By David Wanjala
The digital disruption in the media space worldwide, particularly in Kenya in the last 15 or so years, is unforgiving. Today’s industry landscape, with the ever evolving technology, is unpredictable. Change is forever looming with its opportunities and challenges, and only versatile proprietors and practitioners are thriving.
There was a time through the 90s and early 2000 when the industry had struck its equilibrium, and all production factors were foreseeable. Only radio and TV, for instance, had the enviable advantage of breaking news. The print media did follow ups the following day with in-depth reporting and analysis of whatever would have happened. Prime time news came at 9:00 pm across all TV and radio stations, and everyone stopped whatever they were doing to watch and listen. Nightclubs would stop the music, and sports bars would interrupt the soccer match for the prime time news.
In that period, the weekend newspapers sold like hot cake. For example, I wonder if there will ever be anything like the Sunday Nation of the 90s. The investment that went into the production of those editions was huge. The level of
qualification of those tasked with producing the Sunday Nation, from the reporters, staff writers, columnists, and subs to editors, was top-notch, and the creativity was out of this world.
The 90s’ Sunday Nation’s columns had irreplaceable columnists whose dedication to the task was unmatched. The late humourist Wahome Mutahi’s Whispers, political commentator Kwendo Opanga’s The Week That Was, and Dr Yusuf Dawood’s The Surgeon’s Diary are just a few writers whose subsequent columns you anticipated immediately after putting down the issue of the Sunday Nation you were reading.
Most of today’s print media practitioners who are in their early 40s to mid-50s were influenced in their career choices by this gang.
Dr. Yusuf Dawood died a fortnight ago. I first read his article while in High School in 1994. I remember the headline and the entire article as if it were yesterday. I was only but a victim of circumstances, a story of Dr. Dawood’s patient who had, at the tail end of her life, tasked him with explaining to her two little kids after she would have died that she was not the one who had first contracted the HIV Aids virus in her marriage. Dr. Dawood had walked with her the entire medical journey. At a time when antiretroviral drug discovery had not yet been made, the death from HIV Aids was slow and painful, and the stigma in society was unbearable.
Her husband, who had died a few years earlier, had also been the columnist’s patient. The simplicity with which Dr. Dawood wrote the story, explaining medical terms in the most basic way that even those of us that had hated Biology and Chemistry in High School could understand and follow, the detail, the empathy was classical. By the time I was putting down the paper, my handkerchief was soaked from the tears that flowed freely through the entire article. The patient eventually passed on. It was a difficult task, even for him as a medical doctor with vast and accumulated experience in dealing with difficult situations, to ever execute the task that his patient, who had also become his friend, had asked of him.
From then on, I read Dr. Dawood’s column in the Sunday Nation religiously until he stopped writing for the paper. He wrote mostly about his patients, their losses and triumphs in the struggle with disease, and I cried and celebrated with him most of the time during those struggles.
I have read of orators who could, out of their power of the tongue, make their audience cry and laugh with them almost at the same time. I am yet to come across another writer who has such abilities. Dr. Dawood wrote about complicated matters for a non-practitioner, yet he broke issues down to have everyone on board. He wrote, most times, on emotional topics that practically bordered on life and death, yet he did so with empathy and was able to bring the same out of his readers.
Through his experience with his patients, he talked about new diseases, new medical inventions, training in the medical field, and medical experiences across the globe. Through his patients’ struggles, he brought out, most profoundly, the need to keep hope in all situations and the will to live. His stories had the weird power of whipping one back into line from the cockiness of being healthy and achieving worldly successes. They reminded you that you were a mortal at the end of the day. They grew in you the virtue of empathy and humility and the desire to do good to fellow mortals.
Industry trends have changed; probably not even Dr. Dawood, Wahome Mutahi and Kwendo Opanga, and many other compelling writers of yesteryears would still have a religious following as they did in the 90s. Not with an emerging fragmented audience hooked on their handheld media devices, only keen on snippets of hearsay in the name of twits, updates, and sensual visual content.
They, however, played their role in their times. It is for these three that I ended up as a journalist. Most of those I attended journalism courses with were as well influenced by one, two, or all three and many other seasoned writers of that time.
It feels good to know that Dr. Dawood, at 94 years, died contented and in the warmth of family. (