Beyond the byline: The remarkable story of veteran journalist Dorothy Kweyu

Consulting Editor Dorothy Kweyu makes her remarks during the Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik) 40th anniversary celebrations at in Nairobi on March 23, 2022.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Dorothy says she developed an interest in the media after coming across Baraza, a publication by one of the media houses in Kenya.
  • Her attempt to join Nation Media Group was initially faced with hurdles, as she received regret letters following her application for a reporter job.

For the love of journalism, Dorothy Kweyu left a good paying job for a trainee reporter slot in a publishing firm.

Her passion for the pen persuaded her to leave a job where she earned Sh3,500 a month for a trainee reporter job whose starting salary was Sh1,500.

Although some of the people close to her were against this move, she stuck to her guns. In the end, the gamble paid off, opening doors for a career in journalism that would span more than four decades.

Dorothy tells Nation.Africa that she developed an interest in the media after coming across Baraza, a publication by one of the media houses in the country. Her father was an ardent reader of the newspaper, making her develop an interest too.

Her newfound love for journalism, she says, received a major boost when while studying at Mukumu Girls High School, renowned journalist the late Philip Ochieng’ visited the school to give them a talk.

“When Philip Ochieng’ spoke to us, we were all ears. At the back of my mind, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to pursue a career in journalism and there was no turning back,” Dorothy says.

Her career in journalism started in earnest after she graduated with honours at the University of Nairobi (UoN) in 1975, having studied a Bachelor of Arts in Literature and Linguistics course.

She got a job as school books editor with Jomo Kenyatta Foundation almost immediately. She resigned five months later to take up a USAID staff development master's scholarship at the UoN. She submitted her thesis in early 1978, then got her first job as a trainee feature writer/reporter

Her attempts to join Nation Media Group (NMG) or Standard Media Group, the biggest media companies in the country at the time, were initially faced with hurdles. She received regret letters following her applications for a reporter job. Still hopeful of getting into media, Dorothy got a job as a teacher of English at a secretarial college in Nairobi. Her salary was Sh3,500.

A while later, she came across a small advert in the newspapers that was asking for trainee reporters.

“I applied without hesitation even though the name of the potential employer was not indicated. I just yearned to join the media. After several rigorous interviews, I was hired. The employer was a publishing firm that did in-house publications for different clients. I became the founding editor of Women’s Voice, a publication of Maendeleo ya Wanawake,” she says.

She did not, however, stay in this job for long. Ten months later in 1979, she joined NMG as a staff writer for Sunday Nation. Her face brightens up when she recalls how the publication always looked upon her to produce the Sunday splash.

Dorothy’s good work saw her become a news editor before becoming a revise editor, a position she held until she retired last year. Her journalism career was a dream come true, Dorothy says, noting that it was easier to get a job in the media those days.

She recalls receiving a call from the then Nation’s editor-in-chief asking her if she wanted a job to which she said yes. “He told me to put it in writing. A day after I submitted the letter, I was called for an interview, which was successful,” she recounts.

Media evolution

Dorothy has seen it all in the media industry. The evolution of this noble profession over the years has happened as she watched. She recalls the number of women in the newsroom was almost nil when she joined in the 1980s.

“The newsroom was almost a no woman's place. When I joined Nation, I found only one woman in the newsroom... The number of women, however, grew steadily,” she adds.

Climbing the career ladder those years was an uphill task for women, Dorothy notes. Today, there is a fairly good number of women occupying senior positions in the industry, she observes. It gives her joy that many women now hold senior positions in Kenya’s media industry.

“A lot has changed in the media industry. The young women joining or those already in the industry now have everything going for them. They now have mentors who can hold their hands. It has never been better for women than now. They have gone beyond secretaries as it used to be the case,” the veteran scribe tells Nation.Africa.

And even though she describes the change as painfully slow, she terms it a step in the right direction. In those days, women journalists, she says, were treated with utmost respect and were rarely mistreated or sexually harassed.

“The male colleagues and bosses in the newsroom respected the women journalists so much. They treated us with utmost respect and care. The sources also treated us very well. It was impossible to hear cases of harassment among female reporters,” she notes.

She recalls a day when she interviewed a senior government official. It was getting late and the secretary wanted to go home. Dorothy recounts the senior official telling his secretary that she would not leave him alone with a woman in the office.

Today, sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women journalists are a cause of concern among industry stakeholders.

Online harassment

A survey by Unesco and the International Centre for Journalists released last year revealed that 73 per cent of women journalists globally experienced online violence and only 20 per cent reported the attacks.

Another study conducted in 2019 by the Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik) and Article 19 Eastern Africa found at least seven out of 10 women journalists in Kenya have been harassed online in the course of their work. Dorothy took a break from the media in 1987 and went to activism where she worked with international organisations.

In 1992, she founded Interlink Rural Information Service (Iris), an organisation that specialised in writing feature stories from across the country. Her work would be published in the mainstream media. She would, however, make a comeback to the newsroom as a revise editor between 2003 and 2014 when she again took a break. She was recalled in 2018 to continue with her job until last October when she retired.

Now in her early 70s, Dorothy observes that the media industry in the country has witnessed tremendous growth compared to the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Today, the country has at least four newspapers with national circulation and a dozen others that are regional. There are more than 40 TV and 100 radio stations.

Dorothy is a recipient of the journalist of the year and the best women writer awards by the Viva Magazine given to her in 1984. The Media Council of Kenya awarded her the Lifetime Contribution Award in 2016 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021, for her exemplary journalism career.

Currently, she is a consulting editor and a mentor, giving the younger generation tips on how to be a good journalist and how to navigate the media landscape.

“My advice to young girls with a passion for journalism is that it is doable. Go for it,” she says.