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Opinions of Saturday, 19 June 2010

Columnist: Tawiah, Benjamin

Why Tawiah's Caged Bird Never Sings on Ghanaweb

I had already penned the lead to a not-so exciting story I was developing when my attention was drawn to an article by Daniel K Pryce, about “the very interesting and eclectic personalities influencing life and activity on the portal every day!” In that engaging and very nicely-worded account, Pryce described “the oft-accessed and read Internet portal” as “both bodacious and boisterous.” He had also been kind enough to give me an honourable mention, alongside prolific writers like Kwame Okoampah-Ahoofe, Dr Michael Borkor, Akadu Mensema, among others. It was revealing to have read that Okoampah’s wife hails from Abutia-Teti. Incidentally, my first girlfriend, a dimple-blessed beauty who is presently married to the president of a popular private university somewhere in West Africa, is a proud native of Abutia-Teti. If I am able to establish a connection between Okoampah’s wife and her, then Kwame and I would have some good talking to do. Well, Pryce had described this meeting place as bodacious. Let’s hope it proves unmistakable in dignifying our search with a reliable ancestry report. That is what this business is all about: Relationships.
Yeah, relationships! Where there is a relationship, even for the very bad reasons, people tend to be in each other’s thinking, and they complete one another’s thoughts on many issues. So, I did not find it surprising that Daniel Pryce and I would consider writing about Ghanaweb the past week. Mine, however, was not about the writers and commentators on the forum; I was going to assess whether Ghanaweb had lost readership to after Francis Akoto decided to redesign his very utilitarian internet news business. I had been monitoring the quality of stories on the two websites, and had also been wondering whether good editing and real copy-tasting had suddenly become as abominable as the many incest stories that take precious space in our news media these days. For instance, a journalism professor queried why the ultra-digitally prominent photograph of a severed penis be displayed on our computer screens, just to say that a near-schizophrenic son of a Ghanaian woman had yanked off his manhood. I had read a similar story in newspapers in England, in which a Polish gentleman had gone into a popular restaurant, mount a calico and velvet dressed table, and cut his penis to the discomfiture of the dinning public. His reason was that girls were rejecting his advances, so he was cutting the thing off. He is good without it dangling between his legs.
The English press reported the story without a photograph, not even the photograph of the Pole. Well, that doesn’t say much for the English press’s decency, anyway. There are near-pornographic portrayals in many of their papers, especially the Daily Star. But journalism in Britain is serious business that is seriously policed by professionally instituted checks that also guarantee good copy, almost always. So, we should stop worrying about trifles such as why Ghanaian journalists receive soli when they go on assignments and make the practice look more promising than a political statement. What is wrong with taking soli, by the way? If men of God who are commissioned to live on grace, are ‘blessed’ with money when they travel to preach in churches, why should a fresh GIJ graduate refuse a laughable sum of GH20 for doing a two page story about a crisis-ridden organisation that is dinning on a cocktail of waste and fraud? The Ghana Integrity Initiative, the latest to join the Soli crusade, would do a better job educating us on why Africa loses $148 billion to corruption every year, than on ‘Soli.’
Meanwhile, Mr Pryce had amplified the thoughts of many Ghanaweb readers when he asked why I don’t come to the forum to discuss my articles with our very useful commentators. In other words, why does my caged bird never sing? “Commenting on commentaries: what is news on Ghanaweb,” was the title of an article I did on the subject some two years ago. The article received 35 comments. One of the commentators wrote: “ok let's see how many comments this piece will attract after 24 hours of its publication.” The writer had identified himself as a freelance journalist. Most probably, he had checked the credentials of the writer and decided to tease us all, otherwise, a sobriquet-the kind that many commentators choose to use - would have sat well with what we are used to. It wasn’t quite 24hours when he posted the comment; the article had been out for some 3 hours. Another had typed: “Man, what was all that about? Mr. Ben Tawiah should know better, that the number of comments posted to an article means nothing especially when you accept the fact that most of the comments are comments made to the comments posted to the said article. And to know that most comments are fraught with insinuations and counter-insinuations. Please Mr. Tawiah, give me a break”
Mark the refreshing ubiquity of the word comment in his fourth sentence: “…comments are comments made to the comments posted to the said article.” Well, there is more to that; I have on occasion without number generously borrowed from some of the comments to write my articles. There are often very useful exchanges that provide some good education on important subjects. I have owed to them when sensations are sweet and in my hours of weariness. So I take the comments seriously and respect the Oyokobas who make time to put a wise comment to our stories. Aha, so why wouldn’t I come to the forum and post comments to other people’s comment after some other people had commented on the issue that the comments are about? “Who should comment to give you ideas to write your silly articles?” This would pass for a typical comment.
