If you feel a news story does not measure up to expected journalistic standards, bring it to the Journalism Dry Cleaner. Through our collective wisdom, we will strip it of all offensive dirt.




Wednesday, 27 April 2011


Criminals behind bars. Convicted and serving jail terms, some still professing their innocence, while others showing remorse for their heinous crimes. Such stories about prisoners are now being showcased in local TV channels. For what and so what?

KTN's Case File is an outstanding attempt at demystifying Kenya's penal system and what drives human beings to fall foul of the laws of the land.

It refreshingly seeks to reconstruct past crimes, carefully piecing together details prior to, during and after the crime is committed. The other amazing thing consequently is that a substantial part of every Case File is shot on location, outside the prison walls.

But one failing in my opinion stands tall. And it has to do with the fact that the traditional 5Ws and an H are no longer the holy grail of journalism, in the absence of another increasingly important question that needs to always be answered: SO WHAT?

Why dedicate so much resources in highlighting the not so rosy past of men or women behind bars? And even where the audience get to empathize with cases where there could have been a miscarriage of justice, one still is often left asking: SO WHAT?

Moreover, you hardly get to hear the take of an expert like a social psychologist well versed in aspects of criminality, being incorporated into the segment, and clearly, the reporter cannot be taken to be a credible authority on the matters being dealt with.

Lock Down: Women Behind Bars

Citizen TV's Lock Down series suffers from the same shortcomings. The lingering question almost always remains: SO WHAT?

Other than brilliantly capturing those turning points that made women and men take the law into their own hands resulting into their incarceration, and laying bare their emotional turmoil, mental and possibly physical distress, what is the one goal the producer hopes to achieve?

Are the various cases being subjected to a retrial in the court of public opinion or is getting inside the heavily fortified correctional facilities a means to no certain end?

There is a slight chance that crime could even end up being glamourized to the point of inspiring, especially those with an impressionable mind or devilish intentions or lose integrity, into deciding on a career move centered on criminality.

And it has not been lost to many people that Case File and Lock Down bear a striking resemblance that has set off debates as to who was copying who, between KTN and Citizen. But on this one, I fully concur with Robert Niles, when he states:
"No one outside of the field of journalism cares if you consider your reporting more original or more worthy than others' collection of information. They only care if your reporting delivers them more value than what those others offer. And the readers will make that decision for themselves, thank you very much."     
More value to the audience, for me, translates to answering the magical query: SO WHAT?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Different circumstances same need
Great anger is gradually building up in Kenya, over the escalating cost of living. Whereas both traditional and social media have given this issue ample coverage, such is the nature of distress spreading in the country that the media needs to do more than just highlighting the problem.

Already, streets protests, like what is happening in Uganda, are being contemplated, at the very least, to try and elicit some useful or far reaching response from the Kenyan government.

It is an outright violation of the rights of the citizens the state is bound to protect, if the usual taxation levels apply on essential commodities and yet the government has the capacity to cushion its people through subsidizing basic necessities, by forgoing or reducing their due taxes.

And the local media too, in my opinion, needs to go beyond just reporting how the public is suffering. The hardships aside, this is one of those rare moments, when the press can unite and jointly campaign for the reversal of the dire situation.

If it was possible for the media outlets to carry the banner headline, 'Save our Beloved Country,' at the height of the 2007/8 post election crisis in Kenya, then I don't see why the same energy cannot be dedicated to pressing the government to take urgent remedial measures.

As depicted below, using Storify, the writing is on the mind of many Kenyans.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


The mass media is a very powerful tool. Leave it in the wrong hands or fill it with parochial content, and all manner of trouble will most likely be let loose. That's why every credible media outlet needs to be wary of publicity-seeking politicians. There's always almost an embedded self-interest they wish to propagate, whenever they make public pronouncements.

Six 'prominent' Kenyans honoured summonses to appear before the International Criminal Court, in the Hague, Netherlands. So whichever way you choose to look at them, they remain suspected masterminds of the2007/2008  post-election violence.

Yet, sections of the local media seem to backbench this fact and unwittingly fail to realize that  according the suspects the sort of hyped coverage they have provided, in a way helps to negate the gravity and severity of the alleged crimes the Ocampo Six are being accused of committing.

So while thousands of Internally Displaced Persons continue to languish in squalid living conditions in tented camps, the public is inundated with live TV coverage of the arrival of two of the Ocampo Six habouring presidential ambitions.

And too add injury to insults, the local media then put their resources at the disposal and pleasure of the Suspects, in their so-called prayer rally, welcoming, homecoming or whatever misleading title the organizers had come up with.

Tellingly, as it has repeatedly been pointed out, it is a wonder that on a normal working day, thousands of people could still find time to be part of the purported  'show of might' by the Suspects. Think of the wasted man-hours, even if they fall on the idle side of the occupation scale.

But the tragedy is made complete by a neutered local media, which seems to have abandoned its allegiance to the public, in favour of politicians and their bag of poly-tricks.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


It is a week that will be full of coverage from the International Criminal Court, in The Hague, and players in the Kenyan media scene will attempt to outshine each other, mostly by reporting live from the Netherlands. The one ingredient that almost certainly will be in short supply, is the 'Wow Factor.'

And here, the 'Wow Factor' does not in any way refer to a misguided attempt to mesmerize the Kenyan audience by simply proving you can relay stories from a foreign country. Neither does it have anything to do with telling the most basic of news stories.

Citizen Television's Alex Chamwada reporting from The Hague

I'm a strong believer of the school of thought that warns journalists against belittling the intelligence of their audience. So when doing a news story, one better ensure it's properly researched, edited and packaged.

Granted it might not always be practical or applicable, I also think attempts should be made to always infuse fresh information or story angles, in order to give a thoroughly re-told story like the Kenyan ICC cases, a new lease of life, to grasp and maintain the viewer's attention.

KTN's Beatrice Marshall reporting from the Hague
Moreover, on the actual day that the Kenyan suspects will take the stand, the ICC has indicated it will be streaming the proceedings live on its website and Kenyan media establishments will be able to patch to this feed and re-broadcast free of charge. No camera's are allowed inside the court but the audio/video signal will be made available in the media centre.

As such, all Kenyan media stations will probably be broadcasting the same material, when the ICC hearings begin on 7th April. The uniqueness battle then, will be won by how much the stations that have sent crews to the Netherlands, will move as far away as possible from doing 'parachute reporting.'

NTV's Joe Ageyo and Rita Tinina reporting from The Hague
It will not be about retelling or as we in the media like to put it, 'recapping,' what already many viewers will have already had access to. But rather, intelligently interpreting the proceedings, breaking down the hard facts, getting expert opinion and going easy on the urge to be descriptive, by focusing on that itch to be analytical.

Therein lies the 'Wow Factor.'