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Sad ‘The Nairobian’ tabloid won’t be printing sleaze anymore

The Nairobian wasn’t many readers’ cup of tea. But a good number of Nairobians and some Kenyans beyond the capital city read it religiously. It did not disappoint readers who wanted something ‘exciting’, ‘revealing’, sleazy’, ‘saucy’. Gossip was its staple offer. It retailed that which its more elevated cousins wouldn’t touch. It boldly declared that for it, ‘nothing stays hidden.’ It will still exist online. But Kenya’s own ‘tabloid’ won’t be in the newsstands anymore.

Will Kenyans who read it for entertainment, education or just news miss it? Definitely. The Daily Nation, The Star, The Standard or People Daily won’t carry ‘bold’ but misleading headlines. They won’t splash photos of semi-naked young women on their front covers. They will not promise the reader to reveal the secrets of a Mheshimiwa, a respected cleric, TV news anchor or other celebrity. That is not the type of content that their main readers want to be seen consuming in public.

Yet, The Nairobian has a readership that loves what it retails. It is readers who want to know what is happening in the world of public figures; readers who love to read about taboo subjects; readers who live and thrive in the world of pop culture – the glamorous world of musicians, socialites, TV anchors, athletes, actors and actresses, self-appointed celebrities, etc. This audience is hardly served by the mainstream media. Today, they can access such content online – where The Nairobian will be found. The online space offers endless titillating stuff, gossip, innuendo, mystery tales, and thrilling adventure stories.

Consider some of the stories in the February 9 –15, 2024 edition.

The lead story, “Celebrity suicide: Alcohol, laughter and death” promised to reveal information that the public doesn’t know yet about the death of a celebrated Kenyan actor. But the story doesn’t reveal anything beyond what is already in the public domain. “Valentine hot lasses painting the city read with love” is nothing but photos of nameless models showing off their hips. Who would have imagined that the old story of the late businessman Fai Amario would be retold in such detail? How many Kenyans really remember or care about the eccentric Amario?

Nevertheless, The Nairobian actually carried several ‘serious’ stories in the inside pages. After the spicy intros on the cover page, the ‘trending topics’, ‘capital/city news’, the newspaper had stories about the counties; technology; a column called ‘Defender’, which carried stories of ordinary Kenyans struggling to deal with lawyers, former employers, insurance companies etc.; a long read called ‘in-depth’; arts lounge, among others. Some of these were researched, well-written and accessible stories for the general reader. In other words, the claim by The Nairobian that its forte was popular culture was a bit misleading.

But if a reader can be misled into reading news that is informative and educative, then The Nairobian was and should continue doing the good job. If a reader buys the newspaper because they think they will read about the latest scandal in the life of a celebrity only to end up with a column discussing how “institutions of higher learning lack disability inclusion policies”, who will complain about the trick? The (public) ‘defender’ column is not found in any of the mainstream Kenyan newspapers. With The Nairobian going online, fewer Kenyans will most likely have access to it.

What will readers of print edition of The Nairobian lose when the paper fully goes online? Should we say that Kenyans have many uses for printed newspapers? Wrapping meat, as once noted by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta. Wrapping gifts. Wrapping school exercise books. Wrapping so many other things. Newspapers can be found in the toilets. They can be used as wallpapers. Car paintwork uses lots of newspapers. That’s not suggesting that this is what The Nairobian was used for. But the one thing that tends to be ignored about printed newspapers is that they easily circulate among readers. In some cases, one newspaper is circulated among family members or schoolchildren or prisoners, with each reader choosing what they like.

Thus, those who would buy The Nairobian because of the appeal of the title will no longer be able to access their print copy. Those who read the copy after someone else had read it won’t also access it. There is no doubt that printing newspapers is expensive. Yet, one also doubts that online newspapers are reaching more Kenyans than print copies.

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