Fiona Muthoni was the second Editor-In-Chief in 2016-2018. She is currently working as an anchor and producer at CNBC Africa and a contributor to Forbes Africa magazine.
Muthoni was one of the best performers in 2018 School of Journalism and Communication cohort. As a young professional whose career is progressing and product of UR-SJC, she certainly has a lot to share.
Muthoni shared her experience, insights, tips to students and how Kaminuza Star helped her navigate through her career. Below are the excerpts.
How was your life at the UR?
I started at University of Rwanda in September 2014. I was excited. I had a lot to look out for, and throughout my four years at school I got to get different experiences. Initially, the school was based at KIST, and then we later moved to SFB [Gikondo] and then, by the time I was graduating, it moved to Huye. So I got a bit of culture from the different colleges. My experience at the university of Rwanda taught me how to be independent: how to plan my time accordingly, how to balance between school life and work life. It taught me more and less about self-discipline.
Based on your experience at SJC, what is the gap between what’s offered there and real world demand?
I don’t think there is one thing that needs to be done in order for everything to be seamless. I feel studies at school are very much detached from the real life. You know they do not really apply to the everyday life of a journalist. When we were there we were learning most things in theory. You can’t really learn to operate a camera in theory. Until you hold one that’s when you can actually say this is how I switch it on or off.
Moving from theory-based to practice-based knowledge would help many students get hands-on skills when they are still in school. Secondly, we need to have the right equipment. If you are learning about radio, for example, you need to have a studio. You need to have a laptop where you can to record interviews and learn how to edit them.
There are criticisms that journalism education in Rwanda remains of low standard. As far as your experience is concerned, what could be your take on that?
When I was still studying, I felt like I was not getting value from my money. The administration and the lecturers should all listen to the students because what makes a good school is not just a table, a chair and a teacher. It becomes a school because it creates a conducive environment for students to learn. They need to be motivated.
For the students, they should be self-motivated even if they feel like the quality is low but at the end of the day that is what they have, that is what they sign up for. Quality of education should not be an excuse for students. They should go ahead and do their own research. They should be willing to learn what they feel like they need to learn without necessarily blaming what is not going right on the administration.
How did you become the editor of Kaminuza Star? Did being part of KS contribute to your success in your career?
The whole idea of starting a newspaper was brought by my colleague in 2015. We started it and then discussed with lectures and the school. I liked the whole idea of creating a platform where the students could be able to share their stories.
I was first the deputy chief editor and one year later, I was elected to become the Kaminuza Star Chief Editor. I’d say during that time I really got to learn a lot. That’s when I got to put everything that I had learnt in class into practice. I learnt how to write stories and edit them. The New Times really helped us. We worked hand in hand with them and I got to learn firsthand skills from some of the best writers here in the country. Being part of Kaminuza Star really helped me in my career today.
As the Editor-in-Chief, what challenges did you face? How did you confront them?
One of the main challenges was getting students participate in submitting their stories. Most of them felt they needed motivation. They thought it was a platform that would publish their story; and then they would be paid. It was really hard to convince students that they should take the newspaper as a platform that would help would them in their day-to-day life.
Another challenge was the printing beat. I remember after all articles had been written and submitted, we had meetings with The New Times representatives. They would go through all the articles help us edit them. Planning around people’s schedules was very hard and sometimes printing had to be put on hold until every article was read through.
Women enrollment in journalism continues to shrink. Women occupy less than 25% of all journalists. What do you make of that? What should be the solution?
I think media industry itself is very male dominated. There’s this notion in the society that says certain jobs are for men certain jobs are for female; and that has managed to just become a norm. It is actually very wrong. There are some successful female journalists in the media industry but they are also not as many as their male counterparts.
I think one of the solutions would be motivating girls when they are young. They also need to hear stories of the female journalists who have made it in the media industry. They need to hear stories of how journalists managed to breakthrough from all these cultural norms. This will motivate them.
We should also create support groups as young female enthusiasts because the challenges that we face as female are very unique compared to male counterparts. This is a new sector that we are all venturing in and we may face challenges that we don’t know how to deal with. It’s always good when you have someone whom you know has gone through it, someone like a mentor. I do believe that women have the power to be whomever they want. We just have to work together, come together and break all the societal norms in order for us to actually achieve an equally fulfilling life.
As one of the school’s best performers, what is your advice to current students?
You know, some people think that journalism is easy. They think you can sit down, have a pen and just write anything that can be a material worth publishing. But for journalists, people who’ve gone to school who studied the arts, we know it requires a lot of sacrifice. It requires a lot of determination and research. I encourage you to go on, go hard, do not give up. Nothing in life comes easy; everything requires sweats. Know why you are doing it. Have the right motivation, and do it to tell people stories. Do it for the right purpose because if you are not doing it with a clear mind your focus may be diverted. I really encourage all of students to continue working because this is the sector I feel we need more people involved in.
Every person in this world has a story to be told and we need qualified people to tell that story with a good perspective, in a way that will empower and will encourage other people. Journalism is an industry that will never be filled up. We need as many people as we can have, so keep going on.
Gentillesse Cyuzuzo and Moise M. Bahati contributed to this article.