Is there credibility in the Kenya media landscape? Also, have the media been able to reach different audiences in the Kenyan demography and address their different pain points while balancing the fourth estate’s socio-political influence? How did COVID-19 pandemic fuel media players to innovate themselves in a way that could allow for their creativity and innovation to shine through? We had a chat with one of our members Maurice Otieno, Executive Director of Baraza Media, who explained more about the current situation.

Baraza Media Lab was begun 3  years ago, but it was only until 2019 when the idea came to fruition. It stemmed from research done by the Olmedia Networks which looked at the media landscape in Kenya and the gaps that were eminent in the space, some of which had contributed to low civic engagement rates.

The research that was found saw that 6 of the imminent media houses in Kenya were owned by politically connected families. Thus, the only solution to counteract this was to establish independent media that had an innovative business model which would guarantee sustainability which would not be heavily dependent on advertising. That is what led to the formation of Baraza Media Lab in which served as both a physical workspace but a space for a community of media practitioners hailing from different backgrounds. So whether you are a photographer, journalist, poet, writer, podcaster, an aspiring journalist, you can reach out to Baraza Media labs who will work with you to test your business model to assess if it’s sustainable so as to innovate around your storytelling capabilities.

In the interview, Maurice also told me that they recently launched a podcasting studio in partnership with Studio Tisa which would serve as a one-stop-shop for those looking to venture into podcasting. Apart from this, they are looking to branch into the incubation process of media practitioners which will allow them to give a grant of USD 2500 alongside legal services, branding and communication services. This will be a pilot incubation program for 1 year that will allow 6 participants and it is scheduled to start in June 2021. It will look at new business models, different storytelling capabilities and showing creativity on how they can monetize their craft in a way that can be sustainable.

In regards to what holds back creativity and innovation in the media landscape, he states that state infiltration plays a huge role in addition to lack of capacity within the space, as well as the media many of the times not highlighting the financial crises issues that have arisen due to COVID 19. They instead highlight politically-themed issues such as BBI. In his view, the fourth estate plays a huge role in setting the agenda for discussions while also propagating the spread of propaganda which does not allow for pertinent issues ailing the ordinary citizen to be highlighted. He alludes to the 2007 elections where the media was largely blamed for tribal discords which led to many deaths.

He further states that in the event that these issues are highlighted by the media it’s almost a by the way so much so that Kenyan citizens have grown accustomed to stating that the media receive brown envelopes. He also added that monetization was another issue ailing the sector and therefore recommended that media players find a different way to accrue income apart from advertising which more often than not left the journalists at the mercies of huge corporates and other players. One way they could do this was by urging people to pay for their content through pegging subscription fees owing to the value they were offering through content and talent.

In regards to what Baraza Media Lab is doing to address these challenges, Maurice states that Baraza hopes to offer a safe space for media professionals where they can experiment with their ideas and crazy stories that may not be housed within other media houses which he believes will build trust between the media and the public and eliminate the rhetoric that the media are paid. He states that he is happy to see other upcoming media labs and other independent media houses support the community through incubations, programs within the space. He hopes that Baraza can be a launching pad for media professionals to grow into their own powerhouses.

When it comes to the digital media uptake, Maurice states that the covid pandemic has pushed many aspiring professionals to embrace media, the reason being when he talks to his friends most of the time their first source of news is Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and  Instagram. This uptake has been so huge that Safaricom has offered free bundles and data for people to plug into the latest events. He also states that with the uptake, many media professionals have decided to mainstream their work which has received traction since it covers a wider audience.

How large is his network? He states that they have a network of 3000, with a membership of 150 which they accumulated over the past two years through a strong referral mechanism as well as continuous membership recruitment. Their membership packages are in 3 different tiers with a student package of KES.6000, a professional package of KES.12,000 per year. Their third package is the corporate package which is more bespoke and includes partnerships. They encourage members to pay their membership fees in one instalment owing to the fact that they have a lean team of 4 personnel.

In case you would like to work with Baraza Media Lab, here’s a link to their website https://barazalab.com/