I am pleased to note once again in this column that some of the major careless errors in the Daily Trust titles are rapidly disappearing. But the editors should watch out because minor errors are creeping in. Here, then, are the goofs this time.
But first, let me commend the Daily Trust editors for their consistently impressive investigative reporting. Almost each week they go behind the news to provide us with an expose that I am sure, makes the government uncomfortable. For instance, the Daily Trust issue of September 18 reported on plans by the federal government to “embark on fresh multi-billion Naira repairs,” for which read, waste, on Warri, Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries that are virtually dead. (See my regular column).
The story is worth retelling. According to the newspaper, Warri has not refined petroleum products since 2016; Port Harcourt and Kaduna refineries have equally been out of service since 2017. The newspaper established the undeniable fact that from 2013-2015 and between 2015-2018, the government spent $396.33 million and N276.872 billion respectively on turn around maintenance of these decayed and decrepit industries. An investigative reporting such as this exposes the fraud and the corruption in our national system.
The full story was published on page 5 of the newspaper accompanied by a careless misuse of a photograph that has no relevance to the story. It was the photograph of patients waiting to be attended to by doctors at Kamuru village, Zangon-Kataf, Kaduna State. It is unpardonable.
Newspaper photographs serve useful purposes and must be relevant to the stories that they accompany as visual aids and to authenticate them. Two types of photographs are used in newspapers. They are news photographs and features photographs. News photographs accompany stories; features photographs stand alone to tell their own stories. It is professionally wrong to mix up the two.
There was a similar careless misuse of an irrelevant photograph on page 5 of the September 15 issue of the Daily Trust. The headline of the story was: “Nigeria on brink of collapse, Afenifere, Ohanaeze, northern elders, others insist.” The photograph that accompanied the story was the presentation of a framed photograph of Argungu (Fishing) Festival to President Buhari. In both instances, the photographs had no relevance to the stories. It should be easy to avoid this sort of professional carelessness. It is not a matter of any photographs would do; only relevant photographs would do.
As a rule, all photographs published in a newspaper must be identified by an appropriate caption. The photograph that accompanied Bala Muhammad’s column on the back page of the September 12 issue of the newspaper breached this basic rule. Captions are very important because without them, newspaper readers would be given unnecessary task of trying to make sense of them. That is why captions must be correct. Here is an instance of a caption not written in the Queen’s English: “Residents listen to Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State from the sight of a bridge washed by flood.” The governor addressed the people at the site of the bridge washed away by flood.
I have complained about the use of word allegedly in headlines a couple of times. But sub-editors would not let it go away. And so, on page 22 of the Daily Trust of September 22, we found this headline: “18-year-old allegedly drugs, rapes 15-year-old female friend in hotel.” The correct thing is that he was arrested for the offence. Whether it was alleged or proven should be in the body of the story. An editor cannot play too safe by dragging the word allegedly to his headline.
We cannot give inanimate objects attributes of animate objects without causing some laughter. Yet, we found this headline on the front page promo of the Daily Trust of September 20: “Police barracks reels in despair.” Policemen in the barracks can reel in despair but their barracks cannot reel in despair. Barracks can neither feel pains nor despair.
We found a similar attempt to make an inanimate object human on page 35 of the September 13 issue of the newspaper: “Bare floors, bats tell stories of Kano’s suffering schools.” Schools do not suffer but they suffer neglect. Correct: Bare floors, bats tell stories of neglected Kano schools. Let us be careful of fanciful headlines that make no sense.
By the way, would someone care to tell us why thunder appears to kill cows in parts of the West? On page 54 of its September 21 issue, the Daily Trust reported: “Thunder strikes in Ekiti, kills 15 cows.” I think this was the second time this happened. I would not suggest this has anything to do with African power but it is a mystery that while thunder does not kill cows elsewhere in the country, it kills them in the West.
Numbers are problems for the average Nigerian reporter. To avoid confusing readers, the rule of the thumb is that a reporter must refrain from trying to give information on numbers in an accident or incidents involving human lives or the destruction of public or private property on the basis of his estimates. He must get the estimated or actual figures from those competent to give them such as the police and the hospitals in the case of accidents. Whenever a reporter chooses not to bother him with this, he throws vague numbers at his readers. Consider this headline found on page 14 of Daily Trust of September 21: “Rainstorm renders thousands homeless in Ilorin.” What does the headline tell us? Can you picture thousands of people rendered homeless? Were the victims in their thousands or in their hundreds? I am sure the reporter could not answer those questions yet his story suggested it was authoritative.
We try not to load or overload headlines with information best read in the body of the story. Here is a typical new thing I found in some issues of the Daily Trust. “FG to review treasury forms, others.” We also learnt that the governor of Borno State, Professor Zulum, employed doctors, nurses, others. The word, others, was superfluous in these and other instances and must not be used in headlines.
I leave you this week with some creative and amusing headlines. On the front page of the issue of the newspaper of September 19, we found this headline: “How Minna fishmongers swim against the tide to brisk business.” They know that time and tide wait for no fishmonger. Smart people. And on page 10 of the September 10 issue, we found these two headlines: “Prices of foodstuff crash in Taraba rural markets.” But interestingly, “…prices stagger in Kano, Benue, Nasarawa and Katsina.” Staggering foodstuff prices are imitating men leaving bars and are worse for wear. I love the creative juxtaposition of crash and stagger.