Yendi Phillips
Photo – Wikimedia Commons

Of course not, traditionalists say. How can that be news? Well, it certainly doesn’t fit into the politics-economy-crime triumvirate with which we like to bombard our listeners and viewers. Forget the fact that people are interested in a much wider range of issues such as health, diet and nutrition, consumer affairs, and yes, entertainment.

God forbid we cover and talk about what people are interested in. No, to make the bulletin, it must be about the Net International Reserves, the International Monetary Fund, five people gunned down somewhere or a cass-cass in one of the political parties (which many people give not one hoot about – I actually think that most of the people interested in the happenings within the political parties are the politicians, their die hard supporters and we reporters).

I’m not saying Yendi’s pregnancy should have led the newscast. Please. But most major newscasts entirely ignore anything in the entertainment arena which doesn’t involve ground-breakings and speeches by government Ministers.

Many of us in media have very straight-laced, hide-bound and yes, out-of-date

Photo by DNY59

notions about what constitutes the “news” and what we should be talking about on current affairs programmes. The issues of interest to the lives of most people are often ignored.

Case in point – I once had a huge argument in the newsroom because I wanted to interview the author of a book about marriage and divorce from a Christian perspective. The book in question is called “The Man I Married is Not My Husband, the Woman I Married is Not My Wife.” It was written by a priest who spent years doing marriage counselling. My colleagues  couldn’t see how that issue was relevant to a current affairs discussion programme. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Well, it’s relevant to people’s lives. By definition for me, that makes it current.

(Disclosure: I have a personal connection with the author. Having said that, the book is a fascinating read, and it’s in local bookstores. Go look for it! )

Entertainment is big business and entertainers have millions of fans.  Vision 2030 states that:

“Cultural and creative industries represent one of the fastest growing sectors of the global economy, representing up to 7% of the world’s GDP with growth forecast at 10% per annum, driven in part by the convergence of media and the digital economy.”

The document further states:

“…while Jamaican music accounts for an estimated 3% of world music sales, amounting to US$1 billion in 2003, the country itself received only 25% of this sum or some US$250 million.”

Tell me, how is anything to do with an industry like that NOT big news?

Wikimedia load spike on June 25, 2009, followi...
Wikimedia load spike on June 25, 2009, following news of Michael Jackson’s death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Beeb, the BBC, surely one of the most conservative news-gathering organisations in the world, led several newscasts with the death of Michael Jackson, and covered his doctor’s trial extensively. Were there no wars or famines anywhere else in the world? Yes, but on the day Michael Jackson died, no one (slight exaggeration perhaps!) was interested in anything else. There was no bigger story. The BBC, and everybody else, HAD to acknowledge that.

60 Minutes is one of the most respected news magazine programmes in the world. They cover entertainment issues and interview celebrities. ALL THE TIME. It is their treatment of the issues that sets them apart from the National Enquirer. Examples of recent stories they’ve dealt with – interviews with Adele and young country star Taylor Swift. 

People no longer have to wait for RJR and JBC, once the only game in town, to deliver the news we want to give them, when we want to give it to them.  No, the advance of technology has democratized media, and the public can now get, and indeed demands, real-time news delivery on issues in which they are passionately interested. Not all of us understand that yet.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

Many reporters – and people who don’t participate – see social media sites like Facebook and Twitter as a waste of time. Can you waste hours on Twitter and FB? Of course. But with 800 million active users on Facebook and 500 million users on Twitter, are we really going to ignore the power of those new media? That is where people are talking to each other, and sharing information. That is where you can gauge WHAT people are talking to each other about, especially in the case of Twitter.

Which takes us back to Yendi. She chose to announce her pregnancy on FB.The news spread quickly, and the newspapers reported it on their websites. Was that a bad decision? Was that violating the standards of journalism? Let’s go back to the basics of journalism. What are the elements of a story? Who, what, where, when, why and how. The issue here is the “who.”

I checked her social media stats. Yendi has over 15,000 followers on Twitter, and over 144,000 likes on FB. Granted she’s still a baby compared to Lady Gaga who has over 23,000,000 followers on Twitter and over 50,000,000 likes on FB. Still, Yendi’s numbers are nothing to sneeze at.

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

So there is a sizeable community of people interested in her and in news about her. So, yes, whether I personally care anything about Yendi or not, any news editor and producer must understand that stories about her are legitimate news stories.

Now, news of her pregnancy would normally be slotted into the entertainment news segments. But the reaction to the announcement was not normal. The explosion of comment led to the issue “trending” on Twitter, meaning it was one of the top issues being discussed. That is huge, and THAT catapulted the story out of the entertainment news niche.

A range of issues has emerged from the discussions and chatter –  the concern about people seen as role models having children out of wedlock, the color issue, the class issue, the Rasta issue and more. There are many issues that can be treated in a thoughtful way, that would take the discussion beyond veranda suss and still hold the interest of people interested in the story.

Everywhere I went, this was what people were discussing. They were reading the posts on the internet and watching Yendi’s interview. Make sure you understand that even the people saying everybody should leave Yendi alone WERE STILL TALKING ABOUT THE STORY!

Should we ignore the clear interest in this issue and focus exclusively on the Net International Reserves et al?  Sure , we can do that. But don’t be surprised if one day we wake up to find that we are talking to nobody but ourselves.

So, now that I’ve had my say, what do YOU think?