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September 23, 2018

'There Come A Time'

Macharia Gaitho. Photo/File
Macharia Gaitho. Photo/File

Reading Macharia Gaitho’s letter to his colleagues made me realise that it’s time (there come a time) to articulate the great unspoken about the world of media today. When I spoke about the tyranny of success earlier this year, I ruffled a few feathers, yet barely five months later, the truth of the changes in our society, the way we consume and contribute to news and information has changed, and might I add, fundamentally, forever. Indeed, there come a time. Gaitho, there comes a time when you change media platforms.

There is a change in the world of media as we know it today. In some places it is subtle, in some areas it’s a sweeping tsunami. Whichever way you look at it, we have been disrupted.

I was invited to speak to media students at Moi University in 2014. I honoured the invitation from Dan Omanga and his colleagues, and ensured I didn’t waste anyone’s time trying to be “correct” in an effort not to alarm the undergrads. I made it clear that they need to prepare for a new world, a new audience and a new media. One has to be gentle with young minds and young dreams, especially our local university students, because anything that threatens their perceived ideals is deemed as an evil that must be silenced with random riots and name calling. I was glad to be speaking at Moi University. I don’t believe this side of civilisation was or is ready for the brutal truth. Moi University handled my presentation very well. I could tell they were a little shocked, but they took it in stride. I think they figured the changes I was talking about were years away. Oh dear.

The only people I wasn’t gentle with, was faculty – I told them simply – “scrap your current syllabus and write a new one”. Infact I sent them the draft (copywrite) of a proposed one. I said “If you don’t write a new syllabus and create a new curriculum, you’re setting these kids up for misery. The world they will graduate into, bears no resemblance to the system of media, the theories of operation, and the time-lines that worked five years ago nay two years ago”. As Lynda Nyangweso puts it - in 140 characters or less, news had been told.

In my letter to Mr. Omanga “Mwalimu, as you look through my curriculum recommendations and additions, please bear in mind that your students today and those to come, live in a world where news was re-defined by Jullian Asange and Edward Snowden. In a world where Google walked out of China and the EU passed a law on The Right To Be Forgotten. The practice of media and consumption of the same has changed radically and as such, so must the teaching and practice of the same”.

As Gaitho said so well; “there come a time…” There comes a time when media practioners no matter what their goal is, be it ratings or revenue, begin to deal with some harsh realities: we no longer go on-line, we live on-line.

Legacy media doesn’t own the term “breaking news” – we validate and confirm breaking news, but we don’t break news. We haven’t in years. News and pictures break on-line in whatever form, be it SMS, Twitter or Whatsapp before we can set up a tripod, cue the camera and say action. The closest thing to the speed of digital media is radio and even then, radio is still 10 minutes behind.

My career was built on three things. I worked in radio at a time when my show was your source of news and information. If you wanted to know what was happening, you had to tune in to me and Radull in the morning. We were how you plugged into the world. She had the news, I had the news makers a phone call away, we gave you the traffic updates and we connected accidents and incidents to the people that mattered.

Today @Ma3route has that covered in more ways than one.

I feel terrible for Apostle Nganga, he didn’t realize that everyone with a phone that has a camera is by and large a journalist today. He is upset with journalists for the way his saga was treated, yet the truth is, today, Ken, Fred and Wanjiru had their cellphones out and the pictures and the news on Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter before our media houses could assign a team and drive to the scene of the accident or incident. News is instant. Comedy is a meme away.

My career was built on the fact that the show was your source of entertainment and controversy. That has been taken over by Mpasho, Ghafla, @Alai, @Nyakundi and a legion of others. However those who like to lament that these outlets are rogue, unstructured and un-professional, need to note that they are not going anywhere.

The challenge for legacy media is to up our game or play catch-up with digital. Tell me what the news means to me and get ahead of the curve before Alai tells the story. Where were we as Dubai Bank was crashing? Infact, currently the Kenyan economy is experiencing a large current account deficit, making it heavily reliant on foreign capital. We are in trouble. Where is that story? It can’t be told by Mpasho. It better not. This is the issue we should be drilling the CBK Governor on, not his marital status and why he doesn’t want the fancy car and house. Get the man into a studio and demand some answers. We are in freefall!!

My career was built on the ability to share my spotlight with others and make them shine. Today they do just fine just by updating their own status. From Sauti Sol to Avril and Wahu. Infact a truly fine example is President Uhuru Kenyatta. His digital platforms are on steroids. His news and pictures are up within an hour of anything his does, along with the speech as well. I used to think that ‘following” him on Facebook or Twitter was akin to a political endorsement – it isn’t – it’s about The State Of The Nation in real-time. I stalk Uhuru just to get an idea of what the hell is going on.

We are living through the 2nd industrial revolution and the internet is the engine. I have been asked to speak to yet another university in a month’s time and even as I work on my speaking notes, this is what I know for sure. That Facebook is the new business center, Twitter is breaking the news tool and the new client suggestion box and Youtube is television in the palm of my hand anytime, anywhere.

We live in a world where very soon Snapchat will be the new targeted marketing tool – that little ghost has real ROI. Where does that leave Instagram and Pinterest – well that my friends is what we call window shopping 3.0. There come a time, when media needs to go back to the drawing board and take this internet thing seriously. Gaitho - I’m not going to say goodbye - what for? Start a blog man. Your storytelling style and your opinion is still very relevant, the only thing that needs to change is the platform. There comes a time when media must evolve.

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