Journeying Through Innovative Futures in the Present

Do you ever think about the role of our individual and collective ability to imagine in the way we interact with news items, stories and storytelling? Our imagination influences everything we do, create, think about and interact with. It gives us the tools to hope and to shape our futures, making it a central part of our present realities.

“The imagination of the Kenyan people has been battered and for a long time, it has been hurt, leaving us with no chance to choose what can empower us because we are emotionally and mentally tired,” said David Oyuke, poet, podcaster and former radio presenter during the first session in our five-part virtual summit series, exploring the fate of media and journalism in the region. 

This powerful statement forced us to admit that many of us think of our imagination as something separate from how we see the world around us, how we consume the stories that shape our communities, and from what informs our immediate realities. David reminded us that this is not the case, and invited us to look at our imaginations as gateways through which we see ourselves, the world around us and the stories that shape our lived experiences.

In this very first session, we were exploring the future and fate of traditional media against the rise of innovative news reporting and storytelling. We had a rich discussion with our panelists, Asha Mwilu, Catherine Gicheru, David Oyuke and Philip Thigo followed by a deeply insightful question and answer session.

The central question surrounding our discussion was what the future looks like for traditional media in a period of media interventions and innovations where an already distressed media is quickly becoming more and more publicly distrusted. Philip Thigo, senior director for Africa at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, mapped out the terrain during his keynote presentation where he outlined the role of technology in how we produce and consume stories. “As the ability of tech to inform and shape public opinion grows, so does the potential risks for opacity in how platforms make decisions,” he said.

Asha Mwilu, founder of Debunk Media, believes that our local media companies need to invest in tech capabilities and audience research, emphasizing that an inclusive well-researched media ecosystem that values its audience is crucial. While she agrees that mainstream media has long standing public trust, she believes that mainstream media channels are unaware of the changing ways in which audiences are consuming news.

To bridge this gap, Asha insists that media houses must shift their focus from huge monetary profits to audiences and what the public wants to know. “I hope that media houses can move away from elitist media solutions and cater to the audiences that are most underserved by the media by creating public interest content, representing realities that have been for the most part, made invisible,” she said.

Catherine Gicheru, current director of the African Women Journalism Project, enriched the discussion by highlighting that the media has been lacking in providing personalised, contextualised, and analysed content that engages audiences. “There is a great need for mainstream media to provide curated content, and in so doing, kill birds with one stone, satisfying both the public need and what is expected from media houses,” she added. 

In bringing us back to how our imaginations shape our interactions with news and stories, David wants us to create opportunities to heal people’s imaginations, to go back, empower, and give Kenyans strength to dream again. 

David holds hope for a nation where our collective imagination is healed, where we can think about the fate and future of traditional media with hope and not doom, and where we are collectively creating and consuming stories that heal us. 

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