What you need to know:
- At the beginning of my career, I had such enthusiasm for journalism that I never used to do anything else.
- I can’t imagine anything I would do as well and with as much joy as journalism.
Mutuma Mathiu is Nation Media Group’s (NMG) Editorial Director. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Egerton University, a postgraduate diploma in Mass Communication from the University of Nairobi and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Leeds, UK.
He joined NMG in 1997 as a Sub-Editor/Writer for the Sunday Nation before rising through the ranks to become the NMG’s Group Editorial Director. He shares his career path with the Sunday Nation.
Tell us about your childhood and family.
I was born in Meru, Imenti central. My mum is still alive, and dad died when I was in my first year in university. I am the last born in a family of seven siblings. I left Meru a long time ago, but there is a lot of Meru in my future. I will go back there and rediscover the things that I left.
Give us a brief history of your educational journey?
My early education was in the village, and then after primary school, I proceeded to Siakago Boys High School in Mbeere North Constituency in Embu County. I don't know if I learnt much in primary school, but I remember I was the last child to learn how to read.
I began to be intellectually curious in high school. It was a Catholic school, and they had a really good library. And that is why I became intellectual curious in terms of language, literature, science. After that, I went through a season of confusion when I didn't quite know what I wanted to do. I didn't know whether I wanted to go into the arts or sciences. I refused to go to Forms Five and Six because the course offered was a science course. I joined a private school to read literature and all these other subjects that excited me.
Share with us your career journey.
I started my career at the Nairobi Law Monthly as the editor in 1995, earning a monthly salary of Sh25,000, which was very good back then. However, after about seven months, I decided to leave and go back to school. I felt that I wasn’t quite ready to settle and take a serious job. I needed to learn more and expose myself more.
When I came back from the University of Leeds, I was jobless. Those days it was not difficult to find a job; some multinationals would come to recruit in the country. But my mind was very clear that I wanted to go back to journalism.
I went to The Weekly Review, which was going through some difficulties. There was no employment there, so from The Weekly Review, I came to Nation. I got a job at the Sunday Nation. I joined Nation in 1996 but got a job in 1997. That past year I was a correspondent but also did a bit of editing.
I got a job as a sub-editor until 1999, when I became Revise Editor. After five years, I joined the Standard Group as the Managing Editor for The Standard. That was in 2003. In 2005 I came back to Nation, and I was sent to Tanzania Mwananchi Communications, where I was the Group Managing Editor.
What do you remember most about my career journey?
At the beginning of my career, I had such enthusiasm for journalism that I never used to do anything else. I would get to the office at 6am and leave late in the evening. In Tanzania, I found an environment that I thought was completely disagreeable and uncomfortable for professional journalists. There was a certain level of informality in the key position. We protected the integrity of our journalism by taking decisions in the open.
You have a meeting, all the editors assembly, and the stories are presented, discuss them, and make decisions there and then. I found a culture where editors were okay having links with political parties. Maybe my reaction was too strong because my position was to continue being an editor or join politics.
What kind of stories triggered you?
I have been so generalized when it came to writing. I reported science, I did features, I did a bit of business reporting. But I am a feature writer; I am a descriptive writer, I also edit and revise copies.
What is the key driver in your career?
I can’t imagine anything I would do as well and with as much joy as journalism. Journalism is important; what we do sets a tone in society and brings changes. Journalism becomes your family because you spend more time with other journalists than with your family members. This is how we contribute to our society and humanity.
What lessons have you picked along the way?
As an editor, I have learned that consultation always improve the quality of the decisions we finally make. This is not a one-person show; it’s a team kind of thing.
For most of my life, I was an introvert, but I have come to learn that to be successful in journalism, you have to lively up. You have to be involved in other people's lives and learn to solve their problems, and you can't do that as an introvert.
You have to take an interest in people; you have to love people. Journalism is not just for yourself, but it's about others. It's the most unselfish of professionals because it's more about the people you are writing about.
Why do most good female journalists leave the newsroom at some point?
The journalism and the newsroom as a workplace are hostile, and women don't thrive in that kind of environment. We need to move into modernisation to create a workplace where it is possible to do your job and be a mother.
Our newsrooms are driven in that the way we plan our work and the way we work assumes that you have nothing else going on in your life. For a man, that is possible because there is someone else minding the family businesses, but for a mother, that becomes discriminative.
