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Why I stopped agitating against writers who hog the letters page

Thursday July 11 2019

 Man using laptop, laptop

Man using laptop computer. Super letter writers are competitive, smarter, cleverer, more provocative and informative and are easier to publish because they require less editing. PHOTO | JOHN SCHNOBRICH | UNSPLASH 

The NMG editorial policy advocates publishing “a diversity of opinion” and giving letters to the Editor “appropriate space” in its newspapers. Letters to the Editor are required to cover “all views and positions”.

PROLIFIC WRITERS

Thus, the letters pages are a major forum of democracy in NMG newspapers, which is open to all readers to air their views. But there seems to be a problem: Readers constantly complain that a clique of writers monopolises the forum.

Some newspapers limit the number of words one can write to usually between 150 and 300 words to accommodate more letters. Some even limit the number of letters one can submit to, say, one or two per month to stop prolific writers from dominating the forum.

Not so with NMG newspapers. A handful of regular and prolific writers dominate the letters forum, including “The Cutting Edge” column by The Watchman.

Prof X.N. Iraki, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business, leads the pack of half a dozen or so prolific writers who corner the market.

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Between January 1 and September 24, 2015, Prof Iraki had 180 articles published in “The Cutting Edge”. That’s one letter nearly every one-and-a-half days. His nearest rival, Joe Musyoki, of Kajiado, had 84 letters published. That’s one letter every three days.

Those statistics came to light as some readers complained that their letters were not getting published because the editor had allowed the “super writers” to hog the forum.

Njoroge Waweru, the most extreme case, complained that for the past 15 years he had been struggling to write letters but none was ever published (“Is it fair to allow a few individuals to hog the Letters to the Editor forum?” — Daily Nation, October 8, 2015). “I’m terribly worried albeit I keep on writing and praying I can be lucky one day to see my letter published.”

SUPER WRITERS

I took up the cudgels on behalf of Mr Waweru and those who felt they were being denied space in the letters page because of the dominance of the so-called super writers. But the letters editor suggested that the super writers were not the problem; the volume of letters received and poor writing techniques were.

“Apart from the sheer volume of letters we receive, the other main consideration is topicality,” the then-editor said. He advised complainants like Mr Waweru to write about something in the news or a debate on the letters page, or respond to a fellow reader, and not to be abusive or unbalanced.

But many readers have continued to write and pray without being lucky. They blame the monopolisation of the forum by the super writers for their predicament. Prof Iraki, in particular, they say, continues to command the letters forum.

True, though less frequently. From January 1-June 30, he appeared in “The Cutting Edge” 34 times. That is one article or mention every five days.

INFORMATIVE

On June 27, Wandia Seaforth complained that some names, including that of Prof Iraki, appear “all the time”. She added: “I assume they do write a lot but I am also aware of complaints by others that their stuff never features, even though they write often. Yet X.N. Iraki seems to have an assured space regardless of what he writes.”

Long before Ms Seaforth wrote those words, I had stopped crusading against writers who dominate the letters forum. The main reason is that I found the super writers are, simply, better writers. In general, that’s why they get published. They are competitive, smarter, cleverer, more provocative and informative and are easier to publish because they require less editing.

And that’s life. The same happens in business, social interaction and every sphere of life. In life, there are those who out-talk, out-think and out-smart others. So, until NMG introduces a policy to limit the number of letters one can publish in a given period, I say to Prof Iraki and the merry band of super writers, write on! And more grease to your elbows.

Send your complaints to [email protected] Call or text 0721989264

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