EXCLUSIVE: Meet Joseph Warungu, Celebrated Journalist Who Interviewed Raila

  • Kenyans across the country were glued to their screens on Sunday, January 26, as Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga gave a rare interview on NTV hosted by the station's Consulting Editor Joseph Warungu.

    The conversation on happenings in the political arena including the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) instantly sparked heated discourse online.

    The choice of Warungu, however, caught some Kenyans by surprise as they were not used to seeing the veteran journalist on prime time television in recent times.

    Warungu spoke to Kenyans.co.ke on Monday, January 27, revealing how he found himself tasked with interviewing the opposition leader as well as his thoughts on a shifting media landscape and his fascinating exploits in the industry.

    NTV consulting editor Joseph Warungu hosting the show 'Sema Kenya' which was recorded from 2012 to 2014 in different counties

    Accustomed to working behind the scenes at NTV, Warungu explained that it was actually younger colleagues who pushed him to do the interview.

    "It actually wasn't my choice. It was the younger guys in the newsroom who told me today you have to do something [on-screen]," Warungu disclosed.

    Warungu has a wealth of experience in the media industry spanning three decades.

    He started off offering free services to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) while studying education in college. Warungu continued working for KBC without pay even as he began his first job as a secondary school teacher of English and Kiswahili.

    When the Kenya Television Network (KTN) was launched in 1990 becoming the country's first privately-owned broadcaster, Warungu got his big break as he became part of a pioneer group of journalists that shook up the media industry such as Catherine Kasavuli, Kathleen Openda and Njoroge Mwaura.

    He eventually moved on to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) where he spent twenty years, becoming the first African to lead the BBC Africa News and Current Affairs department based in London.

    Having seen and done it all, the former Knight International Journalism fellow chose to return to Kenya in 2018 with a vision to improve the standards of media and journalism in the country.

    Warungu is the creator of journalism reality show Top Story, which he disclosed he thought of after realising many graduates of journalism-related courses were not quite ready for the job market.

    "Graduates in media courses today are not market-ready, although I've noticed this in other industries as well. They need to learn a lot once they get to the newsroom.

    "It's what we are trying to work on with Top Story. All the contestants are journalism students in their final year," he stated.

    Now in its third season, Top Story sees contestants assigned various weekly tasks and challenges that help them develop key skills considered useful in real-life journalism.

    Warungu takes the role of principal at the Top Story academy with other industry heavyweights among them Janet Mbugua, Alex Chamwada and John Allam Namu making appearances on past episodes to guide the young journalists.

    Observing changes in the media landscape in Kenya over the years, Warungu noted that journalistic content nowadays seemed to lack depth compared to his heyday.

    "One of the changes I've noticed is that content is lacking in depth compared to what we used to do. This is possibly because of the rise of social media and the internet.

    "There is also the aspect of lacking an understanding of history. Like, for example, Charles Njonjo (former Attorney-General) celebrated his 100th birthday the other day. What can you tell us about Njonjo?" Warungu posed, asserting the importance of journalists digging through the archives.

    He explained that in his current position as Consulting Editor at NTV, he hoped to position the station as the home of world-class journalism and content, noting he had an important responsibility to guide and mentor the newsroom team.

    "We want to establish NTV as the source of serious, high-quality journalistic content and you'll start seeing a lot of things very soon," he envisages.

    NTV Consulting Editor Joseph Warungu hosts a radio show during his stint at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)