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The Writers

By | July 9th 2009

When Njoki Karuoya first told me I was to act as editor for Home & Away for the two months she was to be away studying in Berlin, I felt my stomach churn in discomfort. A feeling of fear overwhelmed me. It was like I was being taken for surgery without the benefit of anaesthesia. To make matters worse, she was not talking about overseeing the operations of this magazine for one week, but for two months which, for me, seemed like eternity.

My misgivings were quite understandable. First, from the safety of my seat (which is near hers) I used to see the tribulations Njoki would go through each week to get the magazine sent to press. One minute she would be looking for the best pictures and the next she would be on phone liaising with the copy desk for the dummy.

Soon after that, she would literally hunt down Ernest Karuja, the team leader for the magazine’s commercial team, to chase up advertisements. All this time, I never took keen interest on the operations of all these people in relation to the magazine. All I saw was the classy finished product, which always had many adverts.

Njoki seemed to have immense confidence in my ability. As the Editor, she has set very high standards for this magazine. It was going to be upon me to maintain the standards if not improve on it, so I sat with her for two weeks understudying the product’s operations and I finally appreciated what it took to get the magazine out each week. I’m proud to be their adopted son.

I have worked in various sections of The Standard but this magazine has proved to be a whole new experience for me. I had never bothered to know the prices of houses and other property but now I can confidently advise a prospective investor on lucrative areas of real estate and those that are potential banana skins.

Being a sub-editor means picturing the complete magazine, how each page should appear and the appropriate pictures to illustrate the stories. It means following up writers and photographers to make sure they submit their work on time. Thankfully, most of the team members are very co-operative.

The actual work is subbing the stories. This is where I smile, even laugh as I read them. Once in a while I tap the keyboard to correct typos here and there but there are times I bang your head on the table trying to figure out what the writer is trying to say. With expertise and state-of-the-art equipment, the seasoned photographers capture the wide-ranging vistas of our beautiful country.

Our cover designs are unprecedented, piquing the reader’s curiosity and compelling them to turn the pages. No wonder the magazine has received deserved accolades from both the readers and the management, and I suppose this is the reason why this magazine attracts a lot of advertising. And who doesn’t like whatever brings in money.

Working with the team at Home & Away continues to be an illuminating, entertaining and fantastic experience.

Writing topical legal commentaries on property has transformed me into a consultant for ardent readers of Home & Away. A week seldom passes without a reader calling and asking for my advice on property issues.

The Property Law section started as a column in January after a series of assignments by the Editor to research and simplify legal matters on property.

"Get me an 800-word legal article on mortgages and charges and place it in context in the next one hour," she said on my first assignment.

At first, beating deadlines was a challenge but with time, I realised it was wise to deliver articles a week in advance. Because the editor keeps insisting on well-researched pieces, I dig deeper into my law books and analyse judgments of the High Court and Court of Appeal in order to be in touch with current issues at the Bar and the Bench.

A day barely passes before I log into sites on property to keep abreast with latest developments. I also meet conveyancers (property lawyers) regularly over a cup of tea to discuss emerging concerns in property law.

Readers call frequently to ask me whether Home & Away has a legal department. These readers are gradually transforming me from a journalist into a property consultant.

My mandate is to bring you sights and sounds from our beautiful Coast. As we celebrate the end of one year since we hit the market, I am sure many of you now have a good impression of Mombasa and other coastal towns in terms of beautiful sceneries and physical features.

Home & Away is doing a very good job of marketing tourism both locally internationally. Although there have been challenges in the course of bringing you these entertaining sights and sounds, I have enjoyed working with a dedicated team under the leadership of our editor Njoki Karuoya. The future is bright for us. Happy anniversary!

Travelling to different clubs within and outside Nairobi almost every weekend and sometimes weekdays to bring you their feel is not always easy. But what is particularly disappointing is when I spent my own money at a club only to be disappointed by the food, service or the ambience.

With time, though, I have learnt to adapt to the hotels, restaurants and parks. For a second opinion, I always persuade one of my colleagues to accompany me for lunch or dinner to the various eating joints. Some owners, however, don’t like it when we criticise their place, food or venue but then, the truth has to be told as it is.

Away from food, working with the magazine editors has been remarkable. The Home & Away crew is one big close family, and I can only compare it to its sister magazine, Pulse, which I am also a part of.

