It’s that time of the year again; general elections are around the corner. Whether you are listening to news, watching news or even reading the newspapers, it is evident that there is so much about political news that being reported from all the 47 counties of my beloved Kenya.
While this is happening, I gather that some journalists have set very strict monetary targets that have to be met before this campaign period comes to an end. But, how are they doing this? It is very sad and makes me sick knowing that journalists are now making it clear that they are not covering stories without being paid up front.
Then I ask myself, why are they demanding money to cover stories? Honestly, if a journalist leaves the newsroom under the editor’s instructions from a given media house, my assumption is that this journalist has salary at the end of the month. In most cases, the transport to and from the function is also catered for.
Therefore, their mandate is simply to go to the field, cover the story and immediately rush back to the office and file the story. But what is happening in Kenya, journalists actually camp at the end of a function and wait, wait and wait to be paid before they head back to their offices. I am informed that some actually make it very clear that this specific story will not go on air if they are not paid. Now, I don’t get it very clear, is this supposed to be a tip or are we as Kenyans paying journalists to cover stories?
I will start by saying this, if any of you pays a journalist to have their stories covered, you are doing so out of ignorance and stupidity. A month back I was attending a workshop with some of the Kenyan aspirants and the media discussion got out of hand. What I heard was extremely disappointing. “The Kenyan media is so corrupt and expensive. The journalists ask for money and yet they never air our stories,” remarked an aspirant, who has definitely been lied to before.
Many of them narrated their sad stories on how they have had to deal with journalists. “Some of us will never get any media coverage even if we have newsworthy stories. Only the rich and the affluent will get the prime time coverage because they are able to pay for that,” retorted another one.
When it got heated, the aspirants actually mentioned some of the journalists who have asked for money to cover specific stories and to say the least, it was very shameful and I stopped respecting some of those journalists. They went ahead to say so and so from this particular media house. One of the female aspirants narrated how she had to pay two breakfast presenters before she got an interview with them. It was at this time that I got really agitated and actually had to stand up and asked her, “Where was this? How did you get these presenters? What was the agreement between you and them? At what time did you pay them?”
“I was introduced to them by a mutual friend and I told them that I would like to be interviewed on air and they told me that I had to pay a given fee, and that I had to pay this before the interview, which I did and then I was given an appointment.” She narrated. Sad as it was, this is among the biggest radio station in Kenya; I lack respect for these two presenters.
It is very sad that as journalists we have become very unprofessional and we embrace pauper tendencies. From the editors all the way down to the field reporters. I attended a function last week and again I watched some of these journalists hang around waiting to be paid. This is not a tip, is it?. While we sat down to discuss about it, I was reprimanded for behaving as if I don’t know that this cheap behavior has been in existence forever. “It is very evident that most reporters have been living out of such habits. They actually demand a given fee for every story they air or publish. Many are living out of this cash they make by exploiting politicians in the name of giving them coverage.” Remarked a friend.
Reputation and Integrity is Key
Talking to other media consultants, they agree that this kind of behavior has been happening and it is time we put a stop into this. So I ask, is it possible to stop this? “Yes, it is possible. Many people don’t bother knowing how the media works, they imagine you have to pay to have your story covered. Many stories have been dropped because the journalists were not paid as they covered the stories and it does not just happen in Kenya, it secretly happens in many parts of this world” said Jean Kamau, a media consultant in Nairobi.
Years back, my communication lecturer at Daystar University Mrs. Nyaga, taught us on media ethics and warned us against this. “Freebies, brown envelopes, free gifts and quick money will compromise your integrity as a journalist.” She said. For me I keep saying this, journalism is a calling, do it because you love to do it and do it well but don’t see it as a means to get rich quick by exploiting innocent Kenyans. As a journalist guard your integrity, your reputation, if at all you want to maintain a clean and a professional identity when your name is mentioned. As for those seeking publicity, care to ask and understand how the media works. Know your media contacts; know when to call the media to cover your functions. Not all events are newsworthy so do not fall prey of being conned into paying so as to get media coverage when all you need is just communication by word of month.
Know the key elements into a good story. Journalists are guided by news values as they go out to cover a story. Some of these values include timeliness (being the first with the story) human interest (such as Nyeri women biting their husbands), proximity, “consequences” of an event and prominence. Therefore, package your press releases such that they attract media coverage, most of these journalist have a pay check at the end of the month.
” The surest way to remain a winner is win once and then not play anymore!” Ashleigh Brilliant