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Posted: Monday 29 May, 2023 at 7:30 AM

Press Releases and Journalism Dogmas

By: Stanford Conway,

    BASSETERRE, St. Kitts - FOR quite some time I have been observing the contents of some press releases, especially those from the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force (RSCNPF), and the reportage of journalists in the Federation.


    Based on the above, the intent of this article is not to berate some practitioners of this noble profession called Journalism, but to advise them on its tenets.


    The media industry spans many disciplines, such as Journalism, Entertainment, Communications, and Advertisement, all of which involve creating and sharing content with the public.


    Professional practitioners of this profession, especially Public Relations Officers, typically produce content that media houses and/or business establishments share in print, online, on television, or on radio, as well as on social media platforms.


    Someone once said that each job requires unique skills, but practitioners with strong writing capabilities, interpersonal skills, technical expertise, and creative ideas might excel in this industry.


    On a number of occasions, I observed, to my chagrin, misleading headlines in press releases coming out of the RSCNPF.


    One such headline, dated April 14, 2023, read: “NARCOTICS RECOVERED AT SOUTHEAST PENINSULA”, which begs the following questions:


    1.When did the RSCNPF discover the loss of its narcotics?
    2. From whence was it stolen?
    3. Who was responsible for its loss? and
    4. Was it stored in the property room?


    Additionally, in a press release dated May 15, 2023, headlined “AKEEM SAGE ARRESTED & CHARGED FOR ROBBERY”, police said: “The search on his home resulted in the discovery of one (1) Smith&Wesson revolver handgun whose barrel contained five (5) .32 calibre rounds of live ammunition.”


    That statement was misleading, as a cylinder, also known as ‘the wheel’, is where one puts the ammunition, and each round has its own chamber, which is vastly different from a barrel.


    A barrel is a straight-shooting tube of a firearm, usually made of rigid high-strength metal, through which a contained rapid explosion of high-pressure gases is formed to propel a projectile out of the muzzle at a high velocity.


    It is a known fact that before completion of their Recruit Course, members of the RSCNPF were trained in Skill-At-Arms, and some of them had also successfully completed the Skill-At-Arms Instructor’s Course. 


    It, therefore, boggles the mind to know that a statement of such nature was disseminated for public consumption.


    In the not-too-distant past, I was told that there was a policy governing press releases, in that, they had to be seen, proofread, and confirmed by the Commissioner of Police or another member of the High Command before being disseminated to media houses.


    But does that policy still exist?


    The press release also stated that “the crime in focus was committed on April 29th, 2023”, but no information was provided on who Sage robbed and where the robbery took place.


    However, kudos must be given to the Police Force for providing mug shots of those who commit crimes; something that the law enforcement institution has recently resuscitated.


    With press releases coming out of the Police Force on criminal matters under investigation, journalists need answers to the following questions:


    1. What happened?
    2. Who it happened to?
    3. Where it happened? and
    4. When did it happen?


    There is no need for the Force to provide journalists with answers to why and how it happened. Such information can be provided on completion of the investigation, or more likely when the matter has reached the court.


    Like everyone else, journalists are susceptible to mistakes. In our writings, we sometimes have typos, lack of subject and verb agreement, and even misspelled words.


    Oftentimes media outlets would receive press releases with such mistakes and, in rewriting same with additional information, some journalists would not correct them but insert the word “sic” to indicate that the word or phrase was quoted verbatim.


    That has resulted in some readers chastising journalists, claiming they cannot spell.


    But the fact is that many readers do not comprehend what “sic” signifies.


    Then there are journalists who would correct the errors. But that could have serious consequences, especially if the press release contains information that borders on libel and the matter ends up in court, where the originator claims that he, she, or the 
    organisation/institution was misquoted.


    It is therefore recommended that on receipt of press releases with such errors/mistakes, journalists should first contact the originator who would make the corrections.


    In my observation, on many occasions, I had seen police press releases that read: “He was shot multiple times to the body.” 


    It would be definitive to say: “He was shot in the head.” Or: “He was shot multiple times - once to the head, twice to the chest, and once to the lower back.” 


    If, for some reason, it were not known to which part of the body the bullet struck, then it should be simply written that “he was shot”.


    I have also observed that many journalists use contractions in their writings. Contractions are unique types of words that combine two or more other words in a shortened form, usually with an apostrophe.


    In formal writing, contracted words are considered inappropriate and journalists should strive to avoid some of them, such as there’s, that’s, can’t, I’ve, we’ve, shouldn’t, didn’t, isn’t, couldn’t, among others.


    However, when publishing what someone might have said and contracted words are used, they must be quoted.


    Another observation is the way in which some journalists deal with Direct and Reported Speech in their reportage.


    Direct Speech is a representation of the actual words someone said and it usually has a reporting verb in the past simple. 


    The most common reporting verb is “said”, and the reporting clause may come first or second, or sometimes in the middle.


    Examples of Direct Speech:
    1. The Prime Minister said, “During my tenure in office, I intend to serve all the people and not only those in my constituency.”
    2. “Our party will be successful in the next General Elections,” said the Leader of the Opposition.


    The reporting clause may sometimes come in the middle of the reported clause, especially in literary styles.


    For example: “Definitely not,” the Prime Minister exclaimed, “the Opposition will never return to office!”


    Adverbs can also be used with the reporting verb to describe the way someone said something. This is more common when the reporting clause comes second.


    1. “I will not condone such behaviour!” the teacher said angrily.
    2. “Can I speak to the principal?” the student asked rather nervously.


    Reported or Indirect Speech is a report on what someone said or wrote without using that person’s exact words.


    1. The Prime Minister said that during his tenure in office, he intends to serve all the people and not only those in his constituency.
    2. The Leader of the Opposition said his party would be successful in the next General Elections.


    It is therefore necessary to have amendments when one needs to make changes from Direct to Indirect Speech. 


    Among those auxiliary verbs to be changed are: would instead of will; should instead of shall; could instead of can; might instead of may; and had to instead of must.


    There are also a few pronouns that have to be amended. Among them are: he/she instead of I; and they instead of we.


    Communication is the act or process of communicating. As journalists, we do so primarily to keep readers, listeners and viewers informed on various topics, issues, and events of public interest.


    This must be done in a manner whereby no one should have to second guess what the presenter means or intends to say. In other words, simplicity is the key! Therefore, it is advisable that we acknowledge the KISS Principle of Journalism - Keep It Simple, Stupid!


    And last but not least, I would like to recommend that St. Kitts and Nevis Media Association organise workshops on a regular basis with the aim of enhancing the writing skills of not only the ‘Johnny-come-lately’ journalists but also those who have been in this profession for eons.


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