Fancy starting your year by getting suspended by your boss! That’s what happened to Dennis Galava, the Managing Editor for special projects at the Daily Nation. The reason: an editorial published in the Saturday Nation on 2 January 2016: See it here (believe me it’s worth the read).
This was one of the articles that caught my attention and raised the rate of my heartbeat. The lead piqued my curiosity and I read on.
“Your Excellency, 2015 was a bad year for Kenya. All the pillars of our nationhood were tested and most were found wanting.”
The article went ahead to outline all the ways in which the “First Citizen of Kenya” was hurting us. PS: I don’t get that expression, just the way I don’t get the phrase “common mwananchi.”
I was thrilled and a little shocked. I had a vision of the author handing over an envelope to the president, who opens it, reads the letter with absolutely no expression on his face, and then raises his eyebrows and hands it to someone standing on his left, then he says “so, where were we?”… the author still stands there waiting to be dismissed.
I thought to myself, “whoa, if this is how we’re starting the year, I’ll buy the paper more often.” It’s like the author had picked all the bits and pieces I hear spoken by so many people and laid it out for me in a concise summary.
So what was wrong with the article?
So why was he suspended, I wondered. I saw the memo circulated via social media, in which Editorial Director Tom Mshindi explains the reason for his suspension, and decided to inform myself further before I joined the outraged discussions online. Here is what I found out.
This was an editorial, not an opinion piece. I wanted to know exactly what an editorial is:
“An editorial is an article that presents the newspaper’s opinion on an issue. It reflects the majority vote of the editorial board, the governing body of the newspaper made up of editors and business managers. It is usually unsigned. Much in the same manner of a lawyer, editorial writers build on an argument and try to persuade readers to think the same way they do. Editorials are meant to influence public opinion, promote critical thinking, and sometimes cause people to take action on an issue. In essence, an editorial is an opinionated news story.”
So, we are supposed to perceive what Dennis wrote, not as his opinion, but that of the Daily Nation newspaper. The Guardian makes this very clear by the way their editorials are titled e.g. The Guardian view on North Korea: a puzzle for China.
I also found a nicely written article that explains some attributes of a good editorial. It sums up thus:
“A good editorial should express an opinion without being opinionated. It should teach without being pedagogic. It should transform without being evangelical. It should engulf without drowning. It should motivate to action without making you dictatorial. It should enlighten without getting you dogmatic, prejudiced and egotistical.”
An editorial is not an op-ed
Whereas the editorial represents the newspaper’s opinion on an issue, an op-ed, or opinion editorial, is an essay that represent’s an individual writer’s opinion or thoughts on an issue, many of them are written either by newspaper staff or syndicated writers who tend to be experts in a certain field. There are also Letters to the Editor, which are opinion pieces that are submitted by the newspaper’s readers.
Now that I know the difference, I’m thinking, what Dennis wrote was an op-ed, and not an editorial, and publishing it as the opinion of the Daily Nation probably DID violate some rules ad Mshindi has said.
But I still can’t help but wonder how it got out. If the editorial is the most important part of that newspaper, why did no one pay sufficient attention to what got out? If indeed there is a procedure to discuss and approve editorials and editorial cartoons, and there’s a process for review and approval, how come that article got through?
On that note, let me wish journalists in Kenya a good year and end by saying that I really liked this line:
“Your Excellency, three years is a long time to live on hope.”