Journalist of the Month: P. Wanja Njuguna

by Dana Liebelson
Oct 30, 2018 in Journalist of the Month
P. Wanja Njuguna

Each month, IJNet features an international journalist who exemplifies the profession and has used the site to further his or her career. If you would like to be featured, email a short bio and a paragraph about how you have used IJNet to by June 20.

This month's journalist is P. Wanja Njuguna, a Kenyan lecturer and editor working in Botswana.

IJNet: What news organization(s) do you currently work with? Where have you worked in the past?

P. Wanja Njuguna: I am currently a print media lecturer at the media studies department at the University of Botswana, where I am also the editor-in-chief of the department's newspaper, UB-Horizon. I am also a communications consultant, where I lecture on communications issues, edit and write internationally and moderate media related courses and exams.

In the media world, I have worked at Nation Media Group as a writer and editor, Time as an intern (part of winning CNN African Journalist of the Year and later as a correspondent for the magazine. I also worked with the Kenyan Government's GJLOS Reform Program as a media specialist for about a year before joining the University of Botswana as a lecturer in 2007.

IJNet: How have you used IJNet?

PW: In more ways than I can count! The first time I used it to further my career was when I applied to the John S. Knight Fellowship program at Stanford that I saw on the website. I got in for the 2002-2003 program.

Over the years, I have used the site to find scholarships or programs that I have applied to - some I have gotten into, others I haven’t. My current job was also posted on IJNet and when I sent an enquiry, the head of the department asked me to apply. I joined the University of Botswana in 2007 and have been here since.

IJNet: Did you work in a different field before journalism?

PW: Yes, I did—for 10 years I worked for the Kenya Prisons Services and also as a security officer in Nairobi for UN-Habitat. In the U.S., just before completing my studies at Harvard University, I worked as a research assistant in a graduate studies department.

IJNet: How did these experiences impact your current career?

PW: As a young person, two jobs always excited me: journalism and being a soldier. I was able to practice being a soldier first when I worked at the Prisons Services – I had military training, though not as tough as the army. While working there, I started writing letters to the editor using my middle name and last name. My middle name, Wanja, was unknown in the service. Back then, it would have been suicidal to write to the media using my real name as the media was seen as an enemy of the government and specifically of the Prisons Services. I used to write about all sorts of things. Seeing my letters/comments published re-ignited my other love, journalism. I enrolled at a private university in Nairobi for a degree in communications and the rest, as they say, is history.

The most interesting thing in my journalism studies occurred when I did my internship with the Nation Media Group. I had to use my middle name religiously when my articles appeared in print. I still remember how scared I was when I would be sent on assignments, praying that no one from the Prisons Services would see me. Sometime I wore dark glasses to ensure no one recognized me! That’s how bad it was - being recognized would have meant losing my job!

IJNet: What are your proudest works/stories so far?

PW: I have written about anything and everything from poverty, child labor, HIV and AIDS, cooking and hotels; to famous profiles on world leaders like former Iranian head Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Graca Machel, Miss Russia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and others.

But three pieces come to mind because of the impact that followed them. One was the piece that won me the CNN African Journalist of the Year, 2000 Overall Award. It was entitled, "Union Made in Hell" and covered domestic violence among elite women in Kenya. This piece was one of my most difficult pieces to write as all the interviewees refused to talk to me when I needed interviews. It took me over three months to finally get them. It was really helpful to the public to see that this violence happens to women at the top as well as the bottom.

The second piece is one I wrote on police brutality in Kenya, entitled, "Sad Tale of Protectors Turned Killers." I had been working on the story but the urgency to finish it was caused by the death of a close friend in Nairobi after her car had been car-jacked by robbers and the police. She had more than ten bullets in her body. It was also the first time I ever received threats over a story I was writing.

IJNet: Are there any training programs that were particularly useful to you?

PW: In Kenya, attending Daystar University's communication program was an eye-opener for me. This is the one college I believe any aspiring journalist in Kenya should attend. The second useful program was my one-year fellowship in Stanford as a John S. Knight Fellow—every journalist should aim to attend this program or the Nieman Fellowship program—they are great. I have always said that there are so many opportunities for journalists, to study, to travel etc. I also religiously peruse IJNet frequently and I cannot overemphasize what a phenomenal website it is.

IJNet: How do you think journalists can best adapt to the changing media field?

PW: Keep abreast of what is going on around you and the upcoming technology. Having education in the area that one works in is also very important, as knowledge is key, especially when you are writing or even teaching.

I also think journalists need to find time to teach journalism on a part-time basis. There are many journalism lecturers who have not written or done anything in journalism in ages and many have lost touch with what is on the ground. Teaching helps one to research and get information on what is really happening—not just what's in books.