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Mediascape goes behind the scenes: How AJEA winners were picked

First, is the Media Council of Kenya calls for applications.

The first knock-out happens here, and for a very good reason: that a good number of journalists do not seem to follow instructions.

So, when the instructions are that stories submitted must have been published between March 1, 2023, and February 28, 2024, there were some journalists who still tried to sneak in stories published either before or after the set dates.

Problem is that the system is set to reject any backdated or front-dated stories. After the deadline, the system automatically locks all further applications.

By then, tender submissions for AJEA judges are complete and the judges picked. The judges are picked from a wide range of applicants – from veteran journalists who, for the sake of impartiality, must no longer be linked to the media houses they worked for, media consultants and university scholars in the media field.

These are men and women whose CVs prove that they have a deep understanding of Kenya’s media landscape and can be trusted to make impartial judgements on the quality of Kenya’s journalism.

The judging venue is a guarded secret, but it is picked for serenity and conducive work environment including top-notch ICT facilities and accessibility.

The council ensures that the judges have all they need, from snacks to lunch, and if they want to work late, dinner. Above all, the council ensures that the judges can access and crosscheck all entries submitted on the net.

After that, MCK sits back and lets the judges do their jobs, only providing support where they need anything, from power cables to logging in. No MCK staff sits in the judges panel, and none of the judges is an MCK staff member.

There are two sets of judges: one to shortlist nominees for the awards and the other to sift through the nominees list and pick winners.

It gets more complicated: the fate of each entry submitted, both at the nomination stage and the final stage, is not decided by one judge alone.

Rather, each entry in all categories is assessed by at least two judges. At the final level, each entry is judged by all judges.

For gatekeeping purposes, the system is designed in a way that should the judge award either too low or too high marks, the system will not let the marks pass without an explanation.

Every entry in every category is judged this way. Speaking of categories, this is one area that knocks off a good number of entries. If, say, a health print story is entered under environment, that is an automatic knock-off.

It is all about following instructions here. Simply not following instructions knocks off a sizeable number of entries.

Back to the judging process, the set of judges that picks nominees then leaves, their work is done.

Another set of judges comes in. Their job is to sift through the nominees list. The criteria is slightly different. Whereas each entry at the nomination level was judged by two judges, all entries that made it through to the final are read by each judge.

Like at the nomination level, no entry gets too high or too low marks from any judge without an explanation.

The judging team is almost the same as that at the nomination level, veterans of the trade and university media teachers.

They all must agree on the final list in each category, before handing it over to the Media Council of Kenya, which does not change an iota of the list.

So, why do so many lose out? For starters, it is about quality. Still, even when the quality of all entries is low, the judges must decide which one shows most promise. As such, any debate on the quality of some winning entries must be looked at in the context of the quality of all entries submitted.

Two, journalists who might have had good pieces but entered them in wrong categories or in the wrong format. In other cases, journalists did not seem to understand what the categories they entered entailed. For example, in Breaking News categories, the stories entered did not meet the criteria of breaking news.

Three, what the judges called “…a concerning surge in grammatical errors was noted, starting from the synopsis. Instances of sentences beginning with lowercase letters, failure to capitalise names of organisations and individuals, and missing or misplaced punctuation marks were prevalent.”

In Digital category, a number of entries failed for what judges called “excessive hyperlinks and lengthy videos featuring individuals speaking at length.”

In TV and Radio category, a number of entries lost for lacking voice-overs or subtitles, resulting in language inconsistencies.

Creativity was also a yardstick that locked a number of entries out of the winners list.

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