What you need to know:
- They had no idea what the world of journalism entailed, other than the fame that follows most journalists.
- But they did know that the successful ones work tirelessly to produce the newspapers, bulletins, podcasts and live tweets that keep the public informed.
They were always awake 24/7 to break the news, even in the moments of the darkest hours. And yearned to one someday. They always told other people’s stories that never told their own stories. So what is it like to be a journalist? What's the nitty-gritty, unknown stuff that you can't really read about online or be taught in J-schools?
In their own words, three journalists tell us how it feels like to do what they do.
Hellen Shikanda, 24,
Health and science reporter, Daily Nation
I lean towards health, science and human interest stories. I particularly enjoy writing stories that stroke readers’ emotions. I have grown to love what I do because it gives me the privilege to meet new people and learn new things every day. I look for facts, try to make sense of them, and then help others understand them. To do so, I ask tons of questions, and make use of cameras and recorders.
Sitting down to write is the loneliest bit of the job. It involves creating new worlds from scratch, literally. Every time I type on the keyboard, every time I compose a story, I feel the joy, the sadness and euphoria of a soldier on the battlefront.
Mine is a fulfilling career. Imagine witnessing history first hand and writing about it! Sometimes, however, people crucify us for distasteful headlines. How I wish the public understood that writers aren’t responsible for headlines. That is the work of editors.
I joined Nation Media Group in 2019 through the management trainee programme, but my love for journalism began when I was 10. As a child, I was always inspired by renowned journalists like Esther Arunga. My father noticed that I loved reading and began buying me newspapers. These days he buys the paper to read me. I also had a scrap book where I would stick cut outs of the newspaper stories I read over the weekend. I now stalk newspapers on my bookshelf. I’ll show these to my children and grandchildren.
At first, I wasn’t sure whether I would become a broadcast or a print journalist. It is while at the Graduate School of Media Aga Khan University that I read a book –The Gut by Giulia Enders. The book inspired my love for health and science writing, and it largely informed my decision to join the health desk.
Just when coronavirus was beginning to devastate the global economy, I was deployed to the health beat.
In my two years of journalism, death related stories have been the hardest to cover. In the earlier days of Covid-19, I remember interviewing someone whose son had died of the disease. I could feel his pain. I lacked words to ask some questions. Months later, the same person I interviewed died. That broke me.
It is hard for me, like any other human, to endure grief and anxiety. Until I faced this challenge head-on, it was hard for me to separate my emotions from the story.
Then, there are bad days. Days when just crafting an intro becomes difficult. But, we keep going. And, on days when I err, it is my willingness to learn, to be corrected, to do my best, to be respectful, and my belief in God that keep me going.
I do believe I am living my dream. Twice, in primary school, I wrote in my diary and asked God to bless me with a career in journalism. He answered my prayer. In high school, again, I wrote down in my note book that I wanted to be a bilingual journalist because I was good at French and I imagined myself being a correspondent for France 24.
While studying journalism at Moi University, I joined the Moi University Press Club (MUPC) in first year. This became my learning ground. I had a press card and I used it to collect stories within the school. I was really inclined to investigative journalism and crime reporting. I wrote sad stories and happy ones too. By the time I was in my fourth year, I had gathered enough experience, so I became the Editor in Chief of the MUPC. That was the most stressful time of my life. It was my responsibility to ensure that all information that went out was factual. Any wrong or unwanted material we put out warranted a disciplinary meeting with the school’s administration.
When I chose journalism as my first choice, my mother was a bit disappointed because I had performed well in KCSE. She expected me to choose nursing or another “prestigious course”. But my dad supported me all the way. I think he is now very proud of what his little girl is becoming.
George Achoka, 26,
Online reporter, NTV
If I was not a journalist, I would have been a pilot. But, journalism chose me. Now, my job is to regularly break news to an audience I may never know.
I’m an online reporter attached to the broadcast division of NMG. My designation merges both broadcast and print journalism, and I love it. Every time you walk to my desk, you’ll find several tabs open on my computer. I monitor, update, and do write-ups for the company’s social media platforms which include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube.
Together with my colleagues at the digital team, I run and manage NTV Kenya’s social media platforms. I write and post breaking news, share updates and other news stories on the platforms and produce and uploading videos.
This entails being on the lookout for potential news stories from social media, from reporters in the field, from correspondents across the country, from media briefings and from press releases.
I also generate statistics from the day’s engagement to see if the team met all deliverables. The job gets interesting with the adrenaline rush of deadline time. And, it is this dynamism and high pressure nature of the newsroom that I love.
Growing up, I watched news bulletins and listened to radio news a lot. I was always wowed by the meticulous, almost flawless presentation of news items. I yearned to be one of the journalists.
And, now that I am one, I enjoy every bit of what I do. Repackaging TV stories for our online followers and seeing the impact the stories have is satisfying. Interacting with thousands of Kenyans, mostly the youth, who have divergent ideas and opinions on everything, is exciting. It is also very gratifying to know that you update millions of people, and that many depend on you to know what’s happening around the world.
