From now on, this column will appear intermittently in this paper to professionally look at some issues relative to the journalism profession. Principally, it will mainly focus on headlines and the phraseology of news stories in both the print and electronic media that will really catch my ears and eyes. I will be forcing on headlines and the body of the news stories because it is from the headlines that people are attracted to obtain a copy of a newspaper and that it is from the headlines/main points that listeners are attracted to be glued to their radio to listen to news broadcasts.
Also, the phraseology or body of the story is important to be done properly to ensure that a particular story flows sequentially, regardless of the angle from which the reporter or editor decides to strike a particular news-making event. And so, these two are very important to the reading and listening public, therefore, it is imperative that such a column be dedicated to deal with some of those little things that may ethically and professionally be wrong. The issues of redundancies in stories and headlines and proper use of photographs would also form part of the column, and that it will focus on ethical or professional issues, without mentioning the name of the media institution that carried the story.
Moreover, it will also deal with issues relative to the functions of the media, such as public discussions on media-related matters, as some individuals in society do not even understand the role, workings and functions of the media and so sometimes unnecessarily and unknowingly indict the media. One of the unfortunate misconceptions some of them have about the media is the issue of “Checkbook Journalism.” For them, it means unethical and unprofessional reportage. No, this is not the meaning, but for now, I will leave it until someone ignorantly raises that for public debate and discourse, or is made against the media for certain kinds of stories.
I decided to embark on this journey to help upcoming journalists who may not have had the opportunity to getting the rudiments or fundamentals of the profession. Also, it may be helpful to some senior reporters or editors, who on a daily basis interact with these young reporters and who may not have gone through vigorous training and the experience some of us have had in the past 30 years or more, as a cub reporter, reporter, senior reporter, editor and now managing editor. As it is said, “experience is the best teacher,” and so we will avail ourselves in helping to help others gain from what we acquired over the past three decades.
Notwithstanding , let me emphasize here that this should in no way be seen as trying to project an image of perfection and infallibility. Mainly, it is intended to share experience and deal with media issues. I started this yesterday by dealing with the use of “finally” in headlines. In an article, entitled: THE USE OF THE WORD “FINALLY” IN HEADLINES, ” I said whenever, the word, ‘finally’ is used adverbially in a headline, as it relates to the subject matter, it must be done to show the vicissitudes associated with the events.
Appropriately, it is a word that should be used in headlines because the story being reported has been characterized by delays and uncertainty. This means that there have been hurdles or ups and downs, as well as postponement in carrying out that particular must. And so when the event takes place, it is appropriate to use ‘finally’ to show the level of delays, procrastination and postponement. The word was wrongly used recently regarding the story of the presentation of the international award to Finance Minister, Amara Konneh. One media reported that the minister has ‘finally’ received the award. I said the word was wrongly used because the ceremony was not characterized by delays, postponement and uncertainty.
Today, in the maiden edition of this column, I wish to look at another issue about the headline of a radio station morning broadcast yesterday. On the radio station yesterday, in one of its major headlines, it said a man has been “electrocuted to death.” The headline was based on a story about a man in New Kru Town, who, while attempting to engage in illegal connection or power theft was killed from electrical shock.
Indeed, the headline of this media institution was wrong. This is not based on the issue of journalistic ethics, but simple English, as it was wrong to use death as the object because whenever one is electrocuted, it means death, and so it is obvious that once electrocution is mentioned, it means death occurred, and to state death in such a sentence or phrase, is complete redundancy.
Rightly, the station should have said, a “man was electrocuted” and leave out the death. Such a headline can be likened to saying, “the dead body has died” or “man beheaded to death.” In short, once one is electrocuted, it means that such person is dead. If this proves to be the opposite, then it is unnatural reasons, any may likely create room for study on how someone who has been electrocuted is yet to die.
Similarly, still on the issue of death, sometimes it is said that the person died in a tragic motor accident. When the word tragic is used, it denotes death, therefore, there is no need to say death. It can be said that the “person was killed in a motor accident.” The adjective tragic can be removed, since it has already been said that the death was the result of a motor accident.
While serving as News Editor of the DAILY OBSERVER, 20 years ago, one of the stories from a young reporter that I still use in my communication classes relates to redundancy. The young reporter at the time wrote:”a female Korean woman…” The young reporter was told at the time that it was a redundancy because female and woman are the same and to use both in such manner was wrong. This later became a joke for that reporter and me.
Another incident that I know at the time one of our senior reporters, now head of IREX, Bill Burke, still remembers is a story about the kidney of a man. A reporter, very aggressive, someone who had “nose for news,” at the time wrote about a man’s kidney, and referred to it as ‘kidney beans’, thinking that human being’s kidney also has beans as the consumable and edible beans.
Sadly, these two reporters are dead, but these phrases and sentences continue to be used by me, as examples in many of my news writing and editing stories.
These are some of the things that editors face in editing the scripts of young people who enter the profession and may want to take colloquial for Standard English. As a young person, I did my own too, which I am not prepared to repeat today to avoid being laughed at by you (readers). But since my editor, Isaac Thompson corrected me and used the four-letter words on me; I never make such mistakes again.
All in all, this column is all intended to serve a classroom for upcoming reporters and editors. I hope it will also be useful for the reading and listening public to get to know some of the simple mistakes in writing, especially so as it relates to news writing and editing.
“From where I sit,” just to borrow from the late G. Henry Andrews,” I feel obliged to do this as a way to also contribute to professional journalism. Again, I am not claiming to a “know-all person,’ in the profession, but I am confident that there are lots I can share in this direction. I Rest My Case.