It’s critical for journalists to be acquainted with history

Thursday, January 30th, 2020 19:33 |
Media. Photo/Courtesy

A national television station treated its audience to two high-profile interviews this month. That was a scoop of sorts.

The interviews provided students of the media with contrasting styles of interviewing and the kind of information minted from both conversations.

The first interview was a high-octane engagement featuring a determined journalist on a mission to elicit information from the source.

The respondent was an equally determined seasoned politician used to wiggling his way out of tight interview corners.

In the second interview was an easy-flowing veteran journalist almost starting out in a near laid-back position but building slowly, stealthily guiding his subject to say more than he intended to without realising it.

Sure enough, the interview yielded some information that is often not in the public domain.

For example, what is the Kenyan definition of wealth? How much does a Kenyan need to have to his name to be counted among the rich?

In either case, while the interviews proceeded the chattering public was not shy to chime in with their observations.

It is the challenge that journalists live within in the age of interactive audience that is opinionated, engaged in instant fact-checking, and generate their own questions and alternative answers.

Kenya has a past, and it is a long one if you ask some. This year the nation marks the 57th anniversary of her independence.

Yet it is a nation of the young. About 45 per cent of Kenya’s population are aged below 15 years.

The country is currently enthralled in a discussion on Building Bridges Initiative. In the next two years, the electorate will troop to the polls to elect another set of leaders to guide the country for five years.

Many first-time voters in the 2022 elections will be people born when Mwai Kibaki was President.

Kibaki came to power in 2002. Among his signature policies was the introduction of free and universal primary education.

So, a good number of first time voters in 2022 will be children who benefitted from free primary education, grew up with what they call Thika superhighway, and always shop at malls.

In the second interview, the journalist explored Kenya’s past and asked his subject what it was like to spend the first night in detention.

These first-time voters have no idea what that question meant, and they did not waste time telling the journalist to move on and draw some blood in the interview.

Yet that past has a huge bearing on their lives and affects their everyday experience and future.

The 2002 generation of the Kibaki era essentially have no need for bridges. If it was left to them then the BBI is a mute subject.

This country now wallows in debt. Again, the 2002  and beyond generation have no idea how this debt was accumulated.

The events shaping their lives today were put in place by generations before them and they would not know how to deal with these issues without the benefit of the past.

History is important. There are those who submit that the study of history is a waste of time and resources. But we have to understand that history to help us know how to deal with the events of today and tomorrow. 

This is the value addition that veteran journalists bring to the table. They are walking encyclopedia, witnesses of history who bring their understanding of the historical context into interviews and the stories they write.

BBI does not make sense until you bring in many players from our historical past including Mzee Jomo Kenyatta who must not be confused with his son, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga who, too, is different from former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the debris from the reign of President Daniel arap Moi and his successor Kibaki.

In the age of willful illiteracy, the only institution to place events in context to enable society make sense of them is the media.

Journalists do well to delve in the past in order to connect it to the future.— The writer is the dean, School of Communications, Daystar University

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