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From school love letters, it’s downhill to media gibberish

First a declaration: That we, the authors of Mediascape, can write, and we condemn in the strongest terms possible anybody who insinuates anything on the contrary.

Just so you know, we held the coveted title of the best love letter writers back in primary school.

Why, we were the Bill Gates of our class for helping – for 10 cents per letter- lovestruck boys and girls express their love in writing.

Our easy to copy-paste intro “Firstly, receive as many greetings as the stars in the ocean (sic) and the sad (sic) in the sky…. How is you? Is the stuff that could win a Nobel Prize, if those fellows that dish out the award had a streak of romance running in their veins.

Our sign-off is up there on the annals of romantic literature: I am sorrowful because I have to stop writing now because the dining hall bell is ringing, followed by a quick post-script:  I no eat, I no drink, please reply fast before love die me.

Back then, we wrote words that spoke; words that whispered; words that sung, words that danced, words with such finesse, such grandeur that had many young girls swooning and many young boys speaking in tongues.

Where, pray, has the good old art of word-smithery gone?

Well, the other day we stumbled on university don Herman Manyora – a common face on TV discussing Kenya’s politics. The good mwalimu is as real as they come – a slightly improved version of Mugabo Mugenge in Richard Ntiru’s Introduction (Remember that?  Remember: “Perhaps it was his Ugil Shirt…?”)

Behind the screen, the professor of journalism and communication studies runs a media outlet called The Nairobi Review, but we were not at his house-cum-production studio at Nairobi University’s Kenya Science College campus to interview him.

In fact, this story is not Manyora or the lost art of writing love letters and such stuff.

It is about something that he said somewhere in our informal conversation, along the lines of “print journalism will not die because of any other reason other than lack of writers in Kenya. These young people studying journalism in our universities do not want to write! They all want to go to radio and TV and YouTube and TikTok!”

And so, our conversation veered to a shortage of writers in Kenya; how journalism schools no longer pay attention to print journalism, how Gen Z cannot write apart from WhatsApp messages written in a mixture of Greek and Gujarati; how the wordsmiths of yore are no more; and how print journalism is about to die with them.

Enough of our encounter with Manyora. The other day we stumbled on Owino Opondo, former training director at Nation Media Group. If there is one person who can talk until the cows come rowing back home about the quality of journalism in Kenya, then it is Owino Opondo.

When Owino Opondo is about to tell you something about the state of the media in Kenya, he will start with “You know…”

You know, we do not have good writers because these young fellows do not read. They do not read! This shows in the quality of their writing….

But we read Omwami Opondo, we read! We read sports pages, we read sexualised online gossip, we read! We read verses in the bible that suit our mood for the day.

Why? Just the other day in 2023, some fellow released a report indicating that 85 per cent of Kenyans read, and that the problem is not that Kenyans do not read; we do not have enough writers in Kenya.

But if, indeed, we do not have good writers because we do not have good books to read, then it follows that we do not have good books to read because we do not have good writers.

We call it the vicious cycle of mediocrity. As Manyora and Opondo point out, one need not go further than our media content to discern it.

*****

And now for the last word: We are happy to announce that we have discovered a way to beat AI. By AI here we are not referring to Artificial Insemination. We are talking about this Artificial Intelligence that everyone is terrified of; the one that has suddenly reminded all of us writers that we are not irreplaceable.

Well, we have discovered AI is not thaaaat intelligent after all. It is only ‘clever’ for English folks that are so clever they speak English!

Yes, ChatGPT can write a profile in one second, and a love letter in less than that.

How to beat it? Ask the AI know-all to write anything in any of Kenya’s 42 mother tongues, and behold the online Einstein-on-steroids goes blank with that say what? blinking dot on the screen.

Maybe we should listen to James, that Alliance High School alumni who turned his back on the Christians that schooled him by dropping his baptismal name to become Ngugi Wa Thingó. Maybe we should revisit his sermons about the hidden treasure that is our mother tongues?

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