At least Fire Shabait Editor

A call is being made to at least fire shabait.com editor

Mahmud Saleh

Today, February 27, 2014, you will find 11 news items on the opening page of shabait.com. Six of the news headlines start with “Call made to…” a matter that must have annoyed Saleh Younis of Awate.com when he joked about the laziness of shabait.com journalists. Imagine a local or even a school’s web page in that form! Wouldn’t you expect the editor would get a startling call from his/her boss the time he/she published that page?

News headlines are sensitive; they are magnets of busy readers; particularly in today’s world of media competition. The wording of news headlines need to be short and inviting, and not repeating the same words or phrases, especially on one page. Of course, they should not be too faddish or appear to be as flashy as commercial ads.  I’m not going to say much about stuff I am not qualified to lecture the editor of shabait.com. However, it’s safe, from a consumer point of view, to tell him/her that it’s a bad job using the same six phrasings of 11 headlines. “It is laziness which originates from the journalists’ sense that there is nothing to lose by being sloppy,” says a friend who is familiar with shabait.com and the Ministry of Information. He continues,” If they are made to understand their livelihood depends on how creative they become to keep their job, they will work harder to come up with interesting headlines.”

It is another illustration of how things must be chugging with a snail’s pace. It’s another example of the prevailing culture of hinting slanting criticisms about lazy public officials. “Those whom it concerns need to pay attention to this problem” the reporter would remark in a passing tone. ሳዕሪሩ ዘሎ ባህሊ ናይ “ዝምልከቶ ኣካል ክሓስበሉ…ንላቦ” መን እዩ እቲ ክሓስበሉ ዘለዎ? ቅሩብ ሓታትነት የለን’ንድዩ? I suspect Shabait.com journalists’ commitment to improving their products may be compromised because these people are made to write and edit stuff they are not happy with; creativity demands liberty. Or maybe they lack the motivation it takes to hone their skills; the sense that they could be fired for doing a bad job; the fact that there is no competition that threatens their “business.” But how about the reward one gets simply for perfecting the job at hand? Forget about “clients”- there are no clients. Do shabait.com journalists enjoy reading what they write?  I DON’T BELIEVE SO.

In the late 1970s, I happened to be with a gifted artist, Amanuel Afewerki, who would not be happy with any finishing off OF an artwork such as drawings, poems…etc. He was mentally ill but very smart and witty. We were so young that there was nothing more exciting than gathering around Amanuel while he drafted his projects. While writing a poem, Amanuel would change words in a speed that surpassed that of the fastest talker; he would change colors and themes of drawings, also at a staggering speed; all this in front of us. When he reached a point at his projects we felt was final, we would all say,” stop…stop…that’s good now.” He would look at our faces, one by one, and smile; his face would appear to be radiating a profound sense of satisfaction. He knew he hit the chord; he satisfied his “clients” expectation. He did his “editing” well.

It was a time when we were under tremendous pressure by advancing Ethiopian campaigns; a time when the EPLF was on its hind leg, fighting to secure the last foothold. Amanuel Afewerki knew the need of editing and tried to make our faces glee with happiness under that difficult situation. But he would subsequently shred his works to pieces and throw them in the air. The next day he would start another project, and the cycle would continue. The mental illness hidden from our view, deep in his brain, kept bothering him. After a decade, Amanuel died of drowning in Asmara; I had the opportunity to attend his funeral. I don’t know if we still have some of his “edited” works; I miss him.

Amanuel was doing that “editing” not expecting to get paid for it but for his personal satisfaction and the happiness his works brought to his comrades. While writing this piece, I will do the best I could to make it readable. Readers will know what errors are due to my laziness and what else are do you to my capacity. I’m sure they will forgive me for errors that occur due to my capacity. I write with this in mind. Otherwise, I would not dare to write. In this sense, when you write 6/11 headlines on one page with the same wording “A call made…” it is not a question of capacity but that of laziness. Do you remember the competition we saw during the short period of the private press, do you remember how aggressive the private papers were to excel in their aesthetics and their reporting to lure clients; that was because it was a business; it was a livelihood.

As I write this article, I’m watching ERI-TV, and there is a report about another ministry’s laziness. The report shows customers who have been coming to the revenue collection office, in the mai-Temenay area of Asmara, to pay their taxes. They complain that the employees of the tax office have not addressed the presence of the taxpayers promptly.  One customer says that he has been coming to that office for a year now.  Another female customer argues, with a voice of bitterness, that people have been waiting in line starting at 0500 and that they have not gotten service. “Where is the supervisor, can’t he even apologize to us?” She asks. She explains to the reporter that people were enduring inconveniences despite irresponsible bureaucrat’s clumsy explanations of blaming electricity stoppage and similar excuses that demonstrate inept administrative culture. “Here you have people wasting their time to pay taxes and a government that does not seem to be worried to collect it!”  She exclaims. The reporter said she went to the supervisor to put him/her on record, but nobody was willing to talk to her.

It’s amazing;  before I finish this writing which was to call for the firing of shabait.com editor, I have seen a reporter who has done her job on ERI-TV.  She located a news source; she went to the location and spoke with those who complained. She tried to get an answer from authorities-albeit unsuccessful- to make her reporting balanced. Now, compare Amanuel Afewerki’s story with the laziness of the editor of shabait.com. Don’t you agree with me on calling for the firing of shabait.com editor?

That’s if you conclude shabait.com’s style is a separate problem, not a representative example of the maladies in the country. OK, let’s accept the excuses officials give us that it takes years to build a capacity to administer a country (though it has been 23 years since this administration assumed power). Should it take years to evaluate an editor of a website, too? “You see, you do not expect different outcomes from ministers, governors and director generals assigned for life. You do not expect different outcomes from the same administration. Shabait.com’s editor’s laziness represents the whole public administration chronic illness. If you are not accountable for your laziness, laziness becomes your essence,” says my friend. He thinks people should call for the firing of the whole system. That’s my friend’s take, but I’m so tired of reading depressing headlines. I need a respite from reading laziness until the big task my friend is calling for is made- firing the whole system. So, for now, I’m calling for the good minister of information to fire the editor of shabait.com. Now, here, we have a problem: who is that minister? Rumors have it Asmara has not lost hope for the return of Ali Abdu, arguably, the father of bad reporting.

The process of evaluating and subsequent firing of the system has been an ongoing task for the citizens of Eritrea. It may take some time. But the firing of the editor of shabait.com could be done; it will actually show how people oriented (hzbawi) our government is. You see, here, there is a common interest for both the government and those who call for its firing. If our people’s government does not care about collecting internal revenue as demonstrated by the neglect of taxpayers pleas in Mai-Temenay, at least it should care about its image, about its propaganda machine. That’s why I think it is possible to call for the firing of this lazy editor. The problem is: this is not a one-day occurrence but a habitual laziness. So, it is fair to suggest this may be a systemic one; but let’s start with this editor. I am serious.

Dear whom it may concern (ኣቶ ዝምልከቶ ኣካል)፡ It does not surprise me if you trash my opinion as an enemy’s ploy intended to rattle the system. The fact is that sometimes we learn more from our enemies than we do so from our friends; so fire the editor of shabait.com now!

Note: This piece was published on Assenna.com on February 27, 2014.

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