We are now moving to creating workplaces where we can be family persons and successful professionals.
What is the future of the Nation under your leadership?
The future of the Nation is digital; the future is more collaborative, more network, the future is technology-driven, the future is a lot more modern, the future is more African. We are expanding to all the African countries. That's the future for Nation.
What would you advise the Kenyan youth?
Not to become cynical. The worst thing in life is cynicism. Cynicism is where you stop believing in a better day, stop believing in your passion, and stop believing that there is anything good in life. You must never get there.
Society has never been fair to the youth; we have horrible people who have been in charge of our affairs, but now we know, and we can work at making it better for the youths.
It would be horrible for my generation to hand over this country to our children in the state in which it is.
What is the one thing you are proud of in your career?
The day Nation.Africa was launched; that was a great day. And it is a day that will probably resonate in the history of African media. After talking and thinking for so long, we started a critical transition of leaving media as we knew it when we started our careers and started building media of the future. That was a wonderful day.
What has been the worst season for media?
It was in 2007 during the post-election violence. I have always believed we could have done more to prevent the loss of lives and the destruction that happened in this country. We ought to have done that by consistently reporting about the incitement and everything that was happening.
Now where we find hate, we expose it because it is our responsibility to say what is not right and prevent taking the country into a bad place.
I didn't say the pandemic because the 2007 violence was worse than Covid-19. Many of the Covid-19 deaths are preventable if the vaccines were available, and if people followed the health protocols, lives could have been saved.
However, 2007 was completely different. You would notice we have been very proactive in dealing with Covid-19 in terms of public information; the media was promoting masks even before World Health Organization(WHO) recommended.
What has the pandemic taught you?
It opened our eyes that your neighbour is as important as yourself because you might be protecting yourself, but you both will die if your neighbour is not protecting themselves. It has taught us to be less selfish, and it has defined our place as Africans globally.
Americans are asking for a third Covid-19 jab, boaster shot; we haven't had the first. The only vaccine we have access to is the one that nobody else wants. So they are giving it for free.
Africans should open their eyes now and know that they are alone. We either survive together, or we sink together. No one will come and fix our problems; we have to build our societies and care for our people.
What are you most scared about in life?
I spent my childhood being trained not to be afraid. Maybe what I'm scared of is not to be afraid. If I wake up in the morning and don't have money, I don't know how to proceed because I start my day planning what you will do. Health is important; not having health is a massive fear. If there is a general meltdown of the economy and our businesses no work and people have no jobs, that worries me. I don't like snakes.
What is your typical day like?
I have woken up at 5am since my school days. Then I run for an hour then shower and come to work. I spend like an hour in the bathroom because that is where I plan all my day. But I work best between 4pm and midnight.
How would you spend your last seven days on earth?
I would go to Mombasa and sit on the beach and drink beer. I would also talk to my friends with who I grew up.
One thing we don't know about you?
If I weren't a journalist, I would be a mechanic or a driver. I love cars. I would be happy doing something like that. I love big cars, small cars. Sometimes just seeing them is enough. I don't like football, but I enjoy athletics and I fancy myself as some runner. If I were stronger, I would have done the marathon.
Your advice to a younger Mutuma Mathiu?
I would have been less introverted. I probably would have enjoyed life a little bit more. There is much more to life; there are much more colours, there is much more joy in life outside of the newsroom. I would have taken more trips, walked along the beach, danced more and done life a little bit more.
What do you do to unwind?
I do a lot of online reading, watch movies, and watch a lot of news. I am active, so I run, I walk a lot. I still don't socialise that much, but sometimes I meet up with my friends. I no longer drink, I am trying to detox, and maybe I will become toxic again.
Your future plans?
I am going to write, but I don't know what. I enjoy writing. I come to life when I write. There is going to be a lot of writing in my future. If I feel energetic, I might take a PhD in digital journalism so I can also continue to keep my memory fresh.
I no longer do things for financial return. I lost the urge to look for money somewhere along the way. There was a time I was driven by investment, and I worked so hard to try and attain financial freedom.
I want to see a better country for my children and your children and all of us, and that's because I know that we can have things in a slightly different manner.
I don't mean I want to be a big guy, but if I am serving in a small board and I can help writers, musicians to give them the opportunity to protect their copyrights, that is the kind of thing I will do, but there is no retirement in my life.