Alphonce Shiundu, one of Kenya’s most prolific journalists, has left The Standard Group.
It is understood that the writer, who was summoned by the Criminal Investigation Department for reporting anomalies in the security budget last year, handed in his resignation after he was re-assigned to co-lead the News Desk. At a time when journalists would give anything for the position of a News Editor, the Standard Group bosses were reportedly surprised that he kept turning down such jobs.
Managers at The Standard Group are said to have scrambled to talk him out of the decision, and he was seen having a rare lunch with Editorial Director Joseph Odindo at the Mombasa Road cafeteria.
Shiundu’s exit is a blow to the Mombasa Road-based newspaper, at a time when the media houses in the country are repositioning ahead of the 2017 elections. If Odindo fails to retain the journalist, it will be the second time the journalist will be walking out on him.
Shiundu quit the Daily Nation to join Standard when Odindo was Editorial Director in 2013. The two, described by close friends as workaholics, are said to be close.
Shiundu was a reliable talent in news-gathering and he used to generate explosive political stories and in-depth parliamentary content for both weekend and daily. His newsroom friends confided in BusinessToday that when he was sent to manage content for the daily paper, he was depressed.
“He has never liked being on the desk,” said a senior editor who was in the newsroom when Shiundu quit. “In fact, he was forced to sit in for Alex Ndegwa, who was away on leave. But when Alex came back and he was told to continue working on the News Desk, something snapped. We don’t know what it is, but he just came in one morning with a resignation letter. We thought he was bluffing.”
A Standard insider said the reassignment to the News Desk was meant to tame the journalist from exposing the government excesses, as the State is a key source of revenue for the media, and is said to be hoarding at least Ksh1.5 billion in advertising debt to the local media houses.
Shiundu joined the Mombasa Road-based media house three years ago as the Parliamentary Editor, where he trained reporters and editors how to use the Ksh100 million PPI system. He is said to understand PPI so well that he earned the nickname ‘Mr PPI’ yet was never paid for his instrumental role in implementing PPI.
Though it is not clear where he is headed, fears at Mombasa Road is that Shiundu could end up at the Nation Media Group where he trained and worked for six years, before he was poached.
“When we asked him if he had an offer, he said ‘No. Naenda Mumias’ I heard the HR manager asking him why he was quitting to ‘go back to the streets’. But he is an excellent journalist. I will be surprised if he remains jobless for long. We must do something to get him back,” a managing editor confided was heard saying.
Senior editors at NMG and at Radio Africa (The Star) are certainly strategising on how to grab the journalist. A close friend says Shiundu has for a long time spoken about being an independent journalist and sell content to media houses.
Journalists at The Standard say although he held the title ‘Parliamentary Editor’, he laughed with everyone. “Unlike many editors, when he ran I&M, he listened to you and advised on story angles. Whenever I was stuck with an intro, I always went to him. He is very good with words. Many reporters passed their ideas through him for refining before pitching them at the main meeting,” a former Standard reporter said.
In him, however, critics see a pushy and opinionated journalist who doesn’t know when to stop.
Turning around stories
According to his colleagues at The Standard, when he got to the newsroom in the morning he would mark up mistakes in all the daily papers, including the Standard.
“He was the kind of leader who chaired the daily planning meetings even when the designated bosses were there. He could think about story ideas or take a tip and discuss with the reporter to turn it into a splash. I think that is what made the bosses at Mombasa Road to send him to the News Desk. But he is a field guy,” a journalist said.
A senior source Mombasa Road said Shiundu could not survive the News Desk because he thinks and speaks his mind. He once got into a logical exchange with State House spokesperson Manoah Esipisu regarding the accuracy of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s figures on the wage-bill during teachers’ strike.