Jacqueline Mahugu – Journalist, reporter and writer

Jackie is a journalist, reporter, and writer. She writes features about almost everything, really. A Jackie of all trades (well, of one trade but many variations of said trade). She was a teacher of English and Literature in a couple of high schools for a total of about a year, before interning at Destination Magazine for a month and finally joining Standard Group, where she has been for over four years.

For fun, she enjoys reading, watching TV shows and movies, listening to music (and, if in the right mood, singing along loudly) and browsing the internet. Her motivation is making a difference in people’s lives. Asked what she would be, if we were all animals, she answered: “If I was to be realistic, probably a cat because of how much I love sleeping!”

I asked Jackie a few questions.

What do you like about your profession?

The fact that it is what you make it. Journalism is one of the professions where, in my experience, you can decide that your work will make a real difference in people’s lives and do something every day that helps you achieve that. If you make your journalistic work about that, it really gives you a sense of purpose.

What do you dislike about it?

I dislike having to talk to people when they are at their lowest, when the last thing they want to do is talk to a journalist – a strange person they have never seen asking them about a very personal moment. It makes me feel like a vulture. So I try to be as sensitive as I can when I have to do it.

How/why did you choose your profession?

I did not choose my profession; my profession chose me! Fine, I chose it because I always loved stories – reading and writing them –  as evidenced by my decision to study English and Literature in campus. So I chose a profession where I could go to work to do something I actually liked doing, whether I was getting paid or not. It really takes the edge off the Monday blues!

Who is your role model?

George RR Martin. He is the writer of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, which the TV show, Game of Thrones, is based on.

Why?

He is one of the greatest storytellers alive. I’d say he was the greatest if he actually finished the books on time! Seriously though, his skills at world-building and weaving incredible stories into those worlds are…out of this world! He seriously has god-like writing skills.

What has been the highest point in your career?

There have been quite a number! I will go with when I wrote a Facebook post based on a story I had done on Rachel Munjiru, one of the Garissa University terrorist attack victims. She had survived seven gunshots wounds. When I met her she was incapacitated and could not even sit up in bed because one of those bullets had disintegrated in her spine. It was absolutely heart-rending. When I wrote the post, it unexpectedly went viral and Kenyans raised close to three million shillings for her to get surgery in India. It just blew my mind. Thanks to that surgery she was able to sit up and can now use a walker to get around.

What has been the lowest point in your career?

I have had plenty of low moments. I can’t choose between these two, which were also difficult to single out. One was meeting a 3-year-old child called Wisdom who suffered from an autoimmune disorder called pyoderma gangrenosum. His own immune system attacks healthy skin cells so his body was covered in huge, deep wounds from head to toe and he was in constant agony. Seeing that kid suffer so much really broke my heart. I couldn’t hold back tears during the interview. Another low moment was covering the Huruma building collapse and talking to several people who had lost family members, while others were hoping to find their family members alive, then they turned out to have died.

What mistakes have you made in your career?

Turning my hobby/passion into a job. They say if you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life. However, I have found that you can easily hate what you used to love doing once it becomes a job, as in an obligation. You have to do whether you are in the mood or not otherwise you will starve to death. Once it becomes something you must do, rather than something you want to do because it makes you happy, the joy you used to associate with it can easily disappear.

How did you get over them?

My mistake was exactly that, viewing it as just a job. I fixed that by re-evaluating what I was doing, and realizing that I had the incredible opportunity to make a huge impact, a difference in other people’s lives through stories. Once I started looking at it through that lens, once I found purpose in what I was doing, it became fulfilling once again.

Which was your best story, and why?

It’s so difficult to choose! That is probably the story on Rachel because of the impact that it had but since I have already talked about that one, another one would be “12 Lessons from Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore”. Everything about it was great: meeting him, having him tell me his story, gleaning the lessons from that story and the public reception of the story. It was quoted and plagiarized a lot and since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I was very flattered. I mean, let’s be honest, it probably did well because it was Bob Collymore, his story is super inspiring and he is very smart, but I still felt humbled to have been the one who got it out there and in a way that people appreciated.

What does mentorship mean to you, and what do you do to mentor others?

To me, mentorship means passing on the knowledge you have gained from your own experience and others’ to other people who can benefit from it. I do it by helping out young writers who come to me for advice on how to make it as a writer.

What advice would you give young professionals seeking to join journalism?

Read and write a lot. Emphasis on A LOT.

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