- Michael Meyer has been at the Aga Khan Graduate School of Media and Communications as the school’s founding dean for four years, after a five-year stint at the United Nations as the communications director and speech writer for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
- An award-winning correspondent for Newsweek magazine where he spent most of his professional life as an editor, Meyer holds an MA in Journalism from Columbia University.
What should people know about Aga Khan Graduate School of Media and Communications?
The Aga Khan University has in the past chiefly been a medical school training medical practitioners, including nurses and midwives. The Aga Khan established the Aga Khan Graduate School of Media and Communications ahead of other graduate schools, to change the media landscape in East Africa. What is missing is the kind of graduate professional education seen in the United States and Europe in business, law and above all in media. The Aga Khan is therefore establishing a series of graduate professional schools across the region beginning with this media school. It is a huge investment amounting to $500 million (Sh50 billion) over the next 15 years.
What makes AKU Graduate School of Media and Communications different from other media trainers?
Most journalism trainers here train recent undergraduates and their idea is to give them a new career. We are focused exclusively on practising professionals to help them raise their own game. We take journalists with jobs and make them better at their jobs and therefore improve the quality of reporting in the region as a force of democracy and economic development.
What is the most popular programme at the school?
We are a new graduate school. In January 2018, we will launch a cutting edge MA in digital journalism, which will be as good as any journalism skill in America or Europe. We will offer scholarships to the first class of 20 people who will be young journalists in their mid-20s and early 30s. So far, in our first two years of operation, we have run a series of professional, executive-style development courses to about 800 students. These are two-week programmes for corporations, governments and media houses.
Do you make any follow-up on your graduates since they are already practising journalists?
We keep running into students who went through our programme as practising journalists. Even when they are out there, they are always welcome to call anyone of our faculty for help in a story.
How do you intend to bridge the gender gap in training journalists?
We will insist that roughly half the class for our MA programme are women. There is a terrible lack of female journalists in Kenya, especially those occupying senior editor positions in newsrooms. Women continue to be discriminated against in journalism. Female reporters are harassed by politicians and sexually harassed in the newsrooms. We want to change that. Just the other day, female reporters that were covering political campaigns were harassed by political candidates. Being good at your job is the best ticket to advancement besides being the best protection at your job. As a Kenyan female journalist, you have to be better than the men around you if you have to advance.
With digital migration, the print industry in Kenya is dying. What is AKU Graduate School of Media and Communications doing to ensure the position of writers isn’t threatened?
We don’t believe that digital migration means the “death” of traditional media. Early next year, we plan to launch an innovation centre offering training and research helping media enterprises, old and new, legacy as well as start-ups, build new audiences and adapt to changing markets. If TheNew York Times or The Washington Post can increase subscription rates by a third to half over the past year, so can Kenyan media. Writers should focus on Kenyans’ thirst for knowledge. That is what matters most to readers and viewers. They care so much about the format or delivery style. Writers are the folks who interpret our world. They won’t simply disappear.
What do you do to bridge the skills gap in media graduates in Kenya?
We teach journalists to be better journalists – better writers, better editors, better fact-checkers, better managers and innovators. That is the real skills gap. It is in the head – the drive to be better. Believe it or not, you can teach this. It is part of living professionally, and ethically, in the media world.
Is there a way to offer more practical exposure to professionals you admit to the institution, especially those who are not drawn from newsrooms?
Our programmes focus on practice, not theory. Our students write stories and make films side-by-side with some of the world’s leading talents. In other words, we emphasise field work, not lectures. And because virtually all our students are journalists with jobs, they immediately apply what they learn to day-to-day work.
What is your message to media practitioners during the electioneering period?
Be fair. Be balanced. And above all, get it right. A journalist who plays political activist, who fudges the facts, will not be trusted.