Dar es Salaam. Over the weekend, journalists, media critics and language experts pointed out common professional, ethical and linguistic mistakes that journalists and editors make routinely in their works, risking discrediting the industry and inviting authorities’ wrath.
They were speaking during an evening Twitter Space discussion on the State of Media in Tanzania organised by journalists Najjat Omar, Sammy Awami and Khalifa Said that focused on common mistakes journalists make in their works.
Speaking during the discussion, award-winning journalist and editor of Nipashe Salome Kitomari said that it is important that journalists and editors strive to reduce mistakes in their works, saying doing so helps them earn the trust of their audiences.
“We have to be the first editors of our works,” Kitomari, who is also the chairperson of MISA-TAN, a regional NGO that works on issues of press freedom and freedom of expression, said. “We should stop entertaining business as usual. It is important that we change.”
Kitomari considers the generation of poor content as the “biggest mistake” journalists and their editors make in Tanzania, saying that most content shared with the public tends to be “half-cooked,” risking to misinform their consumers.
“Most content generated is of poor quality,” said Ms Kitomari. “It is not a type of content that you think may help a reader understand the issue. They are soft content, I can say. We cannot go on like this.”
A number of reasons were given for this phenomenon. Jeff Msangi, a veteran journalist and editor of Bongo Celebrity, a news and entertainment website, thinks that the situation has something to do with the struggle of adapting to the ongoing technological change.
“We live in a fast-paced news environment and most journalists and editors have not been able to adapt to that reality,” Msangi said during the discussion. “As a result, you have a media outlet trying to keep up with that environment but end up publishing stories that add no value to readers.”
Emmanuel Makundi, a journalist and editor with the RFI Kiswahili, attributed this phenomenon to the journalists’ lack of broad knowledge of the issues that they try to cover.
He provided an example of coverage of the recent Kenyan election by Tanzanian media outlets that he says to a great extent was misleading because journalists did not know enough about the history of Kenya or they lifted materials from unofficial news sites.
“There is this behaviour of writing stories just for the sake of attracting visitors to your website, they call it click-baiting,” said Mr Makundi. “This is common in Tanzania right now. You find a journalist or editor has written a very ambitious headline only to find out that the story has got nothing to do about it.”
There was also an agreement among discussants that the use of language also by many journalists in Tanzania leaves a lot to be desired. Discussants pointed out a number of grammatical and pronunciation mistakes to both users of English and Kiswahili.
Maeda Tumain, who runs Jifunze Kiswahili, an online portal for those interested in learning the language, underscored the need for journalists to improve their language skills so that they can be able to communicate effectively.
Tumaini said that language is an important tool of communication and there should be no excuse for a journalist’s failure to master the language he or she uses in his or her editorial works.
“A news with any linguistic glitches loses its taste and sweetness,” Mr Tumaini noted. “Any serious person can be immediately put off when listening, watching or reading a news with linguistic mistakes in it whether grammatical or pronunciation.”
Tumaini also said that if a journalist is not well-equipped in the language he or she uses there is a great chance of misleading people through his or her reporting.
“This is a major problem in our country,” acknowledged Mr Tumaini. “And to a great extent, many of these mistakes are due to carelessness. Because the issue of mastering the language is personal. It is not the responsibility of the employer. If we spend some time learning, we can perfect our language skills.”