When I first received a call from the magazine editor asking me whether I could write for her I was excited. I had always felt the Coast was not getting enough coverage in our media and getting the opportunity to especially put Malindi on the map was good news.

Although I’m not a trained journalist, I already knew about deadlines, last-minute changes and receiving both positive and negative feedback, which hurts. Coincidentally, my first story was about religion at the Coast with a picture of Malindi’s tourist attraction, the Vasco da Gama pillar. A year later (last week), a story about the possibility of the pillar dropping into the ocean made it.

I am honoured to be the only mzungu writing for Home & Away. But after living in Kenya for 27 years, I have a good feeling of what ticks my ‘adopted’ brothers and sisters! Some tell me, after a few drinks, that if you scratch my skin, a black one will appear. Others like to call me Kamau or Onyango for my "sweet" talking…

Of course, like all other aspects in life, writing a column has its challenges. Once in a while when there is heavy advertisement, there is no space for my column, but as disappointing as that is, it is understandable that adverts are the backbone of the media and I know this magazine is profitable. I also have the opportunity to promote local tourism at the Coast.

The only way to go is forward. Keep reading this magazine as it is definitely going places!

Home & Away is a very dynamic product that brings together a diverse team. My role is to put the content (pictures and articles) together, more like what an engineer at the end of an assembly line does. This means that the final look depends on how well I do my job while integrating all the pieces.

My experience with the magazine has been very pleasant and at the same time challenging. Having been part of the core team that nurtured it since inception, I confess it has not been all rosy.

The first hurdle was to agree on the mode of operation. The editor, who is the engine of this product, has been totally committed to ensuring a brilliant copy every week. The next major concern was meeting deadlines, which affects me directly as I’m the one who sends the pages to press. Fortunately, Njoki is always on top of things.

Okay, so the commercial team is very instrumental to the success of this magazine but honestly, they are sometimes a thorn in the flesh. I always have to fight with them over one thing or another — ranging from failing to meet the agreed deadlines to pulling out adverts at the last minute leaving us with gaping holes that the editor must fill.Nevertheless, we appreciate them and what they do.

Another of my major hurdles was fighting off the editor’s persistent idea of dropping in a coloured box somewhere in the middle of the text because "it is beautiful". We have since resolved this matter (and many other divergent design-related opinions) amicably, but goodness, she can be very tenacious when she wants something done her way.

Team spirit has been our strength. Kudos to everyone!

One year ago, I joined The Standard Group as an intern, fresh from college. My first posting was to this magazine so when its maiden issue hit the streets, I was proud to be one of the names shining through. So in a way, this is a special anniversary for me too.

My experience, though, has not been without its share of ups and downs. For my first feature, I was expected to interview people I had only seen before on TV. The closest I had come to them was at seminars and conferences at the university. I had all the hallmarks of a rookie journalist trying to break through the maze of bureaucracy and security around the ‘big’ people — from being thrown out of offices to dealing with receptionists who sneeringly looked at me like something the cat dragged in.

My happy moments are when I get to go ‘away’ to exotic places right here at ‘home’. I guess the reason why I’ve grown so much in the space of one year is working with a team that has believed in me from the word go.

As we round off one whale of a year, I can only say it has been the greatest year for me.

A year ago, I was illiterate in matters real estate. Not anymore, and not because I have invested in the field but because I have been able to engage people dealing with real estate.

If I were to let you on a secret, about six months ago I managed to convince the head of our nuclear family not to purchase a piece of land in Njiru and Embakasi in Nairobi as it was going to be the blunder of his life. At that time, I was following a story on how organised gangs have stifled investments in the area, where you have to be a member of a gang or a financier to one of them in order to be accepted as a landowner.

Three months later, I got wind that my local church had secured a plot that was advanced to its leaders by a former Embakasi MP and was organising a harambee to raise money to develop the plot. Based on another story I was following on the intrigues of Embakasi plots, I dug out information that saved my church the embarrassment of being viewed as another thieving and corrupt institution. This is why I cherish the time spent with this magazine.

Today as you read this, the story I wrote of this area has, if the readers who have called me are not lying, helped many apply caution when pursuing land deals in the area. A friend also tells me his wife’s cooking has improved since the launch of the magazine (she is a fan of ‘Afro Flavours’).

What I know for sure is that this magazine has enriched the part of my brain that is supposed to be thinking about houses and land. God willing, I will remain vigilant for information on real estate that makes you wiser.

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