I don’t know why I was ignored in my bid to break into print

Friday March 17 2017


Friends School Burundu Primary School pupils read newspapers on August 5, 2015. There are readers interested in writing opinions for the paper. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Sometimes, the public editor has to step aside and let readers tell their stories without mediation.

After all, editors, who are often the butt of their criticisms, read this column keenly.

I received many thoughtful and challenging responses to my article last week on the need to get more women writing op-eds. I’m still mulling over some of them. Today, I’ll reproduce one of them. Millicent Makina wrote:

“Your article piqued my interest because I identify myself as a writer and at some point in my life, before blogs became the in-thing, I was very much interested in writing opinion articles for the newspaper.

I must have been 24 or 25 then. I was young, wide-eyed and believed that I could change lives one story at a time. By then I was writing my own articles, which I had serialised under a broad topic, called Nairobi by Day.

It was a social commentary on day-to-day encounters of Nairobians, and I wanted to see if I could get it to run in one of the newspapers or their magazines. So I took my ambitious self and personally dropped samples of my work to the major media houses.

At the very least, I expected that someone would tell me that my articles were not up to standard and either suggest ways of improving them or tell me they could not publish my articles. But I got no response, and efforts to follow up yielded nothing, not even a regret letter or something of the sort.

“But then after a while, the Daily Nation came through and asked if I could try to write some sample articles on family issues. ‘Pink topics’, as you call them, which were far removed from my commentary on tribalism and negative ethnicity, the destructive nature of our politics, matatu madness, poor economic policies and so on.

But since a woman can never miss ‘pink’ things to say, I wrote two articles, ‘Mum, Dad, I think I’m in love!’ (and) ‘Prepare your Child to Face the World’….

“I waited patiently for feedback but I got none. Any follow-ups remained fruitless until one evening while preparing the evening tea for my mother as she read the Daily Nation, she suddenly shouted that my name was in the newspaper and asked me when I started writing articles for the Daily Nation.

I went to see what she was talking about and sure enough, there was my article, nicely sitting in the Daily Nation Living magazine.

Of course, I was elated. A few weeks later, my second article appeared. However, no one contacted me to tell me that they were going to use my articles in the newspaper prior to the release nor was I able to get any feedback afterwards.

Understandably, I got very demoralised and even felt like I was being used, and that … is how my short stint as a budding op-ed writer came to an end. 

“So you see … it is not that we are not interested in writing ‘hard topics’ of general interest, particularly on politics and economics. I am after all, an economist by profession. So why was I largely ignored in my attempt to break into the big bad world of op-ed writing and on my persistence someone gently re-directed my energy towards ‘pink’ articles?

It could be that they found my articles to be lacking in quality and substance. That is a possibility. It could also be that they found it odd, perhaps amusing, that I could even think of writing in any other colour other than pink.

Because I never got any feedback, constructive or otherwise, I will never know...

“So when no one is willing to take a chance on you for whatever reason, you learn to keep your opinions to yourself. With time, I stopped writing altogether and focused on my 9 to 5 job.

But writing is my first love. Occasionally, I feel the itch and hide in the office after hours to write an article, which will join my dusty collection and never see the light of day. 

“I totally hear you and broadly agree with your sentiments. But how, really, does one become an op-ed writer? After my initial frustrations, I am at a loss. Perhaps you can shed some light on this hallowed process.” 
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