Innovator Q&A: Marvin Gakunyi and Yegon Emmanuel on Mobile Journalism in Kenya

Through Kenya’s MJ, its founders are preparing the next generation of storytellers through what they refer to as “Pocket Studios”

Marvin Gakunyi and Yegon Emmanuel from Mobile Journalism Kenya. Picture: Marvin Gakunyi

Two final year students from Moi University in Kenya have been using mobile devices to tell Kenyan stories. Marvin Gakunyi and Yegon Emmanuel have perfectly adapted to using mobile devices for their online publication Mobile Journalism (MJ) to tell stories from different locations at different times altogether.

“These devices, we choose to call Pocket Studios, are the new way of doing stories. With the mobile phone camera and a few add-ons, stories can equally be told just as they are with the professional cameras,” Marvin Gakunyi.

Gakunyi and Yegon aim to empower Kenyans to tell their own stories. The online platform is edited by a 10-strong team of volunteers at the university, who have been working as editors since January. The duo use mobile phones even in the most remote villages in the countryside to cover an event and write up a report.

“We are going to change the way our narratives are told, ‘Our Stories are Best Told by Us.”Marvin Gakunyi.

To share their mobile journalism skills, the duo organised a #MojoMediaConference which was attended by over 120 students from the university.

What inspired you to start Mobile Journalism online platform that led to the #MojoMediaConference?
The conference was motivated by the need to give final year students pursuing media-related courses a training on;

-How to use their most available resources (smartphones) to start practicing and honing their skills and cut a niche for themselves in storytelling.

-Learn how to network and monitor their digital footprints (The things they share or comment online).

- The need to charter new ways of surviving in the media industry, which is already too congested, and media houses are laying-off employees was further motivation. As we grow and expand, we look forward to rewarding people who tell stories on our site. This will go a long way in motivating them to tell more stories that will in due course change how people look at Kenya and Africa at large.

How influential do you think you were?
Mojo has started to find it’s footing in the industry. In its first student conference, we were able to bring over 120 students from different departments in the university to learn more on the new trends in the media today. The digital space is significantly benefiting to media practitioners and now Mojo comes in to fill the gap. “There is a gap in the media for positive stories. Conventionally, what bleeds leads and therefore many stories do not see the light of mainstream media and through our Mojo platform, we provide a platform where people can interact with news and contribute.

The topics addressed made the conference a success. We had the hashtag #MoJoMediaConference being among the trending topics on Twitter in Kenya. This attracted a global interest which saw us being featured on UK based Journalism.co.uk site. This caught us by surprise. We can therefore say that the impact of this conference and the strategies underway will create a new wave of how we tell our stories at Mojo and in Africa.

What is your focus on your Mojo website? Any issues you would like to highlight using the site?
The initial plan was to give power back to the people to write their own stories and give a platform for people to share stories that do not see the light of mainstream media. Along the way we are learning that the site can be used as a tool for research among many other dynamics by highlighting the topics we shall be addressing, say monthly or on a fortnight. We want to use the platform to change how the world looks at Africa and restore her beauty by highlighting her strengths more than her weaknesses. Moreover, we want to create a pool of young and talented storytellers to start honing their skills at an early stage — as early as high school. This is aimed at fighting the notion that media students fresh from university are half-baked.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing Mojo in Kenya?

Advantages
- Fresh media graduates from universities are able to learn and build their portfolios

- It is a convenient way for writers to address social issues relating to people within the country and the continent at large.

- Through Mojo, young storytellers are able to build circles with like-minded people

- Journalists are learning that they can start building their own brands without having to have worked for traditional or legacy media houses.

- People are able to tell the untold stories. Mostly media houses focus on negative news since ‘What Bleeds Lead’ but mojo is here to change that narrative.

Disadvantages
- The penetration into the market is taking a lot of time as the project runs from our own pockets. We, however, are exploring a number of ways to finance the platform but the two major ones are adverts for organisations and companies and also a one-stop site where people can buy research papers from Africans to use them to in making contributions to their work or developing strategic plans to foster growth and development.

- Training people on how to use their smartphones better and teaching basic journalism ethics requires both time and resources for example conference halls

- Getting writers to write for free is sometimes difficult

- Due to evolving issues in journalism, we from time to time rely on YouTube to learn new skills which we would wish to learn from experts to be able to share the knowledge with others.

- Fake news and propaganda are becoming a new way of agenda-setting posing a great danger to storytelling. To combat misinformation on our platform, we participated in an investigative journalism competition on how to verify news and facts. We were able to interact with veteran journalists around the world. The likes of John Allan Namu from Kenya, Joseph Warungu who works with BBC and Anas Aremeyaw from Ghana.

What are some of the applications you use when working on a Mojo story?
- iMovie — for video editing

- Quik — for video editing and merging slides

- Canva.com — for creating posters

What equipment does one need to produce a good quality Mojo story?
There are add-ons which one can use with their smartphones to create and tell better stories. For stable videos, there are which are in different types as some are small and adjustable, tall or mini-tripods and lightweight. For stable photos, we use mobile phone rigs to stabilize shots and enhance framing. There are also mobile phone mics which come in lapels.

What technical and journalistic skills did you have to acquire to be able to run a Mojo storytelling business?
- How different social media platforms work.

- Journalism ethics and basic communication laws

- How to verify stories online

- Editing skills for 3 types of stories; video, text, and photos.

- Finally, everyone had to learn how the site works and the quality of work that we need to run on it.

What models should media organisations be implementing as more publications are placing a lot of focus on their digital offering?
Media organizations today are driven by many factors in storytelling. New media has tremendously influenced how stories are told in traditional media. Citizen journalism is on the rise because social media platforms have given the public a chance to tell their stories and create their own news. Media models today only sensitizes the most prominent ones to keep traffic and integrate itself with the society it reports for. Therefore, Mojo aims to bridge that gap by empowering writers and journalist to tell their best stories.

We are bringing the spotlight to the people in Africa to be their own creators. We intend to refine citizen journalism and tell the best stories there are in Africa. We will transform lives and project the society as it wants to be. This new model hopes to harness the power of mobile phones and propel it to change the wave of storytelling.

How should newsrooms in Africa implement Mojo within their daily reporting?
As a way of making the art of storytelling simple, professional and spontaneous, newsrooms should train their human resource on how to effectively use their smartphones to tell stories from anywhere. This will go a long way in changing the conventional way of carrying very heavy and sophisticated cameras not to mention an additional person to work as a camera person. To do so, newsrooms can choose a smartphone to brand to give to their journalists. They should consider the camera, processor speed and durability.

What advice would you give other journalists/media practitioners on the African continent who’d want to venture into Mojo storytelling?
We would advise every African who would want to venture into Mojo storytelling to take the leap. The convenience of a mobile phone is undeniable and therefore we as storytellers are not limited. Whenever an idea comes into your head, you can actualize it immediately. It is easy, it is fast and it is instantaneous. As long as you have a good mobile phone, tell your story. Because only can tell your story best. It is further important for the African storyteller to tell their story as they experience it. For a long time, tales from Africa have been given a negative or an inferior connotation. It is time for us young Africans to change the narrative to one of the glorious continent that Africa really is.


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