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Beyond Nairobi: A Magazine for the Rest of KenyaPosted by: admin on Wed, 2011-11-02 10:48
Reject Magazine reports on topics and regions neglected by the mainstream Kenyan press. Recent awards recognize how the publication fills a void in the country’s media landscape. More from Dinfin Mulupi.
Nairobi, Kenya -- A bimonthly magazine in Kenya that publishes stories usually ignored by the mainstream media is giving rural communities an opportunity to voice their concerns, challenges and achievements. Despite the fact that most of Kenya’s 38 million population still resides in rural towns, Kenya’s mainstream media give more space and airtime to news stories in the capital Nairobi and major towns such as Mombasa. When stories from rural areas are published they typically report on crime or politics, which at their best make it to the provincial round up.
When rural topics are considered marginal, issues that affect the public at the grassroots level remain unheard. At the same time, district reporters and correspondents can only manage meager incomes since most of their stories are killed in favor of “Nairobi stories.” Only since the promulgation of Kenya’s new constitution last year have Kenyan media begun paying attention to regional stories in their special county editions. The constitution decreed that 47 new county governments are to be established after the general election sometime in 2012. But as the media make baby steps in this foray, Reject Magazine (the title references rejected articles) has already made a name for itself telling stories of the common Kenyan whose opinions are often seldom heard.
Published by the Media Diversity Programme, a project of the Africa Woman and Child Feature Service (AWCF), Reject Magazine focuses on human-interest stories in development, health, education, environment, health, peace and security, gender and governance, and information and communication technology.
Bringing attention to local issues
“We give a voice to the ordinary ‘mwanachi.’ We recognize local heroes. We tell the stories of the marginalized,” says Florence Sipalla, the Sub Editor.
Reject began in 2009 as an eight-page online publication. It has since grown to 20 pages online and is distributed in print twice a month as a pullout in the Star newspaper, Kenya’s third biggest daily paper.
“As much as we were telling the stories of Kenyans in the margin we knew that they would not be able to read the paper if it was only accessible online. We wanted them to read about themselves and to know that their thoughts do count. We supply free copies at our content centers so that the public can read about their stories,” says Sipalla.
Reject has had success in elevating local stories and earning the attention of local mainstream media as well as international media. CNN has reported on stories first brought to light by Reject. One story picked up in Kenyan major media was first reported by Reject in August. It concerned the burdens of women in male-dominated cultures, and reported about how, at the height of the recent drought, five Somali women in Northern Kenya defied tradition by engaging in the slaughtering of goats to provide for their families. [Click here to read the article.]
Gender as a recurring theme
Many reports published in the magazine concern issues affecting women and girls in Kenya. For instance, after publishing the story of a 16-year-old girl from Northern Kenya with fistula, Reject received this message describing the reaction:
“Thank you for publishing a story on a 16-year-old girl who developed fistula. In fact it has beared (sic) fruits and sponsors have set in,” wrote the reader from Isiolo. “Childline and Red Cross have moved in to support the girl and provide her with necessary support including funding operations and provision of transport vehicle to ferry her to Nairobi. The two NGOs moved in to support the child following the story published by the Reject four days ago.”
Earlier this year, Reject won an award for a special issue focusing on maternal health and death titled, “Strength of a Woman.”
“The issue had human interest stories on maternal health looking at an often-ignored perspective of men,” recalls Sipalla. “Instead of the usual articles that just focus on number of deaths per day, we looked at how maternal deaths affect men,” recalls Sipalla.
Sipalla maintains that the greatest achievement the Reject has had so far is raising awareness on issues the mainstream media was silent on. But as mainstream media roll out special county editions in anticipation of the new county governments, she believes that the Reject will remain relevant.
“We intend to extend barriers and go to places where the mainstream media cannot reach,” says Sipalla.
The magazine has plans to venture into multimedia platforms by producing audio and video reports. A pilot project is also underway to publish a Ugandan edition of Reject in partnership with the civil organization, Platform for Citizen Participation and Accountability.
Nurturing local journalists
Through the Media Diversity Programme, Reject’s parent organization, freelancers and district reporters stationed in remote towns are invited to attend workshops as well as access to resources. One of the freelancers had this to say of the project: "The workshops have helped me gain skills in writing stories especially on matters touching women and children."
To further empower district reporters the program has established 10 content centers across the country in Garissa, Nanyuki, Migori, Malindi, Kitale, Mwingi, Murang'a, Narok, Busia and Isiolo where mainstream media do not have bureau offices. These centers are open to all freelancers contributing for any newspaper. The centers provide a forum for freelancers to network and get access to resources such as computers, the Internet and guidebooks on reporting.
Such support and professional development is helping Reject reporters in remote and rural areas become more visible. The major dailies are now publishing more of their stories. They have also been able to earn more now that they are paid for articles published in the magazine. Journalists have also been able to expand their skills; for example, those who previously specialized in broadcast media are now contributing to newspapers.
View a recent issue of Reject here.