We interview Yvonne Okwara on her promotion to News Editor for KTN 24 Hours Channel

13 April 2016

ALI-Latest-News-YvonneWhat does a typical day look like for a News Editor in charge of research and planning at one of Kenya’s largest broadcasters?

Well, I generally have two editorial planning meetings to attend. One at 8am and another at 3pm. Both are designed to have all editors present and giving ideas for the big stories of the day that we are going to be following. My specific role is on the input side.  To generate story ideas based on what big events have been hitting the headlines or are likely to in coming days,  and also to monitor conversations that may be taking place on social media and see how we can incorporate them into our  bulletins across the day. Ideally we focus on 3 to 4 big stories of the day and I give direction on how we will treat these stories across the different day parts, provide resources like key persons we need to talk to in the story. We ensure that our stories are people driven so that even if it is the collapse of a bank, as has been happening lately in Kenya, we endeavour to tell this story from the perspective of the bank customers who have been directly affected and to also paint the picture of the wider ramifications on the economy and how that will eventually affect the viewer. I will then go ahead to work in conjunction with the researchers on my team to generate background information on the various stories that will be used to inform our coverage. This information is used by fellow editors, reporters and news anchors. This has greatly helped our news to be fact based and authoritative. We aim to give the viewers news they can use to make decisions in their lives.

In between meetings, I plan for future coverage of some big events. These are events like Kenya’s 2017 election, The election of Kenya’s next head of the Anglican Church. I generate TV coverage plans, marketing strategies for the same with our marketing department and also cross coverage across our various platforms i.e. print, digital and radio. We generate all the information for these main events, book guests for studio analysts, generate story ideas and assign reporters who start working on them well in advance and generate a coverage plan for the day or days leading up to the event. We also gather and store file footage that will help give context to many of the stories we are working.

In addition, I have generated the first ever News Sources and Contacts database at KTN. We have contacts of analysts in various fields, from politics to science to environmental, social, economics and finance, whom we can call on at whatever time. This is a shared resource in the editorial team that enables us to get the right experts for whatever stories we cover. This is updated on a very regular basis.

This is an important and integral role that you have assumed, which qualities do you bring that will improve your department?

My aim in this role is to elevate the quality of our coverage. I felt we have been giving our viewers a raw deal by only reporting incidents/events as they happen with no context or background or even answering one of the most important questions: Why does this matter to me?

So I had a discussion with my Managing Editor and told him that I felt that my strengths were being under-utilised and these are:

  • Organisational skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Love for history and background
  • Ability to synthesise data into consumable, bite-sized information.
  • I am a great planner
  • Mobilisation- I bring different teams together to focus on specific projects
  • Intuitive.

So far so good, and members of the editorial team have been happy to have someone that thinks ahead and plans ahead too. Our news anchors and reporters are happy to have some information that backs up their live coverage. Our viewers have also noted a change in how we do things. Plus, we are now no longer working in crisis. Even when news breaks, as happens all the time, we now have a standard operating procedure that helps shorten our turnaround time to give the viewers timely, fact based in formation. So whether it is breaking news first or fast, we make sure it is fact based.

How will you measure success in your new position?

Success is when our viewers get the information they need.

Success will be our reports having more fact than personal opinion, innuendo and factual errors

In which ways can you leverage your position to shape Africa’s financial media landscape?

I am now in a position to influence our coverage, to make decisions. This means that I can make recommendations and ensure that we tell a more balanced story of the region.

We have now started to mainstream business news. Over the last few weeks we have headlined our bulletins with financial stories that affect the citizens. We are putting them at the top of the list rather than confining them to a 6 minute segment at the tail end of the bulletin.

We have also started to tell the stories in the wider African context, focussing our stories on what Kenya can learn from her neighbours in terms of financial inclusion, best practice, infrastructure growth. We are using fewer examples of what the West is doing and starting to look inward. On the show Bottomline East Africa, which I host, we are covering the region and beyond. It is the first and only one hour news bulletin that focuses on the region in Kenya.

It is not easy to do this as many Kenyans are still primarily concerned only with what takes place within our borders without understanding what happens beyond and how that affects them or how the financial policies made here affect the region. We have started to tell them about the East African Community and how they can leverage on opportunities in the 6 countries. We are taking the conversation away from the Heads of State and to the common man for him to understand that the market base for his goods and services go well beyond Kenya.

It is not also easy for the newsroom set up to adapt to this but we are making headway. A lot more work needs to be done.

Who or what inspires you and, in which way?

I am inspired first and foremost by our viewers. As simple as we may think they are, they are very discerning about what they want from us. They are also quite demanding. We are inundated with requests of stories to cover, questions about why we chose the stories we do and challenges from them on how we can serve them better.

Secondly, I am inspired by a former newscaster but forever journalist Kathleen Openda. She hosted a show called “Third Opinion” in the 90s that was substance based and set her apart from the rest. She broke boundaries for women in Kenyan media. Most of all, she was all about the craft and less about the showbiz that it has become today. Internationally, there is Christian Amanpour and Hala Gorani.

On a personal level, my mother. Her tenacity and will to keep going even in the face of adversity. Her focus on education and bettering oneself.

Lastly, Christine Mungai, an ALI Media Fellow; she is young, intelligent and grounded. She always helps to put things in perspective for me. Her statement, “We must be prepared to pay the price of not trending (on social media)….”, always keeps me focused in Kenya’s fast paced, and sometimes showbiz-inspired media space.

You are currently a Fellow of the ALI Media Fellowship Programme, how has the Programme helped or shaped you since you first embarked on it?

There was an exercise we did at our second seminar in Naivasha, Kenya that required us to state how influential or powerful we thought we were as media leaders in Africa. Many including myself, didn’t rate ourselves very highly. Isaac Shongwe and Heather Sonn then challenged me to see how my work has changed the landscape of the media space. I am now bolder and not afraid to make decisions, speak my mind and have the skills to negotiate for my ideas at the editorial level.

Eric Soubeiga’s sessions have been helpful to me. Greater understanding of finance and economics then means I can break it down to my viewers. I cannot explain what I do not understand. Now I understand, so I am able to break it down better for my viewers. Additionally, I am now able to make decisions to put business stories at the heart of our news.

I have revamped my Sunday night talk show. What was only a political show has now become one that has widened its scope to include business news. We have now had discussions on Kenya’s cash crunch in 2015, Kenya’s debt burden. I have also interviewed Kenya’s Treasury Minister on Prime Time. I have new segments that break down numbers for my viewers. I got the courage and the financial understanding to do this from this Fellowship.

I have moderated more business related conferences now, including the one on Funding for Development for Africa to attain SDGs. I had quite the eminent panel: IMF Deputy Director Min Zhu, US Secretary Treasury Jack Lew, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and former head of AfDB Donald Kaberuka.

I am now a News Editor, central in the editorial direction of KTN News, I believe that this Fellowship got me to harness and show my strengths that enabled this promotion.

The mere recognition given to me by Bloomberg and ALI Media goes a long way in making me more confident and bolder.