Award-winning journalistic reality television show Top Story is back for its third season in December.
The show features 75 of the best journalism students from 25 universities across the country in a storytelling competition that not only tests their abilities, but nurtures their journalistic talent. This takes place through a series of trainings and challenges where the students try their hand at producing the “top story”, with tangible prizes and much-needed exposure to the industry as an incentive.
The show was conceptualised by veteran journalist Joseph Warungu, who expressed the need to equip journalism students with practical experience in the field that they may not get while in school. He related this to his own experiences starting out in journalism, a journey that began in 1985 when he was a volunteer for Voice of Kenya (now Kenya Broadcasting Corporation).
“Back in the day, there was nothing like mentorship. You learnt on the job. We felt that we could save the students this hassle by giving them these skills,” he tells the Nation.
Top Story is produced for NTV by AfricaOnAir with support from the European Journalism Centre and is broadcast every Monday at 7.30pm. It involves prominent journalists in the field, who offer trainings and mentorship. Previous seasons featured Dennis Okari, John-Allan Namu, Joe Ageyo and Janet Mbugua, who came in as judges and trainers.
“Once they have the skills, we give them real stories to chase in the field, and have our cameras following them,” Mr Warungu explains. “Then they submit their stories, depending on their deadlines.”
The stories are developed within a 14-hour time frame, during which contestants must familiarise themselves with the assignment, find and interview sources and file a digital story for assessment by a panel of judges. Each episode runs for 30 minutes and follows two teams comprised of three contestants.
Those who receive the nod of approval proceed to the next round. The eliminations take place over the course of 26 weeks, culminating in a live gala dinner where the winners of the show are announced.
This concept makes for a show that is both entertaining and informative to both journalism students as well as the general public that may not be familiar with the work involved in generating a story, especially in broadcast journalism. The stories tackled by the students are real, focusing on developing matters of public interest, with the added bonus of watching the pieces come to life.
“It’s like an open newsroom to the world. You see the real struggles, the tears involved; sometimes what you [the journalist] thought was a story is not a story,” Mr Warungu adds.
The impact of this media literacy has garnered international attention for the show since its inception, bringing home the silver Global Youth and News Media Prize in November 2019. The award was received by Innocent Tsalwa, a Season 2 finalist from Kisii University and Millicent Njeri from Multimedia University, on behalf of Top Story.
In the spirit of the national competition, the teams visit various counties in the compilation of content for their stories. One of the key issues the show addresses is on the development agenda, which encourages students to seek out important development issues that do not get enough media attention.
Kisii University Vice Chancellor, Professor John Akama, shared his sentiments about the show’s impact on both students and the public in an exclusive interview with NTV.
“I have seen the Top Story challenge doing stories on issues of economic development, agricultural production, housing and others. Top Story is moving away from things where the only focus is on politics,” he said.
Prizes at stake include trips that offer choice interactions with great personalities and established global media houses. Winners of Season One had the opportunity to meet and chat with President Paul Kagame.
Season Two winners flew to the United Kingdom and spent a week touring London. They visited the headquarters of the BBC and Al-Jazeera offices during their stay.
The exposure provided by the show is evident in the job opportunities offered to participants, especially finalists. Alumni of the show have gone on to secure top jobs, with some becoming innovators in the industry.
“We get approached by a lot of employers for potential jobs or internships for students who have gone through the Top Story Programme,” Mr Warungu says.
The third season of Top Story airs tonight at 7.30pm on NTV.