Category Archives: Media in Kenya

Missing Bits in Media

Excerpts from a chat on Colonial Legacies in Media Reporting in Nairobi, Kenya

  • A young Aga Khan came to Kenya and set up the Nation as an independent media house, hired fleet street writers who did a good job knowing that they would write themselves out of their jobs.
  • When a journalist is sent to do a story on a car accident, their editor will not consider it complete until they interview the OCPD (local police boss)
  • A media house put together stories about Kenya’s former President, Daniel arap Moi when he passed away in 2020, but they did not get much online traction. When they analyzed why they found that the top search query was ” who is Daniel arap Moi?” It was a realization moment that Moi’s rule ended in 2002 and the average age of the online media audience is 19 years.
  • In 1976 President Jomo Kenyatta attended a lunch at the Serena Hotel with the Aga Khan at the Serena Hotel, the Standard group Chairman Udi Gecaga and his nephew Ngengi Mungai, newly returned from the USA – and the purpose was to ask if Ngengi could be made Chairman of the Nation group.
  • Stories on Africa are relayed using wire services and take the same path as planes – as they go to Europe and then back to reach other parts of the continent. Kenya will get most news stories about neighbouring Ethiopia from the BBC or Radio France.
  • Two families from Tunisia have controlled pan-African media for 60 years through respective ownership of the New African/IC Publications group in London and Jeune Afrique Media group in Paris.
  • In 1988, the Nation reckoned it had an audience of 500,000 and with the growth of the middle class, expected that this would only expand exponentially. But today, they have a much smaller audience, yet legacy media controls much more of the online, print and broadcast media spaces.
  • The news media was created in colonial times to amplify the government’s message and this logic did not change after independence.
  • Kenya has four national languages: English, Swahili, Silence and Gossip.
  • If you want the news in Kenya, listen to/follow gossip.
  • Viewers expect too much of this media ecosystem when the terms of the ecosystem are set to a different reality. It’s like buying a Zebu cow and expecting it to produce milk like a Fresian.
  • If the news was important to Africa, the OAU would have invested in it
  • Why is the newspaper which is given out for free the least circulated one in Kenya?
  • This town is littered with the broken dreams of journalists.
  • Over two hundred studies commissioned by media on what readers found lacking and why they were not consumers was because the news had “no women” and “few young people.”

Bank Clerk in the Kenya Colony

In April 1923, the East African Standard, ran an anonymous blog-like column by a bank clerk in the Kenya Colony. He narrates how he wakes up slowly, is brought tea by his servant Juma (which means Friday), then is brought his bath, of which there are two types, before he goes to work.

Excerpts:

“… and then on to the business of the day. Monotonous life? don’t you believe it! I doubt whether a bank clerk’s life is ever really monotonous as some make it.

In Kenya, it certainly is not as our customers are so varied. One minute, a newly-retired colonel of the Indian army, moustache and all. Next, a retired lieutenant commander from the Navy who perhaps goes one further and sports a beaver. Then one of the boys – Navy, Army or Air force for the duration, now farming. Then a lady farmer, charming, even wearing breeches. Government officials and visitors.

In they come, day after day. Monotonous? Never. All as different as chalk from cheese except in two respects; they are all jolly good sorts and they all want overdrafts.

It’s all very well to be light-hearted about it but I am afraid that we often miss the gleam of bitter sadness which lies behind it all. Kenya is a young colony and fortunes cannot be made in a day. There are as many who failed to grasp this. They come out here with family and little else. The wife is still here, the family perhaps has increased but an ominous overdraft and a mortgage form have taken the place of the little ones.”

The day ends with sundowner drinks and an early night, to be repeated all over again.

Digital Newspapers boost during Covid

At the end of May 2020 digital copies of leading newspapers were availed to Kenyans through a partnership with Safaricom.

The newspapers are the Standard and the Nairobian from the Standard Group and the Daily Nation and the Business Daily from the Nation Media Group. The digital copies all cost Kshs 20 each, which is about 1/3 of the street prices of Kshs 50 and Kshs 60 for the print newspaper copies.

This comes at a time of declining readership, and declining advertising for newspapers and in recent months both the media groups have issued profit warnings – the Standard for 2019 and the Nation for 2020. During the Coronavirus outbreak, there have been readers who have stopped buying and reading print newspapers for fear of contracting the virus, despite newspapers running advertisements about the safety and hygiene of their printing and distribution processes. Safaricom is powering this initiative as a Covid-19 response and the digital newspapers are available for a period of two months.

The digital newspapers are very easy to buy with the payment deducted from a user’s airtime, not from M-Pesa. Sign-up requires no cumbersome registration and there is no app to download. One also has to be on Safaricom data to download it, not Wi-Fi, though the download does not consume data, and the purchased copies are available to read for 7 days.

