ART OF STORYTELLING

‘News is depressing, highlight solutions’

People want something that will inspire them, says Akello Odenyo

In Summary

• The Star is starting a series on feature writing that will run on Mondays at 6am

• In the first episode, Akello Odenyo discusses her skills and negativity in the news

Feature stories are the leisurely side of the news. The Star is home to great feature writers.

General news reporter Akello Odenyo announced herself to the Star newsroom in 2019 with one of the most memorable intros:

“If a bar of soap could wash away all her worries and a brassiere could lift her hopes, Rael Anyango would be studying at Kolanya Girl’s High School.”

It poetically captured the plight of a girl from a poor family who only reported to school with the two basics, not even a toothbrush.

Rael Anyango, wearing her former school uniform at her home in Busia, after being turned away from Kolanya Girls' National School
Rael Anyango, wearing her former school uniform at her home in Busia, after being turned away from Kolanya Girls' National School
Image: AKELLO ODENYO

That flair was on display again last year, when Akello wrote her way to the top of the 10 best features of 2021 with a story on the slumlord behind Mukuru Kwa Njenga.

Akello was the first guest on Art of Storytelling, a new series on feature writing, where she explained that an intro can make or break a story.

“That is what gets the readers to read your story or just ignore it,” she said.

Akello, who is renowned for human interest stories, said the flexible structure of feature stories appeals to her.

“You are able to share details and express your style of writing as compared to hard news, in which you just report this is what happened.”

She acknowledged that writers struggle with word count when doing features. “Stories can be broad with different angles, and when you want to write everything, you find that the story is all over. You do not have a flow.” 

She advised focusing on a specific theme to tighten the writing.

Sample of themes making headlines in recent times
Sample of themes making headlines in recent times
Image: TOM JALIO
We create the perception that we bay for blood, or that’s what sells. But the population is depressed. People want something that will inspire them.
Akello Odenyo

BAYING FOR BLOOD 

Dutch journalist Charles Groenhuijsen once likened constant negative news to bad parenting.

“Imagine us as parents always saying to children what they are doing wrong. If that’s the only message we have for our children, they’re going to end up as miserable people,” he said. 

Akello alluded to this when asked what stories are undercovered in the news. 

She cited the work of social justice centres and mothers of victims’ networks, which do a lot to prevent police brutality but journalists wait for a case to occur to go and report on it.

“We create the perception that we bay for blood, or that’s what sells. But the population is depressed. People want something that will inspire them. So our focus on stories should be on how to make change,” Akello said. 

“Tell people how someone overcame depression instead of waiting to tell a story of how a man killed a whole family and killed himself.”

Next week, Art of Storytelling will be talking to science editor and health reporter John Muchangi.