By Kemiso Wessie
Dr Nancy Booker, Associate Professor and Dean at the Graduate School for Media and Communications at The Aga Khan University in Kenya, believes in constant flexibility amid major change in the media.
Her 20 years of experience were built around dedication to the field and commitment to gender issues as well as promoting peace through her various projects. Recently, she was elected to the founding board of the African Journalism Educators’ Network (Ajen), serving as its vice-president.
Booker underscores the importance of media workers learning continually and being adaptable. “What works today may not work tomorrow. Media is a dynamic industry,” adds the academic. It is an industry that she says is an exciting place to be, a place of constant unlearning, learning and relearning no matter how established or young you are. “I am not afraid of admitting that I do not know something, learning more and being adventurous,” she says.
Born and bred in Nairobi, Dr Booker was nicknamed “a daughter of the city,” and grew up with encouraging parents who highly valued quality education. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Daystar University in Kenya, where she worked and received mentorship that paved the way for her profession.
Her observation of how intensely her parents followed different news sources helped her realise the importance of honest journalism. Despite some initial resistance from her family, Dr. Booker’s passion drove her towards a profession in media.
When asked about the key insights she has gained from the different aspects of her career, she explained that it is the recognition that “everyone has a story to tell and the critical question is how to get them to tell it”.
Dr Booker specialises in broadcast, journalism and health communication, with extensive knowledge of leadership gained from the Harvard Kennedy School. She emphasises that effective leadership is a complex skill that involves drawing people towards oneself rather than pushing them away.
As a strong supporter of women’s leadership in media, she stresses its significance as motivation for others to strive towards taking on influential positions. She explains that the world needs to see women and girls in those roles so that they may be inspired to follow. “If they cannot see themselves in leadership they cannot dream about what is possible,” she continues.
Dr Booker is a trustee of the Kenyan chapter of Amani Ya Juu, a social-economic organisation aimed at promoting peace and reconciliation among women from diverse African backgrounds. She also assisted in setting up the media and communication department at ABC University in post-war Liberia. She maintains that responsible media coverage can facilitate peace by preventing the escalation of conflicts while creating opportunities for discussions centred on human rights concerns and peaceful resolutions.
In addition to this she was part of a study with Hesbon Hansen Owilla and Clare Mogere that analysed the news consumption habits of Millennials and Gen Z in order to evaluate their effects on media outlets. She is also currently developing a course focused on implementing sustainable journalism practices that will address challenges facing this field. Dr Booker is also a member of the Kenyan Media Complaints Commission and a founding member of the East African Communication Association (EACA). Dr Booker stresses the need for educators to establish secure environments in media education. She provides her own classrooms as an example, saying while teaching essential skills, she places significant emphasis on her students’ welfare, given the likelihood of stress associated with media work.
Aspiring media professionals should acknowledge the significant contribution of the media in society, she says, and they should remain versatile, investigate innovative platforms and consistently seek growth opportunities within the evolving industry.
Due to the crumbling of traditional revenue models, sustaining and monetising media and communication industries has become a challenging task. Booker highlights the significance of upholding journalistic principles while adapting to changing landscapes in order for regulations and policies to tackle these issues effectively.
Dr Booker fondly remembers the appreciation expressed by her students, but acknowledges the difficulties of managing a media school amid industry upheavals, particularly in dealing with perceptions about the relevance of media degrees.