Newsrooms should re-evaluate reporting formula to counter fake news

In news reporting, journalists are guided by a formula, 5W+H.

Simply put, every story should answer these questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How?

However, I think time is ripe for us to add a ‘T’ to this formula, and the ‘T’ in this case stands for ‘True/Truth’.

Here is why.

There are two incidences that happened concurrently recently that paint a grim picture of the magnitude of Fake News.

Firstly, a photoshopped picture of a racing car in the WRC in Kenya that ended Sunday (today). 

The original picture is just a racing car in the air on a clear landscape.

But on the fake picture (featured above), the same racing is a car in the air quite literally and three people from Maasai origin are sitting by the roadside, ‘watching’.

Much as the first picture is worth a thousand words, the fake one was worth more; a million words due to the unique contents it entails.

Here is why.

Maasai culture is quite ornamental ornamental and unique.

It is a pride that many people in Kenya and the west like to associate with.

Indeed, it is at the centre stage of our tourism.

This perhaps explains why the fake picture easily and freely marketed itself and took a stage on thousands of social media users posts.

It was a “Wow, love” reactionary kind of picture on those platforms as opposed to the original one.

What about the second story?

Well, it was about decuplets.

In this story, that was first published by Pretoria News, a woman in South Africa is claimed to have given birth to 10 babies.

Contributing to it’s believability, the story was accompanied with a picture that told in more than a thousand words that the woman could indeed have carried the babies in her womb.

The news spread like wildfire in Africa and overseas.

Dozens of news media, both established and new entries published the story.

It was a wonder, news that breaks since there is no human yet to beat that record which is normal in the animal world.

After breaking the news with pictures of the heavily pregnant Gosiame Sithole, now people turned back to ask, where is the picture of the babies?

The local government, the hospital that claimed to have aided the giving birth, the miracle mother, the father of the imaginary babies, the midwives who performed the wonder birth, were among the details those curious wished to know.

None… No one… Nobody had information nor pictures of the decuplets.

Not even the editor of the story.

It was clearly out of the normal of the new normal of the digital media.

In this era of digital media and social media platforms, words and pictures find their way out before they are even spoken or taken.  

By the time the successful delivery of the decuplets was done, the midwife, nurses, patients, the hospital management including the cleaner would have taken to social media to brag about anticipated Guinness World records breaker.

But days later, to the suprise of many there were no decuplets.

The Pretoria News editor- Piet Rampedi published the story acknowledged the damage it had caused.

“Even though I stand by the fact that Sithole was pregnant, some aspects of the story could have been dealt with differently. Could I have handled the story far much better? Definitely! Especially the verification process. Quite honestly, I never treated the decuplets story as an investigation at all. I used no investigative tool or checklist,” Rampedi’s email read.

These two events shows the magnitude of Fake news. 

It is a crisis that should be fought not only by legacy media, but by governments world over.

In the media perhaps, we should begin by changing the guiding 5WH question and add ‘T’.

The two incidences in their true and fake status answered the 5WH questions ( What, When, Where, Why and How) but failed terribly on the Truth.

Adding the ‘T’ to make it 5WHT means that after ensuring the story answers the traditional 5WH question, it should answer the digital safe ‘5WHT’ (True?) before publishing.

As the famous quote goes it is better to be right than to be fast, or first.

Editor’s Note: According to Suleiman Mbatiah, a Kenyan journalist based in Nakuru City, “kindly note that the image that has been doing rounds in social media is manipulated. The rally car was shot in Italy by a photographer known as Andreas Solaro of Getty images | AFP. Details about the Maasais are unknown. A talented graphic designer merged the photos to create a wrong impression. The Maasais are not looking at the car. The car’s belly appears illuminated.”

  • Faith Sudi is a former BBC journalist, Digital Media specialist pursuing Masters in Digital Journalism at Agakhan University
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Faith Sudi is a former BBC journalist, Digital media specialist pursuing Masters in Digital Journalism at Agakhan University


  1. Thank You so much but would really like You to address the diminishing space of Writing.Robert Alai is an important ‘literary figure’ as compared to Ngugi wa Thiong’o,please discuss


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