Some nagging questions

One of the most nagging questions for a taxpayer in any country usually is, “Where does the money I pay in taxes go?”

If the roads are clean, smooth and wide, the water mains full of clean water, the power lines crackling with electricity most of the time and the schools running well and the teachers not complaining, that question is easily answered. My tax money is being put to good and proper use.

But that is often not the case in many countries, Kenya included, and the press in such countries needs to keep an extra vigilant eye on the government and its spending.

The press in the U.S. is at an advantage when it comes to this because of the ease with which it can access documents and records on their government. The Kenyan press and the government can learn from this.

Often, when we in the Kenyan press suspect or even know that a Government official has had a hand in the tax cookie jar, we lack access to the records that would help establish the truth. It means you have to rely on sources, most of whom will insist on anonymity to keep their jobs, documents that are often incomplete or which have been taken away from the records without the permission of those who keep them. It creates a perfect environment for corruption and cover-up.

We need a Freedom of Information Act in Kenya. Government officials have said in the past they are preparing a bill to make that possible but it has mostly been all talk and no show. One reason the bill has been late is the fact that we are still in the process of implementing the new Constitution. With Parliament’s agenda crowded by the mass of new bills and not forgetting good old politicking, the Freedom of Information Act somehow gets thrown to the bottom of the in-tray.

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One of the most nagging questions for newspaper men in the United States over the past three or four years has been; what can we do to keep the business going? How can we avoid the imminent collapse of this wonderful and important line of work?

There is little doubt the business is on the decline and most newspapers seem to be headed down the digital path. It could lead to massive losses of jobs because you need fewer people to put a paper online than you need to print and distribute a newspaper.

News outlets have found an increasing need to have a presence on social media, with online editors encouraging reporters to direct followers and friends to their websites. Reporters also find that readers have more access to them, and they can respond to queries faster than ever.

I have not noticed much difference between the use of social media here and back home. Reporters are generally encouraged to report breaking news on social media, to treat online sources as they would tips from any other source of information and to be careful what they say on Facebook and Twitter.

It has also become necessary to come up with a social media policy in newsrooms.

News is doubtless headed the digital way and the least we can all do is adjust to it.

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We start the final month of this fellowship in a few hours. The end is a few weeks away. At this point, most of my colleagues at The Star ask what I have enjoyed doing, which section I liked working in more and where I want to spend the final days of the fellowship.

Reporting and writing is almost the same all over the world, so that while there were differences in the subjects and the style, it was basically the same thing I do in Nairobi. If anything, the pace here is slower but the quality of the final product better and better planned.

That said, the most enlightening place I worked so far was in the video department, where I was shooting video for the website.

Although I have been on assignment with TV reporters before, it made me realize that half the time I was in the dark about what they were doing.

This has changed due to the training with Reuben Stern at the University of Missouri and the practical work with Monty Davis, Todd Feeback and Mike Ransdell at The Star.

Monty is the video editor and he allowed me to go out by myself with a camera and shoot and do interviews for several stories. I accompanied Todd and Mike on assignment and got a working introduction to the video process. They have been extremely helpful and I look forward to applying all the skills I gathered in the two weeks I worked with them.

I should be headed to the Sports Department for the next three weeks. It should be Olympics-size fun.

 

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