He grew up in Africa’s largest urban slum-Kibera. At an early age, he witnessed some of his community’s worst human rights violations. From petty crime, arson, murder, name them. These events disturbed him at an early age.
It’s been ten years and counting reporting on security and crime affairs in Kenya and the East African region. Some stories have tested his patience. Some pushed him to the limit, but his steadfastness and commitment to unearthing the truth remain unshaken.
So how does one stay safe while reporting in conflict-stricken zones? Presshub Africa sat down with Hassan Mugambi, a crime and investigative reporter for Kenya’s leading television, Citizen TV.
What gets you up in the morning?
I am driven by a passion for telling human interest stories. It gives me special satisfaction to inform or expose evil in society. I choose to speak for those whose voices cannot be heard!
Tell me, how do you feed your mind?
I read a lot and, at the same time, consume lots of digital media content. In the school of journalism, they say one never gets to graduate-it’s a lifelong journey. You have to stay ahead constantly. I tell people that the kind of stories you package for viewers will always show whether you went the extra mile in research and preparation.
The newsroom must be a pressure cooker. How do you handle tight deadlines?
The reality is that there is no precise formula to handle the newsroom pressure. By the time you think you’re handling it, new scenarios emerge! The secret for me is to take it as it comes. All this requires some level of discipline and agility. Sometimes a story breaks as late as ten minutes to a live broadcast. How do you handle that? Your viewers will not excuse you; they want to be informed. So, by all means, you have to make it happen and only in the right way.
How did you end up in security reporting?
It all started at K24 TV in 2013. I had just joined the station as an intern at the Swahili desk. By the way, for a long time, this is what most people came to know me for, the Swahili intern. I was lucky to have an extended internship at the station. The newsroom was vibrant and I vowed to capitalize on every moment to learn and grow. I was twice lucky. One morning during an editorial meeting, the editorial head, Peter Opondo, announced that I was meant to tag along with senior reporter Purity Mwambia to follow a developing story at the Kenyan Coast. There was a police raid at the Masjid Musa Mosque in Mombasa. Police were hunting down some radical Muslim youth accused of having ties with Al-Shabaab. It was going to be a tough one! I however took up the test with courage and shadowed the lead reporter. The experience played the icebreaker that thrust me into crime and security reporting.
By now, you must have gathered plenty of lessons. What are your top tips on staying safe while reporting in conflict zones?
First, assess the physical and mental risks before setting out for an assignment. Be prepared for scenarios to expect and think through possible mitigation measures. It is everything about the simple things we love to ignore. For instance, do you have contacts with the local security networks? Have you carried your first aid kit? Such simple but basic precautions.
On the ground, strive to achieve a balanced report—endeavor to separate facts from fiction. Make sense of what is happening. Normally in any conflict, there are so many myths, propaganda, misconceptions, and rumors; all these can easily mislead your reporting. As a journalist, you have an unwavering obligation-stay alert and report the truth!
Also, understand your geography! You want to avoid being caught up in skirmishes where you cannot tell your way in or out. It can get really dangerous!
What opportunities exist for solutions journalism in crime reporting?
Huge opportunities. Journalists should focus on more than just the vices happening every day and also on possible remedies. Are there societies that have registered some level of success in combating crime in their localities? What lessons can they offer to others? Impactful journalism!
Interesting! What’s your biggest fear right now?
My security. Some stories are very sensitive. So you have to keep watching your six all the time!
What is the hardest story you’ve had to cover?
The deadly Mpeketoni killings of Lamu county back in 2014. It was horrifying to cover. Looking back on that fateful day, we counted tens of bodies strewn all over. Unknown attackers had descended on the little-known town, leaving behind a trail of destruction. It was particularly hard interacting with grieving families; it pushes you as a journalist.
What do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
Oh, I reflect a lot. I use such moments to talk to myself and think about my life!
What’s the last gift you gave to someone?
A watch. It was a birthday present for someone special.
If you were not a crime reporter, what would you be?
Hmm…Probably a humanitarian worker. I love people. I hate human suffering.
What is your biggest lesson in journalism so far?
Patience. Growth is gradual; invest time learning the craft, and you’ll become better and more polished!
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