All of us who professionally use the mass media are the shapers of society. We can vulgarize that society. We can brutalize it. Or we can help lift it onto a higher level.
--William Bernbach, DDB Needham Worldwide, 1989.
Saturday afternoon was perhaps the best beginning of the new year for me. I spent it at what was to be a cozy meet up of minds at the Serena, called by IMG PR’s Charles Gacheru. (Charles, Thank you for an amazing meet up).
It was great catching up with journalists and media players who I have worked with in different capacities over the last few years, and as over time we have changed employers, we have all become each other’s competition, it was amazing just to listen to stories of how and what makes us journalists, but what made my evening was a discussion on Thought leadership (or lack of thereof) in our media circles today.
Jebet Amdany brought the challenge to the slab, and asked us, if we as journalists are really interested in shaping the perceptions, views and opinions that the country will carry, or if we are standing by, watching as others take that role.
She talked of Jaindi Kisero, Wachira Waruru (who’s writing I would kill to read) Macharia Gaitho and other veteran journalists who for years shaped and without fear became the watchdogs of the country.
Let me back track and define Thought Leadership before we delve further into it.
A thought leader is an authority in a certain matter. He or She is considered the go to person on certain issues. He is an opinion shaper, he is respected, and his judgment is trusted. He provides clarity on concerns; he is a teacher, a leader.
According to Forbes:
A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise.
The current crop of thought leaders has guided us through the years. Creating opinions on which to vote for and why, delving deep into topical matters and raising concerns that stir within the populace a need to react, or respond to national issues. They have been for years the reason why we buy the Sunday newspapers that are laced with opinion pages.
But what happens when Macharia Gaitho stops writing? Who, in the younger generation of scribes will fit into the shoes of those who we now address with reverence? Unfortunately, I cannot name one young journalist.
The issue of mentor-ship did arise, with most saying diving into the deep end without a coach has created a crop that’s too busy trying to get it right first, as individuals. It would be then difficult to begin to grow yourself as a brand that becomes the voice of clarity on topical national matters.
When Christian Amanpour pushes her guests between a rock and a hard place, she jolts the rest of us to begin to believe that even we can question leadership in high places. That is the kind of thought leadership that must be cultivated among journalists.
The ability to question not only stems from mentor-ship, but also from passion and a deep seated dedication to your country. That, evidenced from the meet up, may actually be the first step to deal with because the question “why should I care” did pop up more than once.
I beg to ask my generation of journalists:
What did those that set the pace for us does that took them to another level of respect with their readers and viewers?
What drives us? Is it the 50 thousand shillings extra by the next employer or a need to do something for the country?
Who will you want to be remembered as when you die? The hottest anchor in town, or the scribe that lived for his country?
The line between activism and journalism was pretty thin then, now we have a whole rift valley between the two, what drove the crater that deep?
We need to go back to the drawing board and begin to question what being a journalist really means. Perhaps then, we can begin to appreciate the pedestal we are on and use if for what it is rightfully intended for.
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