THE cameras in the hall at the CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards last weekend kept flashing off glistening eyes every time the Awardees said their words of tribute.
See, every time someone remembers the contribution of their parents and acknowledges it in public you must think about your own parents. If you’re a responsible adult, tears normally ensue. Tears intermingled with silent prayers of gratitude, praise and worship; because God bless all parents who allow their children to become journalists.
Those are parents sacrificing their own comfort just so their children can fulfill their own calling while contributing to making this world a better place without getting paid for it in ways that attract more derision than envy.
Those are parents agreeing to see their children live as broke, money-less adults. Parents who will proudly clip their children’s stories out of newspapers or record them on video tapes while hoping they won’t have to contribute to rent payments yet again, after all those years of paying school fees.
Parents who read or watch those stories again and again and wonder whether the corrupt official, inept civil servant or brutal officer won’t take up some form of painful revenge against their children. Parents who buy extra bits of goodies for their grandchildren just because they know how humbling their children’s paychecks really are.
Asha Mwilu, half of the duo that won the top Africa Journalist Award 2016, brought it to life with her tribute to her mother: “Thanks for the ear rings!”
Not that parents are only useful in funding and supporting journalists who are generally underpaid; these parents inspire us. Asha, again, told us how she switched from Law to Journalism, and focused on terrorism as her beat.
Her (with co-winner Rashid Idi) award winning story this year was “Terror Crossing”. It’s a TV story about security and terrorism at the Kenya-Somali border, in Mandera County – a place many do not dare go to but where these young journalists spent days and nights filming and talking to people just so the rest of the world sees reality. They didn’t hide their identities like the secret agents a la ‘Jason Bourne’ and other such characters we celebrate in movies, and they didn’t use face paints to camouflage their faces in any way.
Yet their work put them directly in the line of fire and went straight against what some really dangerous people believe and do.
Asha’s stepfather was one of the victims lying under the rubble of the Al-Qaeda bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998. That step-father did not just inspire her, but with her mother had also set that moral compass that journalists seem to contain in more measure than the people they cover – regardless of the beat they patrol.
Her decision was made when she wasn’t even ten years old, because she needed to get to the bottom of this terrorism thing and tell the stories so that other children the world over would understand why their parents kept dying in an apparently needless manner. Her ear-ring buying mother, having lost a loved one to terrorist activity, would have been well within rights stopping her lovely daughter from getting into harm’s way. But again: God bless that woman, along with all those other parents of journalists.
And thanks to the CNN and Multichoice people, all other parents of ordinary people get to learn that THIS profession involves more than just jotting down a few words every week or propping up a camera at workshops, so we applaud them as well.
The free-flowing tears of joy and triumph, even on the faces of nominees who didn’t actually win and people who hadn’t even participated, were well justified.
When spouses and children got their share of gratitude for bearing with this career and its “issues”, we applauded. Most people who don’t know journalists, or live with them, or have to rely on them for supper in the evenings and school fees at the beginning of term have no idea what it entails.
Most of them cannot understand how a journalist can spend weeks, months, even years, pursuing one single story. Then getting paid a few thousand shillings for it.
Do you know what freelancing is? You have to respect those guys – adults who go to work every single day at a job where they don’t have a regular salary. Getting paid by the story is never easy – even when you command ‘colossal’ amounts like Ushs100,000 per article as some of us do with our columns (I believe the IGG and URA are already officially aware of this).
Freelancers are sometimes paid Ushs5,000 per article or story published. Those guys you see pushing recorders into the faces of politicians and bank managers at the morning press conference? By day’s end they are going to try to submit four stories and hope that at least one gets published – an average of Ushs150,000 per month if they get one story in per day, every day. Yet they have children who should go to schools like yours do. They have the same taste buds as you do, and would not mind filling up a fridge by way of the same supermarket experience as yours.
But they stick to the job and chase after Besigye and his rioters or the police and its rambunctious citizenry, and elusive corporate managers who won’t tell a straight story first time round, and…
Can you calculate what it takes to spend a night at a concert looking out for every possible angle of interest? Then spending your own money on a few drinks and muchomo and transport home, then to office with or without a hangover to beat the deadline, just so you can tell the story of what happened so that those who were at another event can know?
And I mean every angle: gate collections so that URA can compare with their collector declarations; costs so event organisers can stay friends with transparency; attendance so husbands and wives are accountable to each other; enjoyment levels so the performer can land another gig elsewhere…the list is long.
And how many journalists are killed and jailed and beaten and abused…all around the world?
You can’t imagine how it feels like to be the Parent of a person whose work is out there in public getting dissected and critiqued every single day by the widest possible range of people – everyone! (Just like Politicians – and most times a Journalist reporting on a Political comes under just as much scrutiny as the Politician they’ve quoted, or recorded or filmed).
Doctors will mostly get their public assessment from the families of the people they treat, Pilots and Drivers the occupants of their planes, taxis or buses; Teachers, by the parents of their children, and the children themselves. Journalists? Like Politicians, it’s everyone. So think about how the Parents of these journalists feel when they’re minding their own business in a meeting, or at a party, or in a bus and the conversation turns to that news story and, “That journalist must have been paid to write this!”
It’s not easy being a journalist, but it must be much harder being the parent of a journalist.
So seriously, God Bless all the Parents of all Journalists!