Three students from the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications recently graduated with Master of Arts degrees in Digital Journalism. Their theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape. Rebecca Mutiso looked at the place of solutions journalism in covering a crisis. At the same time, Crystal Onkeo delved into content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 in the first seven days in Kenya. Last but not least, Anita Chepkoech looked at how media should deal with data smog.
EAST Site’s writer Isaac Swila spoke with them and now unpacks their findings.
Anita Chepkoech: ‘Journalists face mental problems due to data smog’
According to Anita, a print journalist with the Nation Media Group, media houses don’t take data smog – a euphemism that compares big data’s ability to overwhelm individuals and systems with the smoke and fog that pollutes the air in major cities – as a big thing.
“Media houses don’t take data smog as a big thing, and little has been done to mitigate the effects of data smog amongst journalists,” says Ms Chepokech, noting that this trend is not just limited to Kenya but at the international level too.
“In print media, the journalist tells the story, they go through volumes of data to discern what to feed the readers with, at the end of the day they go through a lot, and sadly, nothing is ever done,” Anita lamented.
“For them, they have to consume print media while the rest (broadcast journalists) can get away with allowing sources to explain phenomena. So, naturally, the victims are print journalists. Therefore, they endure a lot.”
To mitigate this, Anita challenges newsrooms to effectively manage data smog and ensure good quality stories are churned, more so in the digital age.
“Journalists are facing mental problems because of what they consume. They are zombies in a way, and there is a need to look at what an individual journalist can do. There is also a need for an understanding, not sacking. Newsrooms are now left with thinner staff to do lots of donkey work. So basically, there is a need to look at the mental capacity and what it takes.”
Anita also advocates using technology to help break down information and synthesise it for journalists if they are ‘to remain sane.’
“There’s also need to invest in re-training of journalists to use data management and visualisation tools like a spreadsheet to break down big data into concise and understandable stories,” she explained.
Rebecca Mutiso: ‘Solutions journalism is more than merely reporting a phenomenon’
Rebecca Mutiso is a veteran media practitioner who now works with the Media Council of Kenya as a manager in charge of accreditation and compliance. Her study discovered that only 15 percent of newspapers she studied had ‘a solutions perspective’ to the pandemic.
She blames this on low awareness of solutions journalism among Kenya’s journalists. “Solutions journalism is more than mere reporting of a phenomenon. It’s about identifying the solution and how it is replicated.”
Her study found that only 16 percent of journalists applied problem-solving in their articles, while 15 percent offered teachable lessons. A similar percentage of journalists provided content on gaps and limits.
Her study focused on the first two months from March 14, when the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Kenya.
Rebecca says that the way forward is to offer training and capacity building for journalists to report on solution journalism. But, at the same time, media houses need to go out there and find partners to help them attain this goal.
“There needs to be deliberate approach from media houses to embrace problem-solving approach rather than focusing on negatives. As much as it is our duty to point out the negatives, we also have a duty to point out the positives and offer solutions,” she argues, adding that there is a need for the media in Kenya to reconsider what is essential journalism and whether it’s enough to offer information by focusing on the crisis. “Journalists can do this is by infusing a solutions approach in their reportage, as in Kenya, there is low application of solutions journalism because journalists lack the necessary skills to practice it.”
Chrystal Onkeo: ‘The media put a concerted effort to spread the message on the risk of contagion’
Chrystal Onkeo researched on the framing of Covid-19 pandemic in the local newspapers. “This (Covid) was something new and would have brought a crisis if proper mechanism was not put in place,” Chrystal says. “Community spread was going to happen, the masses rely on media to understand the phenomenon, and communication became key,” this explains why it informed my study, she explains. “The media put a concerted effort to spread the message on the risk of contagion.”
According to her findings, newspapers generally focused on both in-depth coverage and analysis and a focus on hard news stories.
She, however, observes that there was minimal or lack of expert content. “Media actually focused on action, solutions, strategies, we saw lockdowns for instance, by the government, as measures to curb the contagion, whose consequences were quarantine.”
