I am pleased to see that some of the avoidable reportorial and headline errors in the Trust titles are rapidly disappearing.
That is the good news. The bad news, of course, is that being all too human, some errors still manage to breach the ramparts erected by reporters and editors.
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Do not think the days of the ombudsman and goofs are over. We are still going to be around needling you and drawing your attention from the narrow path to the straight path of reporting and headline casting.
Still, the fewer errors we detect in the publications, the higher the newspapers ride in the estimation of their readers.
In this column, I am dealing with some errors that are not entirely the fault of reporters and their editors. They are errors of syntax mixed with colloquialism that have managed to become a force of habit in the public. Reporters often get them from their sources of news.
The Daily Trust of July 17 promoted an important story on its front page with this headline: “Buhari: Nigeria loses $3 billion to illegal smuggling of gold.”
Was that a presidential goof?
There is no such thing as legal smuggling. Smuggling by definition is illegal. A goof repeated is a goof that embarrasses. The headline should have been: “Buhari: Nigeria loses $3 billion to gold smugglers.”
The sub-editor is the last gate keeper on the newspaper.
He cannot shirk his professional duty to detect and remove errors that passed through reporters and editors without embarrassing his newspaper.
I have made that pointed repeatedly in this column. If a news source makes an obvious error, the gate keeper gains nothing from permitting it in his newspaper.
Presidents are, in case you forget, are human too. Correcting their errors of facts and syntax is no disrespect to them.
The covid-19 pandemic is a global problem in all areas of human endeavour. I can that it turns some of our familiar words upside down, giving them new meanings and, I am afraid, causing confusion.
We cannot be too careful. Here is an example of a word being denied its ordinary meaning in the covid-19 pandemic era. On page 6 of the same issue of the newspaper, we find this headline: “Covid-19: I am negative, says Obi of Onitsha.”
Was this a royal goof? Being negative is not the same as the traditional ruler testing negative to the virus. I am sure the Obi would be averse to promoting himself as a negative man. He should have said, “Covid-19: I tested negative.”
The courts have been forced by the pandemic to conduct their cases via the internet for the safety of judges and litigants. The technical term for it is the virtual media. Is there a problem with that? Well, an old adverb has come into play as a new adverb.
A good example is found on page 26 of the Daily Trust of July 21 with this headline: “Covid-19: “Regional courts deliver judgements virtually.”
If they hear their cases virtually it should follow as the night the day that they can only deliver their judgements virtually. It gives me some goose pimples.
I am sure you must have heard of the word tautogy. It simply means saying the same thing twice in the same sentence in two different ways. Or, to make it clearer from The Shorter Oxford Dictionary, it means “a statement in which you say the same thing twice in different words when this is unnecessary.”
It has not been easy to uproot such tautologies from the written or the spoken word. They even seem to have been admitted into polite companies where the Queen’s English rather than the Warri English is the norm.
In a story on page 37 of the same issue of the newspaper, a headline tells us: “Flood destroys houses in Gombe.” The intro to the story reads: “Flood resulting from heavy downpour….” Downpour means heavy rainfall.
Heavy rain and downpour ought not to be found in the same sentence. All that the reporter needed to do was to choose one of the two words and save the tautology for another day.
Reporters quite often try too hard to display their erudition in their stories because they tend to believe that simple and familiar words and expressions are reserved for those who are not as educated as they are.
I always frown at this. Reportage is all about good and effective communication.
The reporter who uses simple and familiar words and expressions does a better job of communication than the one given to bombast and obscurantism.
When a reporter feels pushed to being clever, the result is something like this intro found on page 30 of the July 22 issue of the Daily Trust: “Two leading parties in nation’s political landscape…”
Tell me what you think of this very pretentious piece of garbage. I did not know that our political parties, both the leading and the led, exist in the nation’s political landscape.
Quite often when a reporter writes a story of a tragedy such as an accident, he tries to single out some people among the dead either because of their positions in society or because they are young people.
We find a good example of this on page 10 of the July 21 issue of the Daily Trust in which the paper reported an attack on communities by gunmen in Kaduna in which 17 people were killed. The intro reads: “At least 17 people, including a police officer….”
The police officer was a person. To separate him that way is to suggest that he was not a person. It is a common error among reporters to make women and children as well as important people non-persons.
To recognise the police officer as a person among the dead people, the correct intro should be: “At least 17 people, one of whom was a police officer….”
Sometimes, a reporter abandons a story and opts for its interpretation or its possible end result. And we have a problem. The reporters’ duty is to report a story and let his readers do the interpretation.
The Daily Trust in its issue of July 16, promoted this story on the front page: “Kano lawmakers’ move to castrate rapists thrills women lawyers.”
I do not think that the honourable lawmakers would be willing to add to their heavy duty as lawmakers the rather messy job of castrating rapists in the state.
At the time, they were considering a bill that provides castration as the appropriate punishment for convicted rapists. They have since passed the bill into law.
Photographs are important to newspapers. They may stand alone or accompany stories to further authenticate them. If they accompany stories, they must be seen to be relevant. If they stand alone, they must be seen to tell a full story on their own.
The photograph spread across three columns on page 37 of the July 15 issue of the Daily Trust is a stand-alone photograph that fell short of telling the story.
Here is the caption to the photograph: “Sri Lankan national arrested by officers of the Nigerian Navy attached to BEECROFT for dealing in stolen crude.”
There are seven men, all of them with the perfect picture of people in trouble, in the photograph. All of them look like Sri Lankans to me.
Are we talking of one or of five Sri Lankans here? If one, he should have been identified; if all of them, each of them should have been identified.
Covid-19 is an economic leveller but it also offers people opportunities for a creative use of their time to survive the rough times. I doff my cap to Sokoto teachers who have taken to farming.
The Daily Trust of July 15, page 26 tells us that “Sokoto teachers turn to farm to survive covid-19.” What they did was to “turn to farming.”
I end this column with what I consider the most illiterate reportage found on page 22 of the Daily Trust issue of July 22. The headline is: “Nasarawa community where vigilantes reign supreme.”
The second paragraph reads: “The community which is predominantly occupied by native Gbagyi people has others from different cultural backgrounds from all over Nigeria.”