Three students from the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications recently graduated with Master of Arts degrees in Digital Journalism. Their theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape. Rebecca Mutiso looked at the place of solutions journalism in covering a crisis. At the same time, Crystal Onkeo delved into content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 in the first seven days in Kenya. Last but not least, Anita Chepkoech looked at how media should deal with data smog.
EAST Site’s writer Isaac Swila spoke with them and now unpacks their findings.
Anita Chepkoech: ‘Journalists face mental problems due to data smog’
According to Anita, a print journalist with the Nation Media Group, media houses don’t take data smog – a euphemism that compares big data’s ability to overwhelm individuals and systems with the smoke and fog that pollutes the air in major cities – as a big thing.
“Media houses don’t take data smog as a big thing, and little has been done to mitigate the effects of data smog amongst journalists,” says Ms Chepokech, noting that this trend is not just limited to Kenya but at the international level too.
“In print media, the journalist tells the story, they go through volumes of data to discern what to feed the readers with, at the end of the day they go through a lot, and sadly, nothing is ever done,” Anita lamented.
“For them, they have to consume print media while the rest (broadcast journalists) can get away with allowing sources to explain phenomena. So, naturally, the victims are print journalists. Therefore, they endure a lot.”
To mitigate this, Anita challenges newsrooms to effectively manage data smog and ensure good quality stories are churned, more so in the digital age.
“Journalists are facing mental problems because of what they consume. They are zombies in a way, and there is a need to look at what an individual journalist can do. There is also a need for an understanding, not sacking. Newsrooms are now left with thinner staff to do lots of donkey work. So basically, there is a need to look at the mental capacity and what it takes.”
Anita also advocates using technology to help break down information and synthesise it for journalists if they are ‘to remain sane.’
“There’s also need to invest in re-training of journalists to use data management and visualisation tools like a spreadsheet to break down big data into concise and understandable stories,” she explained.
Rebecca Mutiso: ‘Solutions journalism is more than merely reporting a phenomenon’
Rebecca Mutiso is a veteran media practitioner who now works with the Media Council of Kenya as a manager in charge of accreditation and compliance. Her study discovered that only 15 percent of newspapers she studied had ‘a solutions perspective’ to the pandemic.
She blames this on low awareness of solutions journalism among Kenya’s journalists. “Solutions journalism is more than mere reporting of a phenomenon. It’s about identifying the solution and how it is replicated.”
Her study found that only 16 percent of journalists applied problem-solving in their articles, while 15 percent offered teachable lessons. A similar percentage of journalists provided content on gaps and limits.
Her study focused on the first two months from March 14, when the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Kenya.
Rebecca says that the way forward is to offer training and capacity building for journalists to report on solution journalism. But, at the same time, media houses need to go out there and find partners to help them attain this goal.
“There needs to be deliberate approach from media houses to embrace problem-solving approach rather than focusing on negatives. As much as it is our duty to point out the negatives, we also have a duty to point out the positives and offer solutions,” she argues, adding that there is a need for the media in Kenya to reconsider what is essential journalism and whether it’s enough to offer information by focusing on the crisis. “Journalists can do this is by infusing a solutions approach in their reportage, as in Kenya, there is low application of solutions journalism because journalists lack the necessary skills to practice it.”
Chrystal Onkeo: ‘The media put a concerted effort to spread the message on the risk of contagion’
Chrystal Onkeo researched on the framing of Covid-19 pandemic in the local newspapers. “This (Covid) was something new and would have brought a crisis if proper mechanism was not put in place,” Chrystal says. “Community spread was going to happen, the masses rely on media to understand the phenomenon, and communication became key,” this explains why it informed my study, she explains. “The media put a concerted effort to spread the message on the risk of contagion.”
According to her findings, newspapers generally focused on both in-depth coverage and analysis and a focus on hard news stories.
She, however, observes that there was minimal or lack of expert content. “Media actually focused on action, solutions, strategies, we saw lockdowns for instance, by the government, as measures to curb the contagion, whose consequences were quarantine.”
Chrystal believes that Kenyan media took their corporate social responsibility seriously in the face of heightened risks. She recommends that journalists should specialise in beats rather than being general reporters. This approach, she argues, is also beneficial to the media houses.
“Overall, the agenda was set (by the media), good framing, and the media did a good job,” she says. As a result, people were able to take the appropriate measures in the first seven days to protect themselves from infection and community spread, thus averting a health crisis.
However, the study established that while the print media succeeded in communicating the risk of contagion, the message was not the most prominent. This appears to align with the dialectics inherent in communicating risks and causing panic among the public.
Chrystal also recommends that the media have a strategy in their coverage to have in-depth articles as hard news stories. Media houses can achieve this by having a more deliberate process that involves specialised beat writers. Such a strategy, she notes, would enable the media to take on the role of educating the public with better analytical articles.
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