'Arts journalists attacked'

HARARE - Artists and arts practitioners have no kind words for arts and entertainment reporters across the media spectrum who they say lack depth in their story reportage.

The strong sentiments on the arts and entertainment journalists were made during a recent two-day Arterial Network All Stakeholders Conference held in Harare where the gathering sent a plea to media editors to employ experienced journalists for the beat.

The gathering was of the belief that the journalists, instead of uplifting the arts and creative industries were actually doing it a disservice as the reportage was shallow and not informative enough to measure the standards of their progress.

Elvas Mari, the National Arts Council of Zimbabwe director said the current crop of arts and entertainment reporters were only interested in scandals happening within the industry while ignoring the bigger story about the arts.

He said unlike in the past years when arts and entertainment journalists used to write in-depth and educative stories on the arts and creative industries, these days they seemed to concentrate more on the little fights and gossip.

“There is a lack of developmental stories on the arts and creative industries to such an extent that only petty scandals or fracas between artists are reported while ignoring the developmental aspects of the arts,” complained Mari.

While Mari acknowledges the strides that have been made to create standalone arts and entertainment pages in most newspapers, he was not impressed with the space allocated to stories that showcase the development and success of the sector.

Playwright Cont Mhlanga was bitter that while media houses had fully-resourced arts and entertainment desks, the journalists manning them were doing them a disservice.

“Editors of these newspapers have to be told that their journalists are missing the major story because what they tend to concentrate on are the artists and their lives. But we are saying we are tired of reading about the artists, we want to read about their work,” said Mhlanga.

The playwright said it was disheartening that the arts and entertainment journalists in the newsrooms today have all but failed to critique productions. “You rarely see a critique in the newspapers, be it of a play, an exhibition, a painting or a new album release. Instead, what the journalist just writes is about the artist.”

Mhlanga said he misses intelligent arts reporting and hard-hitting critiques. “These journalists we have at the moment lack depth, they do not research and their reportage is shallow.

“The editors of these newspapers have to be told that the journalists they seconded to the arts and entertainment desks do not measure at all to the task at hand.”

One arts practitioner was of the opinion that editors of newspapers deliberately “threw mediocre journalists within their newsroom to the arts and entertainment desks.

“I strongly believe it is deliberate, the editors second poor journalists to this desk and it is not serving us well as artists.”

Mbira singer Hope Masike said while arts and entertainment journalists cannot completely ignore the said “juicy” stories within the showbiz industry, there was need to balance the stories and cover developmental aspects of the arts.

“There are a lot of positive stories on the arts that go unreported as journalists concentrate more on petty scandals. Journalists need to balance their content, a lot of which is going unreported.”

While there were concerns that artists were not alerting arts and entertainment journalists of important events for reportage, the artists and arts practitioners said at times they did this through press releases which were mishandled.

“But at times the press releases are twisted as the journalist tries to put a hand in the written statements,” complained bassist and singer Edith WeUtonga. “In so doing they twist the truth, hence misleading readers.”

Playwright Daves Guzha said most disturbing was when arts and entertainment journalists put their names on the press releases they send. “Most times the journalists do not research more on the subject alerted in the press releases, but instead they just put their by-lines on and publish them as their own.”

(Cont) Mhlanga called on arts and entertainment journalists not to just publish press releases without verifying their contents.

“Journalists should not just publish press releases as these can be sent from anywhere, even someone from Mbare whom you do not know can just send you a press release. The press release can just be an indicator of a story, but journalists should look for the real story behind the press release.”

Poet Chirikure Chirikure said while press releases were good, they tended to make journalists sit back and just publish what is before them. “Because it is sad when all newspapers run the same press release, it loses its impact.”

Partson Chimbodza of Chipaz Promotions urged arts and entertainment journalists to also take time to visit artists as they look for stories. “I believe this to be a two-way thing — journalists visiting artists and artists visiting journalists at their newsrooms.”

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