“I joined the newsroom at a time when you could easily count the number of women journalists, but now that the numbers are so much higher, [it] makes me proud every day when I look through a beautifully written script by a young lady or watch one anchoring a bulletin, even on another station, we are growing both in numbers and performance,” says Jamila Mohamed, Kenyan journalist and managing editor at Citizen TV.
Mohamed has been in broadcast journalism for over 20 years and says; “it is an exciting time to be in the media industry but also comes with a lot more responsibility for us as journalists in our duty to educate, inform and entertain. The onus is on us to conduct our duties with integrity and professionalism”.
1.) How did you get started as a journalist?
I got my first journalism job in the year 2000 at a radio station that had just been launched. At the time I did not have any journalism experience or education. I had just completed a computer course after high school (at the time it was all the rage!), I heard about the radio station and applied for a job but all I could get was a sales representative position… It’s hard selling a new radio station to potential clients! I must admit I failed miserably. One day while I was in the office, the newsreader on duty did not show up, the head of news at the time rushed into the newsroom and asked the first person he saw (me!) to help out, and that is how I read my first bulletin. I have never looked back. I left the radio station after two years to join Nation TV where I stayed for 16 years, rising through the ranks from a junior reporter/news anchor to managing editor. For the past four years, I have been managing editor at Citizen Television, the number one TV station in Kenya in terms of viewership and revenue.
2.) What has been your experience as a woman in the newsroom?
I joined the newsroom at a time when you could easily count the number of women journalists, but now that the numbers are so much higher it makes me proud every day when I look through a beautifully written script by a young lady or watch a woman anchoring a bulletin, even on another station, we are growing both in numbers and performance. But what has not changed is how much more we have to work to prove that we can do it. Women have to work harder, smarter, and longer to prove themselves in this industry. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it also means we learn more, easily adapt to different environments and have longevity in the industry. I am glad that we have more women running newsrooms as managing editors and editors, one step at a time.
3.) How would you describe the Kenyan media landscape?
It is diverse and growing every day. There are over 180 radio stations broadcasting in different languages and reaching millions of Kenyans in urban and rural areas. Television is the leading medium with free-to-air channels being the most popular. Yes, there are a few more popular than others. In television Citizen TV leads in terms of viewership, reach and revenue. While the newspaper side is dominated by The Nation and Standard. The press scene is one of the most competitive in Africa. It is important to note that some of the media houses have a presence in other countries in East Africa. Kenya also leads the region in internet connectivity, mobile phone usage use and social media engagement.
This is an exciting time to be in the media industry but it also comes with a lot more responsibility for us as journalists in our duty to educate, inform and entertain. The onus is on us to conduct our duties with integrity and professionalism
4.) Social media is a powerful tool that can disseminate information quickly, and you have quite a large following on Twitter. How did you build that following and how have you found it engaging regularly with people online?
I honestly have no idea how and why so many people follow me on Twitter! I only post things related to my work or topics that I feel strongly about. I think it all comes with the profile; I am a familiar face to many Kenyans, having graced their television screens for over 20 years. I don’t engage as much as I should, which is something I am working on. I post articles and videos of our work, retweet and like stories or discussions that we have on our channel as well as support our digital department and my colleagues in the same way. But I need to improve on direct engagement with people regularly. The downsides: criticism! Some senior colleagues and I host a weekly current affairs show every Thursday night titled News gang on Citizen Television. The show is very popular but it also comes with a lot of criticism of course depending on which side of the political divide some of the viewers are. Kenya is going to the polls in about three months, and the candidates are clear and so are those who support either side. Audience behavior is very interesting during this period! The upside is how we are able to pass information very fast and also receive it as fast using social media. It is a huge platform for discussions, opinions, information sharing and even news sources. Having worked at a time when there was no social media and now, this is an interesting and exciting time to be a journalist. But the dangers of misinformation and fake news are also ever-present. Fact-checking and research desks are more vital in the newsroom now than ever before.
5.) What is the one story that you worked on which had a lasting impact on you?
In 2006 when I was still a reporter, I did a story about a 9-year-old girl who picked up a 1,000 shilling note on her way to school and ensured that it reached the owner. Why is this interesting? Hannah came from a very poor family; her mother was very sick and she and her young brother slept hungry almost daily. That 1,000 shilling note back then, would have fed them for days. Her mother even scolded her for giving it back. But Hannah took the money to her teacher and made sure it was given back; it was a small village so this was possible. After the story aired, the support for Hannah and her family was overwhelming. Well-wishers paid for her education as well as that of her brother as well as supporting the family. That story has stayed close to my heart since then. I lost touch with Hannah and her family. Last I heard from the young lady, she was in high school and doing well. I wish I could find her now. I would love to know how her life turned out.
6.) Any advice for aspiring news anchors?
Oh yes! Start by being a field reporter first, believe me, that experience will help you on screen. Also be involved in the news production process, from attending news planning meetings to familiarising yourself with what is contained in the bulletin you will be anchoring. In my opinion, just showing up to read the intros from the teleprompter makes not a good anchor. Always remember as the anchor you carry the time and efforts of everyone involved in the news process. From the reporters, camera persons, editors, video editors, news directors, and producers to the graphics and creative team; always bring your best and be prepared for anything. Breaking news happens anytime and if it finds you on air, learn to go with the flow and just listen to your producers and as always give your all, it’s your show, do it well.
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