Readers often ask the Public Editor why their letters to the Editor or The Watchman are not published.
So I asked Khakhudu Agunda, a retired Nation Opinion Editor who, for many years, edited “The Cutting Edge” column by The Watchman and also the Letters to the Editor section, to explain the secret of getting a letter published.
This is what he said: “The people who write well are more likely to have their items and letters picked for publication. Some of those who appear to be favoured, with their items appearing frequently, have written for so many years that they have perfected the art.
“They are prolific and always spot on in their comments and observations. They make the editor’s work easier and, more importantly, interesting and free of risks such as libel.
“One of the most common contributors to ‘The Cutting Edge’ is Prof X.N. Iraki, who has been at it for many years. He knows the exact length that is required for each item and brings in a light touch to the serious issues covered daily in the newspaper.
“Some years ago, there was Dr Omija T.B., who was quite knowledgeable in scientific matters and also sent in his articles regularly.
Mungai Kihanya was always fascinating with his analysis of numbers and anecdotes and went on to get a regular column, just like Chris Hart.
“Ruth Gituma and Diana D’Souza have also been prolific over the years. Ruth comments on social issues and politics.
“Diana’s interest is in the performance of the Nairobi City Council before, and the current Nairobi City County. Hers is a voice crying out for order and peace in the residential areas, especially her leafy suburb of Lavington.
“Mombasa is represented by Devere Mwangi and Carey Yiembe. Travel professional Ndung’u Njaga has slowed down these days but he used to throw in some fascinating stuff.
“Some people will send in one item and demand that it must be published. Of course, it’s the discretion of The Watchman to decide what runs or doesn’t.
“The Watchman has only six slots daily from Monday to Friday, five on Saturday and seven on Sunday. It’s not possible to publish all the items submitted.
“Although the column carries a fair amount of complaints — as that was one of the core motivations of ‘The Cutting Edge’, to cut through bureaucracy and ensure justice for the aggrieved — it must be exciting to attract and maintain readership.
“The Editor is always on the lookout for topical, informative, interesting, witty, and knowledgeably written pieces. They must not be driven by malice, and must be truthful, as, like any other item published in the paper, it can attract libel or other charges, including sedition and incitement.
“Writers who are spot-on with their observations are likely to catch the Editor’s eye. Official clarifications and reactions can be boring. They are, therefore, spiced up to entertain the reader.
“Give Prof Iraki credit for relentlessly serving up interesting observations. While others get in and fade out, the University of Nairobi School of Business professor is indefatigable. He sometimes sends in two or three items every day. Of course, many do not see the light of day but he just never tires of sending in more and more.
“My advice to those wishing to have their items published in ‘The Cutting Edge’ is that they should polish up their flair and sharpen their ability to craft their observations in just about three sentences. Even a complaint should be made interesting.
“Remember, this is not a ‘Lost and Found’ column. But with some witty construction, such an item is likely to find a place in the Edge.”
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