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Champion Kiptum: Star’s big miss and Nation’s eerie link to Wanjiru

The Biblical parable of the ten virgins is not quite apt but is perhaps the closest that comes to describing the situation that befell The Star on Tuesday morning, February 13.

On Monday morning, the world woke up to the sudden death of marathon star Kelvin Kiptum through a road accident the previous night. Tributes poured in all day from all corners of the world for the budding marathon world record holder whose life had been snapped at 24 years.

Given that the Monday papers had already hit the streets by the time the news was confirmed, it was obvious the papers would spend the day working on incisive content entailing what exactly happened, who Kiptum really was, and contextualising the loss in the world of sports.

Come Tuesday morning, more than 28 hours later, newspaper readers who rushed to newsstands for their favourite copy were in for a rude shock. For the readers of the The Star, it’s as if nothing had happened to the budding superstar. Not a standalone picture story, not even a filler.

The Star splash “Kenha errors: Kenyans slapped with Sh3bn bill” grossly paled when compared to Daily Nation’s Tributes to Kenya’s rising star”, The Standard’s “Legend’s last promise”, and the People Daily’s World mourns marathon champion Kiptum.”

Kiptum was no ordinary athlete. The only child in his family, he had shattered the record of the world’s Greatest of All-Time (G.O.A.T) marathoner Eliud Kipchoge just when the latter was relishing the moments. His was a tragic story, a great loss to his immediate family but also a huge loss to the entire nation and world.

So, how did The Star’s lamp dim on the appointed day of Kiptum’s death? Forget Tuesday, what about Wednesday when all papers were carrying day-three follow-up stories on their front pages?

Daily Nation: “Tragedies that robbed the world of superstars.” The Standard: “Coach, Kiptum were inseparable, widow mourns”. The People Daily, “The last moments of legend Kiptum”. The Star?Wage bill crisis: Boards demand doubled salary.”

Once again, The Star did not have even a filler story about Kiptum’s tragic death, not even in their sports pages. The paper has not apologised to its readers or explained what happened.

From the look of things, the newspaper may have bitten more than it could chew in its latest deal to exclusively print MyGov. And there’s the rub, The Star reader is missing out on deserving stories because the press must roll way much earlier to hit the 100,000 circulation copies inked in the deal.

Capacity issues at their printer located in Mombasa Road, it is said, have necessitated early printing of the Tuesday publication, beginning on Sunday. This would mean locking out any story which breaks on Monday.

So inflexible is the commercial deal that the Star missed out coverage of the all-popular Kenya Certificate of Secondary School examination release on January 8. And by the look of things, readers must prepare themselves to miss any breaking news which happens on Mondays unless something is done.

It does not help much that the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) are sluggish in submitting advertising content for MyGov. A circular issued on January 23 gave a deadline of “latest by Friday.”

Even assuming that MDAs submit by Friday, that would give designers just a day or two to lay out the publication ahead of printing. The Star management may wish to review the situation.

Away with The Star, what was it with the Daily Nation drawing parallels between the deaths of Kiptum and Kamau Wanjiru before him? It is always journalistically impractical to draw parallels between two happenings without drawing conclusions of similar causation or appearing to suggest something to the reader.

The main story on Kiptum on Tuesday started off well with a narration of Wanjiru’s death on the morning of May 15, 2011. It went on to detail the so-called “eerie similarity” of their rise and demise. Both had been 24, had won the Chicago Marathon a few months before their deaths, and both died on a Sunday night.

It would have been more prudent for the Daily Nation to simply tell the story of Kiptum first before delving back to history or drawing the parallels. This is especially so given that there are still many unanswered questions regarding the accident, but also because Wanjiru’s demise was, still is, the stuff thick controversies are made of.

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