Recently the media fraternity in Zimbabwe has come under a barrage of criticism, most of It, I believe, unfair.
Phrases like “journalism has gone to the dogs”, that it’s in a comma, etc have been bandied about to describe the state of journalism in Zimbabwe.
As a journalist myself, the first instinct is to defend the media, but no I doubt we need defending and I think the problem lies elsewhere; the audience we serve.
I know the first critique will be that I am blaming the victim for the tosh we churn out daily, but in my opinion in most cases the audiences we serve are not as sophisticated, as we might want them to be and we give them what they want.
Firstly the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ) carried out an “empirical” survey that said the Sunday Mail is the least credible newspaper in Zimbabwe. Shortly afterwards, the paper’s editor, Brezhnev Malaba, dismissed the survey, saying his paper sells 100 000 copies weekly, easily the highest in the country, he claimed.
For a second let’s ignore everything else, and if the MMPZ and Malaba are to be believed, then its patently clear for all to see, Zimbabweans don’t give a hoot about credibility, they just want to read something, anything.
An excuse often proffered is that people buy Sunday Mail for the adverts, more tosh, advertisers advertise because the paper has readers, not the other way round.
I think the worst thing to happen to Zimbabwe journalism, is Bulawayo24.com, they have no sense of news whatsoever. Everything on the site is wrong, grammar, syntax, spelling, absolutely everything is wrong.
They can’t even cast a headline without making an error, and they have redefined the art of plagiarism; taking stories from other news organisations and passing them off as their own, and doing a bad job while at it, too.
But guess what, Bulawayo24 is one of the most popular Zimbabwean news sites and they have a high Google page ranking too.
No matter how bad it is, the website is giving the audience what they want and they are lapping it up big time, while older and better websites suffer to make an impression.
While in South Africa the most popular websites are TimesLive, M&G and City Press and in Kenya the Nation Media group rules the roost, in Zimbabwe Bulawayo24 is one of the top sites. Now if you catch my drift, you see the type of audience we serve.
As a newspaper, you try to sell as many copies as you can, reach a wider audience, and you should do this by being factual, credible and objective.
Try telling that to H-Metro, one of the best-selling tabloids on the market. They have no idea what media ethics are, their stories are badly written, but the public loves the paper and they are guaranteed of sales.
And who remembers Baba Jukwa, a phantom character who claimed to reveal President Robert Mugabe’s party’s secrets. He was the toast of the town, a celebrity of sorts, with newspapers splashing stories about him.
And the readers loved newspapers that reminded us how many followers he had on Facebook and what “secrets” he had revealed.
Never mind that he hardly gave us anything new that was not in the rumour circles already, but Zimbabweans loved the guy.
Any editor worth his salt, whether s/he agreed or not, had to choose between sales and “credibility” and in such cases the bottom line always prevails.
Someone once quipped that Zimbabweans love gossip and in this case I am inclined to believe.
Another headline that made any self-respecting journalist cringe was “Mujuru ally daughter dies in horror crash”. This story was the lead story in NewsDay and was published more than two years ago, but I remember it vividly.
The editor was vilified and ridiculed, but in his defence, the paper sold out and the publishers smiled all the way to the bank.
So while we point our fingers at journalists and accuse them of all sorts, the truth is the audience might not be as sophisticated as we may want them to be.
While some things journalists do are inexcusable, the audience’s expectations are not too high and we might just be giving them what they want.