Columnists Features

Sources should engage journalists in solving editorial problems

IT IS virtually impossible to imagine news without sources. The relationship between sources and journalists is analogous to that of a mobile phone and SIM card.
Any journalist worth their salt know the value of a large network of proper sources. That network is crucial because sources, as their name suggests, are givers of news.
Usually a journalist will come up with an idea, which will, in most cases, only translate into a real story with the help of a source or sources. For a story to make any sense in the world, it must be based on a good idea attached to credible sources. Otherwise, people will not buy it. Why must they when there are other essential goods and services chasing for their hard-earned cash?
News must make sense to sell. And that is the reason a reliable network of news contacts is a golden possession in the arsenal of an enterprising journalist anywhere in the world.
Journalists relate well with sources on the all. But there are moments when their relationship with that critical sort of stakeholders in their work becomes combustible, contemptuous to say the least.
By nature, journalists like those things that are hidden from the public eye. They savour to know, in the public interest, that which is more than meets the eye, within the legal framework of a given society.
That is their nature, and that causes them to be disliked, feared, resented and even insulted. In extreme cases they are even beaten up. Yes that is true.
One would be sure that all of the above have happened before in Zambia. However, my interest today is sources’ verbal abuse of journalists.
One day, while on duty at a named conference facility in Lusaka, I overheard a prominent source (at least as at five years ago) insult a journalist on phone. As a scribe under the pressure of supplying quality news for the development of our country, I was alive to my environment. My ears were on the ground, as they say. The only unfortunate thing was that they heard insults being showered on some journalist.
I did not know, and still do not know in detail what the poor journalist did to his source, but I could tell as I vividly remember that the source was fuming. He was furious with the fellow.
Seemingly impatient to have him say a thing, the source vehemently accused the journalist of having misquoted him and repeatedly (if my mind serves well) called him stupid.
Now, that was bad. I did not have to know the nitty gritty of their problem, but I could tell something was seriously amiss. The journalist’s ego was brutally bruised if he did not possess the tenacity of a cub reporter. If he were a cub reporter or once was, that would cushion the furious insults from the source.
Like the above unfortunate story, there are many instances when sources dress down journalists over what is published, may be even aired. I cannot speak authoritatively about the later, having spent most of my time as a journalist in the print media. But somehow, I feel journalists’ experience have no respect for their categorisation – broadcast or print – after all they are all the same.
Some sources feel they can buy a journalist. If that is possible, then it is sad. A journalist has a duty to be impartial. It is unfortunate when a journalist takes sides. That is not what the profession demands. The profession demands they should keep to their ethics and serve the public interest.
Some sources have at times, and unfortunately so, gone as far as following journalists to the newsrooms – should I say editorial offices – to disturb them.
There are sources who know how to employ diplomacy when dealing with journalistic entanglements. But that is not my focus for now. Mine is to discuss those who disparage journalists.
It is unfair for sources to insult journalists because they will need them. Most of the time, sources are made by the media – the same journalists, some of them insult when they become big.
Any journalist wants to deal with a source that respects them as a professional and who is able to deal with errors or misrepresentation in a mature manner. Of course, some journalists sometimes call for it by not engaging sources properly, but really there must exist mutual understanding between journalists and sources.
There is a procedure for communication of complaints about a journalist’s work. Sources simply have to follow this procedure, which entails seeing a journalist’s editor for resolution of complaints. Many times genuine media apologise whenever they publish wrong information as per standard practice.
If dealing with journalists is difficult, as it could be for some people, certain sources should engage a professional communicator to give them basic savoir faire about the way journalists operate.
Sources and journalists cannot avoid each other. Somewhere, somehow, along the continuum of development, they will meet. So they must ensure healthy professional relationships for the sake of Zambia’s socio-economic development.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail sub editor.

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