Should journalists sometimes step back from the keyboard to reflect on the impact of their stories on the hapless subjects of the stories? The main business of journalism is story telling while the main objective of media is business.
Journalism exists in service of society — make people happy, tell them stories of where things are, and what is going on around them. Media on the other hand needs to look at the balance sheet and know that the bills will be paid and a healthy balance will remain to line the pocket of the investors.
Yet the two operate as Siamese twins because one needs the other to survive. Media, certainly, can not survive without journalism.
Stories are invariably about people. Good stories hold the interest of the audience making the reader turn the page without wanting to put the paper down or turn off the screen. Subjects such as death, love, fear and tragedy among others, capture emotion almost instantly.
The challenge that journalism faces, however, is that it trades in stories of real people with flesh and blood flowing in their veins.
The story of murder has a victim and a family at the other end. Love gone sour is a compelling reading but with broken hearts before the last full stop. Because they are compelling at holding attention, they form the main stock that media trade in. How to make the stories more compelling is the business of media.
Over the last several days there has been no shortage of compelling stories drawing people to the media. One day it would be the case of a trade unionist being visited by the famed Cupid. The next it would be the suspicion of the custodian of wisdom found wanting. And the ink that wrote that story would be barely dry before the page turns and now is love gone sour complete with gruesome murder and where else but in a forest.
While at it, there still has been the story of our famed thieves and what better actor to play the lead role than a beauty with power!
Because journalism deals with real people, the subjects of the stories are not faceless actors but breathing flesh and blood with hopes and fears; real people who once the sun disappears in the horizon have to face the mirror and cry late into the night.
It is these people, the ones that cry late into the night, the ones who have to wake up in the morning to face the nightmare of pointed fingers, that journalism should think about to balance the story; not just the happy campers in the audience.
The pregnant woman whose body was found in the forest with many stab wounds is somebody’s mother, daughter or sister. They have people who genuinely care about them and they too cry late into the night once the lights have been turned off.
In the race to serve the interest of media journalism should and must care for these people – their emotions and the overall impact that the story has on them. It should never just be about the media and the bottom line.
That is why every journalist should be familiar with Articles 14 and 15 in the Media Act.
It has well been put that a story may be interesting to the public but that does not give it public interest. Public interest, according to the Act should “be legitimate and not merely prurient or morbid curiosity”.
— The writer is the Dean School of Communication, Daystar University