Telling a true and complete story of ‘return to chaos’ in our streets

Police officers patrol Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi

Police officers patrol Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi on March 20, 2023, during the anti-government protests called by opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Readers got more than their money’s worth from the Tuesday Daily Nation.

The newspaper provided comprehensive and quality coverage of the Monday demonstrations that disrupted the lives of possibly millions of people. It dedicated nine pages, including three pages of images, to “Azimio Protests.”

The coverage was readable and sophisticated. The history of post-election protest coverage shows the media focusing on the spectacle of violence rather than the real issues.

This led to accusations of media fuelling copycat violence or failing to report certain incidents for fear of being accused of inflaming passions.

So the media this week were faced with the difficult task of balancing truth-telling and responsible coverage. The Nation on Tuesday showed reporting can be balanced and complete at the same time.

The Nation coverage began on Monday when, all day long, Nation.Africa provided ‘Live Updates’, a minute-by-minute account of what was happening.

NTV also covered the protests live. But live television coverage requires knowledgeable and well-prepared commentators to be meaningful. It was the Tuesday Nation, with its front-page headline ‘Return to chaos’ and saturation and meaningful coverage that carried the day. 

The paper carried nine different stories, with headlines ranging from ‘Tale of two Kenyas: Chaos in some parts, calm reigns in other regions’ to ‘Raila rediscovers his mojo as he leads protest in Nairobi’. The centrepiece was by Bernard Mwinzi, who drove the protest story by humanising it and explaining the underlying historical context.

His piece, spread over pages 4-5, was appropriately headlined ‘As Raila shuts down the city, Ruto stares him down’. In Nation.Africa, it was renamed ‘Raila versus Ruto: Was it a showdown or shutdown?’

The piece underpinned the excellence of the Nation coverage. It was, of course, not perfect. No reporting is.

Mwinzi overplayed the relevance of the report by Amnesty International on the use of rubber and plastic bullets and other law-enforcement weapons by retelling it in too much detail. He provided an insufficient historical perspective of the Raila Odinga protests.

But he admirably pushed the boundaries of traditional reporting by combining factual reporting with the narrative techniques of fiction writing.

He set the tone of the story in the first paragraph: “Raila Odinga wore a beige combat suit, a fearsome grimace and a contortion that exaggerated the two wrinkles between his eyes. He appeared angry and edgy in the one-or-so minute between the moment he emerged from his room at Serena Hotel Nairobi and the moment he was sent scampering into his car after police officers fired a teargas canister towards him and his entourage.”

He immersed himself in the protest story and reported it like a literary journalist. He created a moving human-interest narrative. He was detail-oriented, whether writing about his encounters with police officers or collecting spent cartridges and rubber bullets. He drew pictures with his language and deftly engaged readers.

He invited readers to see every side of the riots. His narrative was simple but compelling. Sample this: “A woman overwhelmed by the thick smoke of teargas ran by, screaming her lungs off with her eyes half-closed. ‘Don’t worry Mama,’ one of the rioters shouted, ‘unga will soon be retailing at Sh50.’ The woman did not utter a word and disappeared into the chaotic maze of Wabera Street.”

Mwinzi set a high standard for covering a protest not merely as an episodic account of the confrontation between protestors and police but as an explanation of the substantial issues. He captivated readers with a fiction-like narration of encounters. He helped the Nation tell a convincing and complete story. 

Postscript: Did Mwinzi lie to be allowed inside Serena Hotel where Raila Odinga was holed up? It’s not clear to readers. “To get in, I informed the police officers and sentries at the gate that I was a guest at the hotel and needed access to my room,” he said in his piece.

Whether he was actually a guest or was lying to get in, needed to be clarified. Journalists don’t book hotel rooms to report events a stone’s throw from the newsroom. Transparency, as Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel say in The Elements of Journalism, signals the journalist’s respect for readers and allows them to judge the process by which the information was collected. 

We need geographical context in stories

Why doesn’t the Nation use journalistic cartography? Do you assume that the average reader is so well versed about the geography of Kenya? Whenever there are infrastructure projects, border disputes between counties or security operations against banditry, one has to look at Google maps to understand where the music is playing.

Sometimes one gets the feeling the editors themselves don’t know exactly where their stories are located. An explanatory map now and then is the best practice all over the newspaper world. It increases reading pleasure considerably and would be a service and civic education at the same time. 

-- Dr Werner Zeppenfeld, Msambweni, South Coast


‘Today in History’ confuses readers

I refer to the photo accompanying the caption on page 20 of the Friday Nation, March 17, 2023. Some of the men in the photo were not in Parliament or Cabinet as of March 17, 1987. In particular, I refer to John Osogo and Dr Njoroge Mungai, who are easily identifiable.

Readers may be led to believe it was taken on March 17, 1987, in what looks like a president addressing Parliament (on a different occasion), hence the presence of judges in the chamber. The Nation library must be overflowing with photographs of Moi, whose image alone was sufficient to support the caption, assuming it was factual. 

--Harrison Kinyanjui


Popeye cartoon has lost its humour

The Popeye cartoon in the Sunday Nation has entertained us for years. Of late, it has changed. Poor caricatures and humour. What happened?

--John Mukiri 


Promote networking in EAC countries

NMG should promote art, music, culture and history networking in the EAC countries. Special focus should be on DRC to end war.



Good ‘Nation’ coverage for NMG CEO 

The NMG CEO Stephen Gitagama is certainly the most photographed CEO in the country going by his frequent appearances in the Daily Nation.

Mr Gitagama is a very regular feature in the Nation where he is very well covered in many engagements. Certainly being at the helm of the biggest newspaper in East and Central Africa is a good thing for events coverage. 

--Sammy Ng’ang’a, Nairobi

The Public Editor is an independent news ombudsman who handles readers’ complaints on editorial matters including accuracy and journalistic standards. Email: [email protected]. Call or text 0721989264