Chrystal believes that Kenyan media took their corporate social responsibility seriously in the face of heightened risks. She recommends that journalists should specialise in beats rather than being general reporters. This approach, she argues, is also beneficial to the media houses.
“Overall, the agenda was set (by the media), good framing, and the media did a good job,” she says. As a result, people were able to take the appropriate measures in the first seven days to protect themselves from infection and community spread, thus averting a health crisis.
However, the study established that while the print media succeeded in communicating the risk of contagion, the message was not the most prominent. This appears to align with the dialectics inherent in communicating risks and causing panic among the public.
Chrystal also recommends that the media have a strategy in their coverage to have in-depth articles as hard news stories. Media houses can achieve this by having a more deliberate process that involves specialised beat writers. Such a strategy, she notes, would enable the media to take on the role of educating the public with better analytical articles.
Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.
The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa
There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.
Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?
The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out
Kenya’s leading newspapers – The Nation, Star, and The Standard, recently set up paywalls on their online content. Though some readers are complaining, the uptake has been impressive. Senior editors who spoke to EAST Site’s writer, Isaac Swila, insist the paywall is the future.
What do Kenya’s post-election violence, Sudan’s protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir, and the Arab Spring have in common? The audience played a crucial role in informing the world where journalists were restricted in one way or the other. Today, direct audience engagement in the news cycle has brought far-reaching changes to the media industry.
The belief that journalism can make the world a better place is why the Media Challenge Initiative exists. This aspiration has become more evident during Covid-19, where journalists are at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic across the globe.
Ten years ago, an ambitious and daring Giles Muhame started an online platform at Makerere University. The platform’s main idea was to bring news in real-time. Initially, the online platform struggled as the audience was still rigid, preferring traditional modes of news consumption such as radio, print, and television.
One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic has been the dramatic shift in the global digital landscape and digital business. Africa’s media industry needs vision, innovation, transformation, collaboration, and adaptability to develop agile business models.
Kenya’s media still struggles with undue political interference as evidenced by sporadic harassment from government, coupled with economic constraints that have recently been amplified by the effects of the ongoing global pandemic
Debunk Media, a platform for explanatory journalism wants young Africans to understand how big events in their environments affect them and why those events are important to them… It wants to show them the little dots and the invisible lines that join these events.
The changing dimensions and presentation of the challenges facing women in the newsroom and the media as a whole call for a dynamic approach by women, gender and general human rights activists.
Almost all newsrooms, big and small, have had their operations severely affected by the devastating disruption wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic leading to loss of hundreds of jobs. Worse still, revenue sources for broadcast and print publications have shrunk as businesses collapse.
Job cuts, pay cuts, content reduction and closures – that is what many media outlets are currently facing. Some blame digitalization and the coronavirus pandemic. But could it be that they got their priorities wrong in the first place?
Freedom of the media is the cornerstone of a just and democratic society to promote socio-economic and political developments even though Eastern African countries fashion the independence for the sake of complying with international obligations.
The state of the media in Uganda has been the subject of several studies and commentaries. Whether critical or favourable, all attempts to analyze the health of journalism in the country tend to coalesce over its contradictions.
Journalists and the news media organisations in East Africa are today confronted with unprecedented economic and market challenges, increasing distrust, denigration of the journalistic work, and new forms of digital repression exacerbated by Covid-19.
In open societies where democracy flourish, the media plays a critical watchdog role by not only putting into check but also questioning the excesses of the government. Sadly, in Tanzanian media space these pillars seem to lack.
While solutions journalism as a news philosophy presents many opportunities for the strengthening of journalism practice in Kenya and by extension Africa; it is certainly not a quick fix.
Just like New York Times adjusted to digital disruption, Covid-19 has presented an opportunity for local media houses to analyze the emerging trends and audience behaviour to come up with innovative ways of generating revenues.