Coronavirus: Renaissance for journalism, exposes politicians

One of my favourite pastimes at work is seeing which news stories are being read in real time on our websites.

candour:Nqaba Matshazi

Let me just give you a snippet; on Monday morning, the most read story was about the nurses’ threat to strike, doctors soon issued their own statement and that story shot to the top.

By lunch, the most read story was about the tragic death of broadcaster, Zororo Makamba, who succumbed to the novel coronavirus.

Nine of the top 10 stories were all about the coronavirus, with the other being President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s “dark humour”, a story written last Saturday, but on Monday it was still stubbornly lingering among our top read stories.

For me, there are two important lessons from this, the first one being the value of real journalism in trying times and the other is about the quality of our politicians and the glaring lack of leadership at a very difficult time.

What is clear is that there is an appetite for real and verified news, as people want to know what is going on around them during the coronavirus pandemic.

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While there is no mitigation for “fake news” and clickbait journalism, legacy media, like NewsDay, will be the first to confirm that there is a sharp rise in readership, particularly on their websites, because people are desperate for real news.

This is some sort of renaissance for the media, which has taken a battering from the migration to digital, where advertising revenues are lower and unpredictable and where readers generally loath to pay for news.

For the media to take advantage of this surge in audience numbers, there is need for investment in quality journalism, particularly on health and climate change.

More often than not, these areas have the least number of reporters, who are parked in a corner somewhere and are only thought of once in a while when there is a crisis.

But quality health and climate change journalism can be the cornerstone of the media.

I know political journalism is popular and it drives the audience, but in a country like ours, where our leaders pay lip service to corruption, the political story is often ephemeral, while I believe health and climate change stories that are well researched have the ability to affect the audience the most and will linger in the mind longer.

Zimbabwean journalism has to learn that while it has taken a battering over the past few years, there is no substitute for news that informs the public and where the audience think they can derive value.

If there was ever a time to invest in journalism, it is now, rather than to wait for the next crisis, when newsrooms will again be stretched and unable to react in time and provide in-depth news and analysis.

The economy is tough and investing could be a nightmare, but if the media responds well, there are going to be massive dividends for both the audience and the publishers.

While “breaking news” give the media a feel good feeling, nothing beats writing well researched, factual and balanced stories.

There is no hurry to be first, if need be, triple check, verify and then verify again because there is nothing worse than breaking news only to find that you got some facts wrong.

I may be getting ahead of myself with the hope of a renaissance in the media, but I am certain that the audience will appreciate quality news and in the long run, they will be willing to pay for it, no matter the platform.

The second lesson I learnt from this exercise is that there is little faith in our politicians and their response to the coronavirus.

Instead of the audience being inquisitive on the new measures the President had put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus, they were more interested in his latest gaffe.

This is because Mnangagwa has made some of the crudest jokes in the past few weeks, while his interventions on the coronavirus have been indecisive and are not being followed through.

For example, last week Mnangagwa announced that gatherings of more than a 100 people were barred for the “next 60 days”, but the following day he addressed a rally that was reportedly attended by thousands.

At the rally, he then announced that his decree actually was starting two days later, but this was not what he communicated a day earlier.

This does not inspire confidence in the leadership, little wonder why many churches went about their business at the weekend as if everything was normal.

Then that very weekend, Mnangagwa went to Namibia for a gathering he could have skipped.

Namibia reported a coronavirus case before Zimbabwe, at least officially, so there was absolutely no need for Mnangagwa to go, at worst he could have sent an ambassador or, as in the case of South Africa, a minister.

But no, he took the opportunity to globetrot, never mind the risk.

To show the severity of the issue, Botswana acknowledged that there had been a lapse in judgment from their own President, who also travelled to Namibia, and their leader immediately went into self-quarantine.

Mnangagwa was, meanwhile, photographed by his aides sanitising his hands, which at this time was woefully inadequate in addressing the lapses of the last week and he like, his Botswana counterpart, could have gone into self-isolation, to show the gravity of the matter and to show how seriously the pandemic is being taken.

But we could be expecting too much.

Mthuli Ncube, the Finance minister, was pictured smiling from ear to ear visiting European countries, probably a propaganda moment to show that Zimbabwe was being accepted in the West.

But this was juvenile, to say the least, the epicentre of the pandemic is now Europe and Ncube was best advised not to go to that continent.

Now that he travelled, probably against all conventional wisdom, the logical thing was for him to self-isolate upon his return.

But no, he was pictured inspecting some site, with several officials in tow, either oblivious to the risk that he posed to them or maybe just flippant and not taking the coronavirus seriously.

Then there is Defence minister Oppah Muchinguri, who uttered the most puerile statement, claiming that the coronavirus was God’s punishment of the West for the sanctions they imposed on Zimbabwe.

It is tragic that Zimbabwe has such a politician in charge of a powerful ministry.

The subtle message she was telling her supporters is that they can go on with their lives without the fear of contracting the coronavirus because, unlike the West, they had done nothing to warrant God’s wrath.

Such pedestrian thinking from our politicians!

 Nqaba Matshazi is AMH’s head of digital. He writes in his personal capacity. Feedback: nmatshazi@alphamedia.co.zw. Twitter: @nqabamatshazi

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