By Wahome Thuku
LAST weekend I quietly followed two separate conversations happening at different times and places which captured my interest. The first was a speech by Educationalist and founder of Mount Kenya University (MKU) Prof Simon Gicharu calling on the government to tap into the vibrant social media (blogging) culture to empower the youth and regulate the industry.
The other was an almost inverse debate on “The Future of Journalism in Kenya”, at a workshop of the Editors Guild held in Nairobi (see photos- Prof Gicharu and the Editors Guild members). Apparently I followed the two conversations on social media.
My curiosity was on how one of the fora raised questions while the Prof’s speech during the 5th MKU graduation ceremony provided an answer to the question.
Prof Gicharu who the MKU board chairman urged the youth ministry to tap into the skills of bloggers by establishing an Institute of Bloggers to regulate and empower them at the same time.
He noted, and rightly so, that blogging culture, previously restricted to individual websites, has now permeated social media where it is rampant and pervasive. He said he was saddened to see bloggers misused and dumped, especially by politicians and businessmen
BLOGGING I would say, is the final liberty of the media world. During my years in the mainstream media, I witnessed dozens prolific writers slide to oblivion due to lack of alternative writing space upon leaving employment. In my days, I never missed to read Oyunga Pala and Waiyua Muli’s articles until they left their employers. Kwendo Opanga went down, down and out.
I, myself, was fired from the Nation Media Group because I was regarded as a poor writer. Yes Wahome Thuku is an incompetent writer and I lived with that tag and accepted it. Only that those who branded me as such have zero to show for all their decades in the media where they were cartels of some sort.
During those times and somehow even today, journalists’ competence was equated to the media houses they worked for. A university graduate working for Kenya Times Newspers was regarded more inferior to a high school leaver working for Nation Media Group. And the perception would change proportionately if the two employees switched employers. Until and unless you put the two persons together away from their employers to see the difference between them.
BLOGGING is now here and bringing that to an end and there is no stopping it. Blogging has brought individuals to limelight, shinning their way to the throne on their own efforts. Robert Alai (whatever you think about him) has no history of working in any media house, yet today, his twits blast the world like hailstorm. Ask yourself why. Just who is Robert Alai?
We never heard of Dennis Itumbi when he toiled for the People newspaper until he hit the world of blogging. Some of us can’t go for a week without mentioning him just to draw attention to ourselves. Pauline Njoroge. Many of you think she is a full-time blogger. No. she has a full-time communication job. She is not an intern as described in a blog unless internship is for lifetime. Blogging is only her passion and she is changing the country in her own way. Caroline Mutoko and many others.
TODAY, I meet many journalists at the Nairobi law courts, who publish their news reports in their own web-pages and blogs with no bosses breathing on their necks for deadlines.
I can go on and on… to say how Kenyans On Twitter (KOT) have influenced international affairs and decisions.
Back to Prof Gicharu, blogging is no longer a passing word but a movement, a lifestyle, a revenue generating venture. Blogging in Kenya is the plane already cruising on the runway and soon it will be airborne.
One of the statement made in the Editor Guild debate read thus, “a new journalism graduate entering a newsroom today would not know whether to turn right or left”. The remark may have been intended to say that journalism in Kenya has lost direction. I dare correct it and say that a new journalism graduate may never again need to enter a newsroom for a job. Such a student may even set his/her online newsroom before he wears the graduation gown. Its all in his efforts.
Time is already here for that. Last night a university student asked me if I could help him set up and promote a blog dealing with Kenyan immigration issues. There may already be many such pages but his may just be different for its own reasons you never know.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there are still pockets of media operators who are stuck to the past. The old ways of doing stuff. Think about this PR officer in a ministry of parastatal who still thinks in terms of writing ((typing) a news statement and sending it by fax to the News Editors.
Today I receive many such press statement emailed to me from the government for publication here and that is partly why I give information ahead of many others. Yes Wanyeki Kago, I “work” for the government in that sense.
To echo Prof Gicharu’s words, the Government departments must pick bloggers and work with them. Whether you train new ones or pick those already established, government must pick and work with bloggers. There may never again be two choices on that. Reason being, the government can say one thing and bloggers are capable of countering it successfully, with or without facts. Bloggers and blogging will change the world not just Kenya.
I may not qualify as a blogger but I can cite many instances where the rest of the media has picked stuff from this wall and published it or asked me to give them direction to my sources. Because I am one fairly accurate writer and we are very many of us.
The job of bloggers in government offices and in its efforts to reach the masses and to explain its policies to the public cannot be overemphasized. Its already there. The sooner we get to realize and accept that the better.
And whether the government involves bloggers in its work or it doesn’t, they (bloggers) will still be out there doing what they do best.
And that was the wisdom behind Prof Gicharu’s remarks.