Media should give constructive journalism chance
The media the world over is facing difficult times in the wake of digital revolution. The Kenyan media is no exception.
But is it any surprise that our media is losing its audience? Sample this line-up of stories from a leading media house last Sunday. The lead story featured a soldier suspected to have murdered a woman and her two children then buried them secretly in a shallow grave.
That story was followed by another one – again murder but this time in Busia. The third story was still about murder, but in Nakuru. A woman had been murdered and her body dumped at the Menengai Crater.
The fourth story of the night was back to Busia and this time it was about the raping of three girls. Goons had broken into their home and violated the three girls they found in the house. The station was not done yet and the fifth story of the evening was a follow-up from the previous day about murder of six bouncers who had been hired and ferried to Busia to provide security at a funeral. Apparently, the villagers in Busia turned on the bouncers and killed them.
The sixth story was on the usual staple of Kenyan politics. Jubilee politicians were at it again arguing over the release of the Building Bridges Initiative report. It was the usual cacophony of the push and pull between the two rival factions.
To conclude this segment of the evening news, the station carried a report of a 17 per cent increase in road fatalities in the country. The sum of it was still loss of life.
After a break that lasted nearly five minutes, the anchor came back with the feature of the evening this time focusing on the tribulations of prostitutes in Mombasa. What an evening of news! Is it a surprise then that the public is getting disappointed with the media and voting with their remote control?
It is hard to believe that the series of murders was all that happened in Kenya that day. One of the functions of the media is to inform, but it is just as important what the information is about.
It cannot be that all the station found useful to inform Kenyans, nay, East Africans about—since the station broadcasts across the region—was simply murder.
If nothing else, there were church services that were conducted across the land on Sunday and in at least a few of them there must have been some uplifting messages that would have served the nation better.
The Kenyan journalist seems to be stuck in a past as far as the exploration of the quality of news is concerned. Long ago it was taught in the schools of journalism that news consisted of stories that were bizarre and bloody, the man-bite-dog type. One never misses these kinds of stories in the media.
What is missing, however, is a set of constructive reporting that goes beyond the surface to provide solutions to the viewers.
Part of the role of the media is to lift up the spirits of the citizens, to set agenda for the viewers, to entertain but increasingly scholars of journalism are raising the question whether journalism would not serve society better if it was constructive—seeking solutions to societal concerns as opposed to just reporting.
Recent scholarship in journalism suggests that the public is willing to pay more for news. However, media outlets must get right the kind of news the public is willing to pay for.
It is never good for business if a TV station only features stories that are depressing. The audience tends to associate the product that may be advertised with the content that just preceded it and their mood influences their reception of the commercial message.
With the current menu of news stories in the Kenyan media, it is difficult to see why anybody would be sitting back looking forward to the prime time news. Could it be that journalists are too settled on their routine and it does not matter what the public thinks?
—The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University