How The EastAfrican has managed to maintain high quality journalism in the past twenty years
I was a high school teen when I first lay hands on a copy of The EastAfrican. It was different. The stories were detailed, the coverage was regional, the business analyses were intriguing. But the paper appeared expensive. Thus, it was the only copy I ever bought. Ever since that time, I have never failed to read as many stories as time can allow whenever I come across The EastAfrican – be it at a reception desk of some office or in the school’s library. From my first copy to today’s online editions, the The EastAfrican has always carried comprehensive, highly researched and analytical stories, stories that have kept me glued to The EastAfrican pages…and thank goodness, I now have a “behind the scenes” information as to how The EastAfrican team have managed to maintain high quality standards ever since the first publication was made, to date.
When The EastAfrican turned 20 in November last year, the paper published articles that focused on her history and the philosophy behind her quality publications. In an article by Gerry Loughran, a consultant with the Daily Nation, we were told of how His Highness the Agha Khan had expressed the wish for “at least one prestige publication of high quality circulating throughout East Africa” after it had been realized that there was hunger for serious business and financial news, a hunger that was not being filled by any of the existing dailies.
Then it was agreed that the void should be filled – but first there were debates, Gerry says, debates on how and how often a paper aptly named The EastAfrican should be published and distributed. Should it be a pullout from one of the Nation’s weekend publications (Saturday or Sunday Nation)? Or a magazine? Those questions were raised at a time when it was already settled that the paper couldn’t be a daily publication given the resources required to meet the quality standards that had been envisioned. So the debate on how often the paper was to be published and circulated was settled to Weekly – and as a separate paper on its own right.
Although aptly named The EastAfrican, the name didn’t see the light of day without pull and push. Gerry described the naming process thus, “My suggestion of the EastAfrican, with “East” and “African” a single entity, baffled many. Why not the East African Nation? Our response was that to use the word Nation would signal “Kenya” to the other two Countries. A regional identity on the title was important and we instanced The Scotsman, The Sowetan and The Australian as successful precedents.”
In a question and answer session with Trevor Analo, the EastAfrican founding editor Joseph Odindo revealed that “the idea that was in the minds of the planners and what eventually became The EastAfrican were significantly different”. Initially, Joseph and Gerry thought that The EastAfrican would be a Daily Nation for East Africa, a current affairs publication just like the Daily Nation, but after preliminary works and travels to understand the market, they realized that The EastAfrican was supposed to be “a business oriented publication”, a paper not for “mass readers” and a paper with “intelligent information” “offering analysis and perspective.”
About 21 years ago The EastAfrican was born and Joseph Odindo became the first Managing Editor, a position he held for five years. To a large extent, therefore, it is the work and style of Joseph that managed to shape the paper to become what it is today. Michael Wakabi, writing in The EastAfrican in November 2014 when the paper celebrated her 20th anniversary, offer a brief insight as to the style of Mr. Odindo. Michael describes Odindo as a bully and a dictator who “had no place for anybody who displayed the slightest tendency towards rebellion”. Mr. Odindo, Michael says, was able to coax reporters to get a story done, but “on meeting even half of his expectations, he would not forget to call you on Monday, telling you you had pulled off a significant story.” For example, just before the launch of the first issue, Gerry says that “headlines were rewritten, copy was scanned with a toothcomb and photos were shot and reshot to meet Odindo’s exacting requirements.”
It wasn’t just the fact that Mr. Odindo was pushy and demanding that made him achieve the initial success. The EastAfrican, Mr. Odindo said, is one of the projects that Nation Group had given the greatest attention in terms of research and development. To collect the stories, for instance, the group recruited some of the best talented journalists in the region, retrained them, and offered them required resources and support to do their ground work effectively. “In Joseph Odindo’s days, the newspaper was better staffed, especially on the news gathering side. The EastAfrican had fully-fledged country managers in both Tanzania and Uganda”, a situation that had changed by the time a new Managing Editor, Mr. Jaindi Kisero, was taking over ten years after the launch of The EastAfrican.
Lastly, the different management and editorial styles of the subsequent editors have helped the paper retain its number one position as the most comprehensive, analytical and perspective driven business publication in East Africa. After Joseph Odindo the paper had “Mbatau wa Ngai with an informal, almost collegial style that focused
more on results than the individual.” Michael Wakabi wrote that “he presided over a rapid growth of the product.” A “neutral and methodical” Charles Kimathi who “rarely visited the bureaus” took over from Mbatau. Michael says that Kimathi “was not the type who inspired you to share a joke but he was not repulsive either. The freelancers though thought he was conservative when it came to paying for contributions.”
The management style of Kimathi was changed by Jaindi Kisero who brought in “Micky-Mouse” stories alongside “real stories”. During Jaindi’s tenure, As Michael would have it, “writers always first stopped to ask themselves if they were after a real or Mickey-Mouse story”. Jaindi was promoted to Nation Group’s Economic Editor and in came Mr. Ali Zaidi, a person who “took work seriously and was impatient with mediocrity”.
After Ali there was Nick Wachira who made the EastAfrican team feel like they were jumping like grasshoppers. This is because Nick focused on exclusive stories but that were distant from trending topics at the time. The team was however able to grasp Nick’s direction and soon stopped feeling like they were grasshoppers. After Nick the first woman in the list of The EastAfrican Managing Editors took office, Ms. Pamella Sittoni, an appointment that made NMG be termed as an equal opportunity employer. Pamella is the current Managing Editor for The EastAfrican.
Eighteen months after the launch of The EastAfrican, “the International Press Institute, assessing the state of the world media, said “One of the best, if not the best of the regional newspaper in sub-Saharan Africa, is The EastAfrican, providing readers with sober, incisive news of issues and events. Such a newspaper is far ahead the political leadership of the region. The EastAfrican is a proof that commerce, travel, the environments and culture tie the region together logically””, concluded Gerry Loughran in an article exclusively availed to us.
It should now be clear that if you want to read a comprehensive highly analyzed business news, The EastAfrican is your stop shop.