In an effort to relaunch the dormant online publication, The Weekend Express, at the Malawi Institute of Journalism (MIJ), jhr recently held an information session at the school to recruit a base of volunteers. My jhr colleague, Heather, and I set up interviews for students hopeful to become the editor-in-chief of the revived student-run publication.
Days before his interview, candidate Gracious Mulinga visited the jhr office at MIJ several times to discuss his plans for the publication and how to prepare for his interview. He was beaming with enthusiasm.
Last Thursday, after much deliberation, I announced to Mulinga that he had been selected as editor-in-chief. His passion, skill and vision for the newspaper made him an obvious choice.
Trying desperately to contain his excitement, he said, “I think it will be great,” with a huge smile. As he left the office, he crouched down, did a fist pump, and yelled a triumphant cry that echoed down the hallway.
Mulinga is just one of the hundreds of students at MIJ but he stands out among the rest. Inspired, energized and sharp, he is the future of Malawian journalism—he’s exactly what the media in this country needs.
Only 18 and wise beyond his years, Mulinga has proven himself to be a self-starter and a talented journalist. Eager to find an outlet for his talent in the absence of a formal campus newspaper, he, along with a handful of fellow students, started up The Revelation, a weekly publication posted on the bulletin board in the main hallway at MIJ.
“I’m a quick learner, I can see what you’re doing and I’ll do it a few days later but in my own way, a better way” he says. His unique vision is what makes Mulinga an exceptional find, but he’s had to develop his practical skills in a student publication such as The Revelation before his personality could shine through his writing.
“I got a one in English” he says proudly, “that’s the highest score in the Malawian secondary school examination.” Mulinga credits his father, a headmaster at a primary school in Malawi, for his advanced writing and editing expertise. But it’s clear that Mulinga also has the confidence, intelligence and instinct to accompany his skill.
He believes that the media is an enormously powerful source of information in Malawi. In his editorial note of in the most recent issue of The Revelation, Mulinga attempts to ignite passion in his fellow journalism students.
“It is high time you started gluing together those verbs, nouns and adjectives to come up with your own articles” he writes, “So get yourself a pen, some paper, and above all an idea, and get writing.”
“I want to show that MIJ really has journalists,” he says boldly addressing concerns that with students graduating with little practical experience, MIJ is risking its reputation with unpublished journalism graduates. He has high expectations for the relaunch and plans to redesign The Weekend Express to be an accessible source of news and entertainment that is 100 per cent student run.
“Eventually, I want it to become a print newspaper. This is the Malawi Institute of Journalism where we have so many journalists that we can have as many stories, provided we have the financial support.” And where funding is concerned, Mulinga has decided to develop an advertising system for the online publication and is in the process of interviewing for an Advertising Manager and a Treasurer.
But amidst all the talk of redesigning and restructuring, his deepest hope for the publication is that MIJ journalists don’t fall into the habit of recycling stories from other popular news outlets.
“I want them to come up with real stories,” he explains, “it is necessary to send journalists into the field to get the stories. I don’t want to rely on what has already been aired. They can listen and see what other journalists have written about, but they should pick a new angle to carry that very same story.”
Mulinga identifies a huge problem in the Malawian media—the recycling of news—and is committed to steer clear of lazy journalism at The Weekend Express.
At such a young age, his foresight, editorial wit and instinctive knack for the kind of determined journalism that inspires his fellow students could just prompt the much-needed generational shift away from idle journalism in Malawi.
“Journalism is in me,” he says, beaming.
As I jot down his words I can’t help but believe him.