice after finishing if it is a news story, and three or more times if you are submitting a feature article.
If you cultivate this habit you will be the darling of your editors.
But if you are the lazy type who thinks that there is nothing wrong with throwing dripping-raw, substandard stuff at your editor rest assured that few editors will say kind words about you in your absence.
That may retard your career progression, buddy, because editors like sharing information about individual reporters when they are on their own.
But there are also many good reporters out there who will labour over their stories and seek the guidance of their editors before they submit them.
Such conscientious reporters have a bright future.
If we – reporters and editors – all do our part to the best of our ability and knowledge then there will be no need for this cat-and-mouse relationship between us.
Ask some industry gurus such as good old Edem Djokotoe, Oliver Kanene, Franklin Tembo sr, Godfrey Malama, Evans Milimo, Isaac Chipampe, Amos Chanda, Philip Chirwa, Fackson Nkandu, Hicks Sikazwe, Emannuel Nyirenda and many others.
They will surely tell you the importance of self-editing and consultation in journalism.

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