Whether this will accelerate a more permanent shift in readership will be seen after the period ends in the second half of the year. Local media houses have tried for many years to get readers to pay for online subscriptions without much success.

Early in the Covid-19 period, full PDF copies of newspapers would circulate on WhatsApp, but these seem to have stopped since a crackdown was initiated. This is also a period of increasing political activity and a key tool of propaganda is the use of doctored government documents and fake newspaper covers to mislead online readers – so having actual digital copies is a welcome tool to verify which are with the fake covers.

There is also another Nairobi newspaper that is completely free – both online and in print. The People Daily that is handed out to motorists and also distributed to a smaller clientele around the country. The packaging of the newspaper during Corona is indicative that costs may not be an issue at this paper.

*Get the digital newspapers from Safaricom.com  under “discover” then “newspapers” or by dialing *550#.

EDIT: On June 22, Radio Africa and Mediamax joined the partnership, availing their The Star and People Daily newspapers for Kshs 10 per issue.

EDIT: On July 1, the Nation Media Group announced a “change its business model from print advertising and physical reader copy to digital advertising, ePaper subscription and content-driven reader revenue.” This was accompanied by a reduction of workforce effective July 3, 2020 and salary reductions, of, in some cases, 40%.

EDIT: May 2021: The portfolio of publications has been expanded beyond newspapers and now includes magazines like Swara and Parents as well as the government classifieds’ publication – MyGov.

Baraza Media Lab launch

This week saw the launch of the Baraza Media Lab in Nairobi as part of an initiative to foster more collaboration towards a better future for journalists and media to tell their stories.

The Baraza Lab is a $1 million investment that is supported by the Luminate Group which is a spinoff of the governance and citizen engagements funded by the Omidyar Network. Ory Okolloh, the Managing Director, Africa for Luminate said that different media organizations were dealing with their industry problems in their own silos. The new Baraza lab, which is being run in collaboration with Mettā Nairobi, is a place where like-minded creatives could meet, share, and collaborate on the future of media.

At the launch, it was said that no industry has been as disrupted by technology as much as the media, whose business models have been eroded by new advertising platforms. This is also a time when propaganda and fake news divides societies and where personalities had more followers than countries. Yet media remains a necessary arm of inclusive and democratic societies, and organizations such as AmaBhungane and Africa Uncensored were cited as two entities that had done a great deal to expose corruption issues in South Africa and Kenya, respectively.

Media coach and “recovering” journalist Uduak Amimo, who was the keynote speaker at the launch, spoke about the revelations and opportunities brought on by new media in the last few years. As an example of collaboration, she said that the data dumps by Wikileaks had not made much sense until the organization partnered with traditional media houses. But the opportunities for media had been hampered by a focus on profits over purpose, media that shared messages that they had not checked or analyzed, pay discrimination and tolerance of harassment among other factors.

Social Media That Matters by Ogilvy

Ogilvy Africa and Ogilvy Social Lab held a session in Nairobi a few days ago. Speakers tackled the state of social media in 2019 in terms of technology usage, making brands stand out, and the role of influencers, among other items. 

It looked at trends in the world of media dominated by platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Google (the four horsemen of the internet), and we learnt that we are in the middle of the biggest social experiment ever as billions across the globe use these platforms every day to network, communicate, transact, engage and get information.

Some of the highlights included:

  • People look at their mobile phone screens an average of 53 times a day – consuming information as text, images, video, and stories in bit sizes.
  • Users spend an average of 6 hours 45 minutes per day consuming digital media, with social media accounting for 2 hours and 20 minutes of that. In Kenya, one study found that young users spend 3 and ½ hours a day on social media.
  • Kenya has 8 million Facebook users and 700,000 Twitter users. It also has 1.5 million on Instagram and 2.1 million on LinkedIn.
  • But engagement is a poor predictor of business results. Brands should produce less content, personalize it and pay to promote it.

  • Everything is becoming a shop – thanks to tools like augmented reality, ordinary objects like posters and benches can come to life when viewed through a phone lens – and lead to hidden videos and links to merchants as seen in Snapchat Lens, Google Lens and Shopping on Instagram. An example was cited of the Jordan shoe sale marking the 30th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s iconic dunk – people at special Nike parties who watched a geo-located augmented-reality advert on Snapchat were able to order a new release of the vintage shoes, in their size, and have them delivered to their homes in two hours. The shoes sold out in a few minutes.
  • People go to YouTube with ‘intent’ – they know what they are looking for and want to watch (usually in the evenings) and this contrasts with ‘discovery’ driven video consumption in the daytime. Also, the first seconds matter the most – there is 47% awareness created in the first three seconds of a video message.
  • The most ignored influencer is the one who works in customer care.