Journalism without conscience: A call for action
I MISS the newsroom. Its organised madness; its unconventional setup. First, the newsroom of the analogue era: the clanging and clattering of the typewriters. In the morning and midday, the newsroom is serene and sane, too sedate for a restless soul. But as the mid-day gives way to afternoon, the newsroom starts coming alive.
The foot soldiers in the endless war of gathering materials and writing history in a hurry for posterity start finding their ways into the newsroom, armed with the day’s materials meant for tomorrow’s headlines. By now the commanders – the line editors and other top editorial chiefs have taken or are taking their seats in readiness for the day’s production battle. Yes, it is a battle, one that must be won. For the paper must be produced and must be taken to bed and must be on the newsstands by tomorrow morning.
Inside a fairly large cubicle, one of the two or three doting the vast hall, that is the newsroom, some senior editorial members, call them the eggheads, are putting their heads together – these Generals are brainstorming over the events of the day to determine the stories that will make the front page and the pictures that will be most striking.
At another cubicle could be found the hatchet men called the Sub-editors. A Sub-editor is in his own world. He is the one who can put a knife (read pen) through a 400-word story written by the reporter and trim it to less than 250 words and still retains the essence, the beauty, the message and all the 5ws and H in the story. Sub- Editors are the silent and the unsung heroes of the newsroom. A newspaper that is blessed with good subeditors is the one that is blessed with great newspaper with elegant language; it is the newspaper in which errors are at the barest minimum.
In another cubicle is the production team. These guys conceive, plan and produce the newspaper, they plan the pages – in the analogue age, it was cut and paste, before producing the films that will now be taken to the press for printing. In a daily newspaper, that was done all night and by morning the paper is ready, hot fresh and ready for the newsstands.
In the digital age, what has changed are the technology and the tools of production and facilities for communication. The organised chaos of the newsroom is still there but technology has made the production process a lot easier. And much less laborious.
For the print media, technology may have changed the phases and face of production, but it has not in any disturbing way, inflicted negative impact on content in the context of compliance with journalism ethics. For the print media, credibility remains the watchword, even in the face of stiff competition and shrinking market.
But for New Journalism, defined by online publications and what has come to be known as the social media, it is another kettle of fish. This is not a general thumbs down for this latest genre of the profession. It came with a lot of advantages, one of them being its instantaneous nature –you are reading, viewing or hearing as events are unfolding.
This is also not a blanket condemnation of practitioners of the new journalism. Many online publications and bloggers have demonstrated professionalism and commendable conduct beyond what may be ascribed to professionals working on a platform that enable you to have the news on the go.
But this cannot be said of a whole lot of online publications, blogs and other social media users who have turned their platforms to a veritable avenue of blackmail, a tool of extortion and medium of getting even with enemies, real or perceived.
Journalism as a profession is at a critical juncture. Practitioners and other stakeholders must come together to chart the way forward and draw up a new Code of Conduct that will accommodate the peculiarities of new journalism. I am an apostle of press freedom and anything that will tamper with that freedom must be resisted.
But then the freedom to tell the news ends where other citizens’ rights start. As practitioners, we owe it a duty to the society that the innocent are not injured in the course of our trade.
The easy entry and easy exit nature of online publications makes the challenge a herculean one. Now, professional blackmailers, cub reporters who did not earn their first promotion in a reputable media setting, and, in fact, people without journalism or communication training at all have taken over this platform parading themselves as publishers and wreaking psychological havoc on individuals and ruining reputations that take decades to build. In the final analysis, they are ruining the integrity of citizens whose activities are capable of deepening the economy, boost employment and promote Nigeria to a higher level in the comity of nations. Many of these so-called publishers perpetrate this crime with so much impunity assured that everything in our system is configured to make them get away without even a slap on the wrist.
Nigerians deserve to be protected from the onslaught of these morally challenged persons inflicting harm on fellow citizens in the name of journalism.
A fundamental way out of this ignominious and criminal conduct, I guess is to tighten the legal noose around illegal acts. Libel is a crime in our statute book, yes. But people get away with it because they know that in our judicial system, justice is often delayed and thereby denied. The judicial system should be reworked and made to deliver justice promptly and without delay. Also the Nigerian Press Council (NPO), the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), will need to look at how they can quickly rescue this lofty profession from the hands of quacks, blackmailers and marauders before they drive us into collective infamy. New code of conduct to accommodate the peculiar modus operandi of the online publications may be desirable now.
Moral persuasion through seminars, workshops and conferences could also help in the campaign to bring sanity back to the profession.
Indeed the task of rescuing this noble profession from the clutches of the practitioners of journalism sans conscience; from blackmailers and gangsters parading themselves as professionals is one for all men of conscience, in and out of the media industry. It is what we owe this worthy profession.
• Adedoyin, journalist, writer and corporate communications practitioner, wrote in from Lagos.