Rethinking Malawi’s journalism

Journalism is arguably one of the indispensable professions in the present information-driven world. Just like a midwife is, to a considerable extent, responsible for the fate of a foetus during birth, a journalist determines the fate of information before it enters the public domain. More importantly, the actual quality of the impact of journalism on information that eventually enters the public domain is heavily determined by how journalists and the society they seek to serve conceptualise the profession and its activities.

Malawi journos

Malawi journos

One way of understanding how journalism is perceived in a society is by analysing concepts used by the society to describe the profession and its actors. This is the case because language is predominantly a value-laden mental activity. As a type of symbolic representation, language basically serves the purpose of naming mental concepts and describing the value society attaches to them.

A handy example is the Chichewa translation of the concept, journalism, utolankhani, from which the term, mtolankhani (journalist) is derived. As a concept, utolankhani is a combination of two basic words, tola and nkhani.  Literally, tola means pick up something, like one does a fruit from a basket while nkhani means story.  Significantly, this word combination connotes a casual approach to journalism that wrongly portrays it as a profession that simply concerns itself with collecting readily available stories and transmitting them for public consumption without doing anything to them.

The seriousness of the conceptual weakness of the Chichewa translation of journalism may be appreciated by considering how journalism is perceived elsewhere. The American Press Institute, for example, believes that the value of journalism “flows from its purpose, to provide people with verified information they can use to make better decisions, and its practices, the most important of which is a systematic process—a discipline of verification—that journalists use to find not just the facts, but also the truth about the facts”.

The concerns of journalism identified in this description of journalism are strikingly absent in the translation, mtolankhani and this should be a cause of concern to those who care about the advancement of journalism in Malawi.

This is not to insinuate that Malawi is a hallmark of substandard journalism. Such would be a hasty conclusion undermining the well-known fact that, historically, the country’s media industry has been anchored by committed quality-conscious journalists. As a matter of fact, the country is home to some of the finest journalists that the world can ever have. A good number of Malawian journalists have distinguished themselves locally and internationally.

Nevertheless, from a cultural perspective, there is need to underscore that Malawi’s linguistic conceptualisation of journalism and its activities has great potential to misguide journalists and Malawians in general about what journalism really exists for in an information-driven society, hence the present essay.

Malawi’s vernacular misrepresentation of journalism may be addressed by improvising vernacular concepts that represent the concerns of journalism correctly. For argument’s sake, for example, the Chichewa improvisation, ulondolozankhani, may offer a more accurate translation of the concept, journalism, on two counts.

Firstly, unlike utolankhani, it rightly suggests that a story is a sophisticated entity with various dimensions which cannot be accounted for when it is simply picked and hastily passed on to its intended audience.  In turn, this observation portrays a journalist as a specialist in identifying story sources and leads which he carefully utilising to generate a full understand of the story. These are not mean differences because they suggest that a journalist is a researcher and critical thinker before he or she is a reporter.

It may be argued that the position taken by the present essay is irrelevant to the development of journalism in Malawi because journalism training is conducted in English in the country. Such a conclusion, however, would be misleading. Generally, non-native speakers of any language tend to process thoughts in their vernacular unless they attain native speaker level of fluency in the second language at hand. This is unlikely the case with most Malawian speakers of English in general and Malawian journalists in particular.

  • The author is a lecturer in media, communication and cultural studies at Chancellor College, University of Malawi.
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7 thoughts on “Rethinking Malawi’s journalism”

  1. Dingire says:

    Wailing Soul, tell them. Bongozozo you sound like you have a personal grudge against the author. You want a story to appear on an opinion page. That just shows how confused you are. And you claim the article was plegiarized but you cant bring forth even one piece of evidence from it. You are not serious. Totitoti you have the guts to say 75% of the article was plagiarized but no guts at all to show even one percent of the plagiarised material. Bongozozo if you know what rhetoric is why don’t you show us what it is in the article. Don’t claim to be knowledgeable when all you can do is display your ignorance.

  2. the northern speech says:

    Wabadwa liti kodi??????

  3. This is a book with 700 pages

  4. Bongozozo says:

    Wailing Soul…thanks for editing my comment. You have truly lectured me on the difference between lecture and lecturer. If you can do the same with center and centre….kkkkk. These things really trouble me. All the same, you managed to capture my school of thought. I would have given the writer some benefit of a doubt if he was specific as to what he wanted us to know and not how he did it. Your comment makes me think you are the author of this irrelevant piece of trash. If an engineer or environment scientists were writing on Kamuzu Barrage and Mudi River then that is a story because that is being specific and not the rhetorics present in the article by my good lecture…kkkk sorry… lecturer. Just to hammer in the irrelevance of the story…see how many people have commented. Its not worth coming on this page full stop.

  5. titototi says:

    Kwawo gulediii !!! kkkkk. The essay lacks acknowledgement of borrowed knowledge.! It is 75% zobera if I may use vena-vena for the author to understand. “Ulondoloza nkhani”, lero? Asaa!! kkkkk. Komweko ku CLS!! kkkkk

  6. bongozozo says:

    This should be an introductory lesson for journalism students at MIJ or the Polytechnic. Why is this writer/lecture bringing it here? Go to class boss and do ur job! Bring stories on this page and not lectures. Eish…some people! Moreover sll I’m reading here is more of plagiaris
    m than an original piece.

    1. Wailing Soul says:

      Bongozozo you must be daft indeed. No wonder you fail to differentiate between “lecture” and “lecturer”. The article above is an opinion piece. It is not meant for journalists alone but the masses. It is meant for you and me who are without a doubt consumers of a certain form of news media just like you are doing right now by reading nyasatimes (digital media). It is meant to make you think beyond “the news”. To underscore my argument, if you read articles authored by a structural engineer with regards to the shortfalls of the Kamuzu Barrrage at Liwonde for example; or to do with the stench we get from Mudi River in Blantyre and how that could be addressed, does it mean that article was misplaced and should be addressed to Civil Engineering students or Environmental Health students respectively at Poly and not other audiences? Don’t be so daft, wapurika?

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