This comes with a great deal of responsibility. I have to be updated on current affairs –both nationally and internationally. I have to verify every post before sharing it because we have such a huge social media following. A lot of fact checking is required, and it involves a chain of reporters, news sources, and editors.
I now know that journalism is not your normal 8am - 5pm job. Sometimes you work overtime. And it involves a lot of sacrifice. It takes heart and courage. Behind every photo or video you see from a warzone, a journalist put his life on the line to get it.
There are days that I actually stay up all night, perhaps when there’s a hotly contested by-election, or when there is an interesting story that our audiences are keenly following.
We also have bad days. Sometimes there is a breaking news story but computers start misbehaving and being slow and you feel like punching at them. Or when there’s an internet outage and you end up posting the news too late, when everybody else has read it and moved on.
At the digital desk, we work in two shifts - the morning shift and the evening shift. I like the evening shift because I consider it busier. On a typical day, I arrive at my desk at around 4pm, and browse through our YouTube channel and websites. I also look at what our competitors have just to stay updated. This also helps me anticipate possible news updates, press briefings and press releases.
Then, I’ll get the news script for the 7pm bulletin and post it on our platforms. I then pick interesting bytes from various programmes before leaving the office at around 2am.
I joined Multimedia University of Kenya on September 10, 2014 and later switched from Applied Communication course to Journalism, and I’ve never regretted it.
I started writing on my blog when I was in my second year, and followed the works of renowned writers like Bikozulu. I then started writing for already established websites for free. A few of them paid me Sh500 per article.
Later, I took temporary jobs managing social media accounts during a campus events, and it is at this point that I fell in love with digital journalism.
In September 2018, I got an opportunity at Standard Media Group’s digital desk to manage their social media account – KTN News, KTN Home and Standard Digital.
Six months later, I joined NMG as an online reporter. At the time, I hadn’t even graduated. I believe the opportunity presented itself courtesy of my mother’s prayers, and maybe my passion and hard work.
Features reporter, Nation Media Group
I’m a multimedia journalist trained in linguistics, media and communication. I am a newspaper reporter at the Daily Nation, Business Daily and The East African newspapers.
My job involves pitching stories to editors, interviewing sources, researching, visiting places and filing stories for Nation Media Group’s print and digital platforms.
I work under about seven editors in different sections of the newspaper, from features editors to news editors, digital editors, weekend editors and science editors.
Besides own pitches, I’m also assigned tasks by my editors regularly. In the newsroom, every day is different. You could be assigned by any editor based on your ability to deliver on a subject. I’ve covered politics, court stories, crime, agriculture, climate, tech, business and even content for young readers.
To be a successful journalist in this age, you must be able to handle stories from diverse areas. Over time, however, you discover the area you most enjoy writing about, and focus your energy there. I’m yet to discover my inclination.
I enjoy meeting people in different environments and interviewing them for stories. What’s heartwarming is when people let you into their homes and their hearts because they trust you to tell their story.
But it’s the writing part that’s the ultimate delight for me. Getting read by a national and international audience is unbelievable. When readers write to me to thank me for highlighting a story, I feel fulfilled. There are also those who write to me to express displeasure in either the manner of writing or choice of subject. As a journalist, you learn to take criticism without losing your head.
There are perhaps no professionals in the world who break ice with strangers quite as easily and quickly as journalists. We have a knack for putting people at ease, and know how to neutralise tense situations.
Besides reading, writing has always fascinated me. I started writing seriously while at Moi University in 2012. I wanted to become a broadcast journalist, and to work at Nation Media Group. Up until my third year in university, however, I’d never given serious thought to a career in writing.
Somehow, though, I started writing commentaries in the Daily Nation, some which would be published and others, as journalists like put it, “would not see the light of day”. Wayua Muli, New Ventures Lead at Nation Media Group, published my first readers’ feedback in the Saturday magazine. I celebrated for weeks, showing the piece to everyone who cared to see my small glory. This gave me the impetus to keep writing.
In 2016, I joined NMG as an editorial intern. I was placed on the Features Desk, under the supervision of Caroline Njung’e, Daily Nation’s Magazines Editor. After my three-month internship, I was hired as a features writer in 2017. That’s how my career in journalism took off. I’m living my career dream.
While I could write quite sensibly as a starter, Caroline helped to refine my craft, which she still does to date. Through her and other editors, I learnt how to identify a good story from pretty ordinary life experiences.
My most memorable moment as a journalist was in 2019 when I was sued for a story I’d written. I was so nervous as I waited to defend myself. When our matter came up, the judge wondered how the dispute constituted a court case in the first place. He threw it out.
Working in the media is a high-adrenaline experience. There’s always pressure to deliver daily, weekly and monthly deadlines. You have to be alert, tough and patient.
When you deliver a good story, you don’t sit to celebrate. You head out to hunt for the next one. As a reporter, you’re as good as your last story. I guess I’m yet to tell my best story.