Correspondents are the backbone of any newspaper. They write most of the stories that fill the newspaper pages – from general news, business and health to sports.

At any moment, correspondents outnumber staff writers (called in the newsrooms as reporters). Consequently, newspaper has fewer reporters, or permanent staff, on each section, than correspondents.

A reporter is paid a monthly salary regardless of how much work he or she does. A correspondent, on the other hand, is paid per every story or photograph.

First, there are correspondents with a retainer, which they top up with contributions. Then there are correspondents without retainer who toil daily to get a story published.

Yet this big tribe of journalists is one of the poorest paid in Kenya. The mainstream newspapers pay a retainer of Ksh10,000 to Ksh20,000, for correspondents based in Nairobi.  The amount reduces for those in the counties.

What is puzzling is how the newspapers pay per story. News articles are still paid per centimeter – measured literally using a ruler – where one centimeter fetches Ksh30. This translates to about Ksh200 for a brief/filler and Ksh500 for a page lead.

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The main story pays just about Ksh1,000, while one photo earns Ksh500. Feature stories range from Ksh2,000 to Ksh6,000. “If you are not on the features desk, it is hard to get your story published since the editors have their teams and schedules,” said a correspondent who asked not to be named.

With this payment system, journalists are finding life unbearable in the newsroom. As such poorly paid correspondents find the temptation to take a bribe or extort irresistible. Some are forced to moonlight to make ends meet. Lucky ones find jobs outside the newsroom in PR agencies or corporates.

In the meantime, media houses continue to squeeze them dry.

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