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Why we need more night runners on our news desks

Uhuru opens five new hospitals at night…….

So, President Uhuru Kenyatta dons a jungle jacket and is driven into deep inside some of Nairobi’s most dangerous slums at night to open five new hospitals, while Kenya’s media snores away. Niiiice.

The story of the President’s nocturnal ‘operation’? (An absurd word to use for a simple act of opening a new hospital) appeared on Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star’s online platforms.

But it did state that no journalist from the three media houses accompanied the President. Instead, they were all snoring away or making babies somewhere. Our media is known to go to bed earlier than birds.

Still, to save face, we put in a para to indicate that we were there, at least in our dreams:

“Addressing journalists who accompanied him during the night operation at State House, Nairobi, after the exercise, the President said he chose to commission the new hospitals at night so as to adhere to Covid-19 containment protocols.”

Predictably, the story’s by-line was the PSCU, the President’s press.

So, at what point did the President “address” the press? Still at night? Who were these night runners who turned up for a nocturnal press conference at the house on the hill?

We submit here that there was no press conference. The entire story as carried by our media had all the makings of a press release from the house on the hill, replete with an official, black and white, colourless tone.

So here is what happened: A press statement was sent from the house on the hill: “The president opened five hospitals last night”. And voila we reprinted the press statement word for word, remembering to include the line “addressing journalists who accompanied him during the night ‘operation’….” to make it sound like we had sent teams from our news desks to cover the story.

How can we tell? Simple, the three of us: Daily Nation, The Standard and The Star carried a similar story word for word, including the little lie: “Addressing journalists who accompanied him during the night operation at State House, Nairobi, after the exercise….”

The three similar versions of the story had colourless officialdom written all over them. For starters, the man-bites-dog angle here was the President deep inside some of Nairobi’s most dangerous slums opening hospitals at night.

It would have used some colour. For example, how did the President ‘sneak’ into Kawangware and Kangemi unnoticed?

Then there were the missing details: When we report that the President opened the hospitals ‘at night’ what time of the night was it? Night, after all, begins as early as 7pm and stretches on to 5am.

Details, details, details. But we were not there to fill these in, although the story deceitfully said we were.

In a nutshell, we lied here. None of us accompanied the President in his night operation – except in our dreams. As such, the giveaway lies about the President addressing journalists after the night time operation ought to have read, “Addressing night runner-journalists who accompanied him in their sleep….”

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