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Who is a journalist?

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By Iboro Otongaran

“Bloggers are not journalists. They are dirty job artists”
—Ray Ekpu

Mr Raymond Amos Ekpu, one of Nigeria’s high priests of Journalism, is reported to have made the above declaration in a talk at a recent symposium in Uyo.

Thereafter there have been unceasing torrents of references in the social media to attacks on him on account of the comment.
I don’t think the reaction from the blogger community and their sympathizers should be unexpected. Ekpu’s comment must be such an insufferable putdown for a butterfly which had believed all along that it was a bird. So some flexing driven by an elephantine sense of conceit should be allowed. On the other hand, I am at a bit of a loss at their indignation. I know that they like to call themselves online influencers, not journalists. Maybe the anger comes from someone calling them out for their poisonous influence in cyberspace!

Ray Ekpu

But Ekpu’s evaluation calls for a return to the basics. So let’s know who a journalist is, before we settle the question of who is qualified to be so-called.

A journalist is a professional who reports accounts of actual events or trends in a mass medium using a language of expression that conforms to the norms of taste, decency, accuracy, fairness, adequacy, safety as well as the requirements of law and security demanded by the community where she or he operates.

I would like to note the word professional, which refers to an operative with the capacity to meet the demands of his job as made clear in the definition earlier given.

The question then is, Does the blogger fit in, given the parameters clearly laid down in this intervention? The answer is no; the vast majority of bloggers do not, because the reality of their work does not measure up to the stringent requirements of Journalism. Most of them do not communicate in language that meets the standard of international intelligibility; do not care a hoot about fairness, decency, taste, safety or the demands of the law and security of community and country.

The reason for the anomaly of the frolic of blogging is not just lack of training—which on its own is a fatal failing—the full and complete explanation for the malaise of blogging masqueraded as journalism is lack of institutional controls which subject the work of journalists to painstaking auditing to guarantee conformity with codes of practice.

I would like to note also the phrase, actual events or trends. Most bloggers are purveyors of fiction. They do not deal in actualities.
A distinction must be made here between journalists who operate online news mediums and the unmediated bloggers who delight in the delirium of sleaze and reputation bashing. Online news outlets are pretty much subject to controls that make Journalism such a worthy contribution to the wellbeing of society.
If the vast majority of bloggers conduct themselves in breach of set standards and conventions, Ray Ekpu was right—and I add my feeble auditory cord to his mighty decibel—in saying that going by the law of averages, bloggers are not journalists. For emphasis, we are dealing with the central tendency here.

AND WHO IS AN ARTIST?

That is the limit of my agreement with Mr Ekpu. I do not agree with him that bloggers are ARTISTS. They are not. Calling them artists would be a misnomer. It doesn’t matter whether Ekpu characterizes them as artists of “dirty job.” An artist is an artist.

I must pay tribute to two teachers who led me up the path of aesthetic education and sufficient appreciation of the arts. Professor Emmanuel Akpan, extraordinary teacher of communication arts (he is with the Lord now) and Professor Udo Etuk, an inimitable philosopher, both of who made me to know that an artist is a highly nuanced articulator of nature, a guy with a super sense of appropriateness, who has a well-honed feeling for beauty and balance; moment and occasion; proportion and propriety.

Art is man-made and is opposed to nature in the sense that it abstracts and clarifies the surfeit of nature to heighten understanding and appreciation of life. That is why Akpan and Etuk say that nature is superabundant and inarticulate while art is skilled for utterance. Look at what the architect, a nimble artist, does with the abundance of nature in his various designs!

The journalist steps in too, as an artist, to select and clarify the significant elements in nature, be it fire, war, election, economic collapse or boom, accident, flood, earthquake—and presents them in delectable news reports or features or signed column for the good of the society.

The blogger does none of this wholesome winnowing work. He is a purveyor of smut. He is not an artist. He cares neither for beauty nor balance; neither for reason nor rhyme. For me, he is a nihilist.

The blogger should therefore take Ekpu’s well-intentioned censure to heart and seek redemption by mending his ways.

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