What is the anatomy of a typical commentator? It is difficult to tell the character of the commentator from their characteristics. Serious media houses have ways of sieving these comments, a delayed transmission mechanism that allows operators to vet the usefulness of a comment before it hits the screen for public consumption. But no technology can prevent people from writing what they want to write. Is he haughty if he decides not to comment at all, not even trying to hide under a pseudonym, like Kwame Bronya, or Akua Asubonteng, to help in the discussion? You can tell a man’s character by the way he eats jellybeans. My obvious addiction to Shakespeare (I named my daughter Sonnet, after the beautiful Shakespearean sonnets) often betrays my illiteracy in Economics and Geography. But my ‘inability’ to comment on my articles is not haughtiness at all. Ato Kwabena Dadzie finds time to comment on many of the comments that follow his articles. Daniel Pryce, Kwame Okoampah and many respected writers engage readers and commentators in this very useful interactive process. Ato does it on his blogsite better than he does on Ghanaweb or myjoyonline. It is useful for a writer to know what his readers are thinking. It is a good monitoring process that would enable you determine whether a sequel would be necessary. That is relationship. That is respect. That is trust. Well, perhaps, I haven’t been able to come to the forum because there are several other ways to show readers respect and build that all important relationship. I belong to some cyber discussion networks where I meet most of these readers and commentators, as well as many other great ones who have not yet made a visible presence on Ghanaweb. I have had the privilege of reading from intellectuals like Amos Anyimadu, Nii Moi Thompson, Prof Ato Quayson, Lyod Amoah, Angela Dwamena-Aboagye etc. While this does not in anyway compensate for my ‘inability’ to interact with the bigger audience on Ghanaweb, it has, nonetheless, provided the tipping point to a rather healthy epidemic of knowledge and scholarship. Of course, Ghanaweb’s may be better and more informative, because they represent a broader spectrum of the reading public, and they issue from the souls of the commentators. This is because they are instantaneously transmitted the moment they are made: commentators speak their mind on a policy; they don’t seek to sell rehearsed ideas and viewpoints, as is the case with other forums. So, the Ghanaweb forum offers a good avenue to gauge genuine public reaction to important issues of national discourse.
Well, maybe the whole online news business needs to be given a closer look. What Akoto started as a pet-project from his base in Nokia’s Finland some twenty years ago (gosh, is ghanaweb that old?) is today one of many competitive news websites. Pryce contends that “Today, one of every two computer-literate Ghanaians is addicted to – and more Ghanaian citizens appear to be drowning in this rivulet of addiction every day, even if they refuse to admit.” He identifies about 15 more websites sharing the market with Ghanaweb. There may be more. I recently received a request from a new women-sensitive organisation to write a weekly column for their news-site. If we were to add the websites of all the many newspapers and the FM stations, we should be counting into the 100s. These are healthy developments. If you read Eugene Osafo-Nkansah’s report on that Nadia Buari had joined the learned profession, you would appreciate just how creative and serviceable these news websites are getting? Ghana is doing very good, too. The Chronicle just popped out a new web design after suspending its old site for some time. And here, I would like to remind my roommate Egbert Faibille that his once friendly produces Chinese characters when you demand to read his paper online. Then, we thought when the Crusading Guide was rechristened The New Crusading Guide, readers were going to have an equally renewed version of their website, but it seems they don’t care very much. The latest news item on their site is a newsdesk report on the presidential run-off between Nana Akuffo-Addo and then Candidate Atta Mills. Well, Mills won.
So, you see, if my caged bird were to sing on the New Crusading Guide’s website, it would be singing old tunes, unlike Keats’s Nightingale, who sings with full-throated ease. But sing it will, because people want to hear songs, in all forms. Lyrics matter; so does the rendition of the lyrics. We would always comment on other people’s comments and build relationships. But we must not think that the comments, by themselves, would work the magic. Sensibility alters from generation to generation in everybody. We don’t have to work at it or wish it; it will just happen, but expression, as T.S. Elliot wrote of William Wordsworth, “is only altered by a man of genius.” Pryce mentioned some of the well-intentioned commentators who have altered expression on the Ghanaweb forum. To them, we say Mazletoff. As for my caged bird, it will soon be singing like Maya Angelou’s. Benjamin Tawiah Ottawa, Canada