Journalist-turned-politician David Makali has been appointed to head Radio Africa Group, the Star publisher, in a surprise move that throws the newspaper back into older hands. He takes over today (November 30th) from Charles Kerich, who was appointed the Nairobi City County minister for ICT and e-government by Governor Mike Sonko.
The appointment was revealed by Radio Africa CEO William Pike, who is said to be a close associate of Makali, through a short circular to senior editors of the Star.
As head of content for the Star, Mr Makali, who has worked with nearly all the leading media houses in the country, is expected to help turn around the fortunes of Kenya’s youngest daily newspaper at a time when print media is facing fierce competition from digital technology.
The entry of Makali caught the Star family off guard, as many had expected an insider to take up the position. Top editors Paul Ilado and Francis Openda, who have been with the Star since it started, had been seen as front runners for the position, which is the equivalent of managing editor or editor-in-chief. The holder has control over all content for the Star print and digital as well converged content for broadcast.
This choice has surprised many in media industry, who see Makali more of a political activist than a journalist. He is a veteran journalist who rose to fame after being sued and jailed for being a pain in the Moi government while working for Kenneth Matiba’s The People Weekly, now PD.
Makali, known for his independent mind, is seen to represent a school of journalism that is being overtaken by time with digital media taking centre stage. A media analyst says he is the kind of editor who still believes in the inverted pyramid while writing a story and very particular with dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, concepts that have lost relevance in the modern-day journalism where success is measured by how you can deliver content to the audience.
His tenure at the Star will be interesting to watch. First, Makali is a disruptor and is likely to push for major changes in editorial to bring in people he feels will deliver his dream who he will pay handsomely, a tall order for the Star which is facing financial constraints. Second, Makali’s stay in newsroom has been intermittent, often disappearing as fast as he appeared.
His most recent assignment in media was with Royal Media Where he co-hosted the Cheche programme on Wednesday’s but he was pushed out due to a conflict of interest as he had political interests and was consulting for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) during a challenging period in the country’s history.
His last post in the mainstream media was Managing Editor of Sunday Standard, a position to which he was appointed in 2003 by Tom Mshindi, but fell out with management barely two years later and left.
This is after a story based on contents of tape detailing confessions by suspects in the murder of University of Nairobi don Crispin Odhiambo Mbai in 2003 was published in the newspaper. He was later charged with stealing by the video tape alongside policeman John Chemweno but they were discharged in 2005 by then Chief Magistrate Aggrey Muchelule.
Before that, he ran a weekly column in the Daily Nation.
Makali, a renowned music promoter under Sound Africa, faces a huge task of saving the Star from going out of circulation. Due to poor performance in terms of circulation and adverts, management has earmarked the newspaper for closure after elections to focus more on digital and its more successful segment in digital.
The newspaper has been trying to find a proper footing since transforming from a tabloid to a political newspaper and it is likely heads will roll if the new editor opts for a reinvention.
Radio Africa has in recent months been mulling a staff downsize in the face of dwindling ad and print sales revenue.
Those who have worked with Makali say journalists at Lion’s Place should start tightening their belts to weather the storm as Makali takes over.
In a way, also, it will be a reunion with some of his old buddies.