The Nairobian and the ‘Politics’ of Tabloidisation in Kenya’s Print Media

  • George Ogola


The unprecedented growth of The Nairobian, a red-top tabloid, as arguably the most notorious and undoubtedly one of the most ‘popular’ newspapers in Kenya has generated debate on the future of Kenyan journalism. Informed by the broader critical debates on the process of tabloidisation and of the tabloid press more generally, this chapter discusses the ‘success’ of The Nairobian and, in the process, articulates the multiple—if contradictory—facets and textures of popular journalism. It explores the interface between the ‘popular’ and the ‘populist’ in Kenyan journalism in order to consider how and why the tabloid press so readily constructs its publics. It examines The Nairobian’s focus on Kenya’s ‘popular anxieties’, hence its appeal. It argues that though fundamentally melodramatic, the newspaper disrupts and questions the normative by elevating the personal and by employing controversial though not entirely subversive rhetorical strategies to mediate both the individual and collective experiences of its readers. It further argues that the newspaper is ‘political’ in the sense of undermining the formally political through a ‘politics of the everyday’.


  1. Anderson, Peter, George Ogola, and Michael Williams, eds. 2014. The Future of Journalism in the Developed and Developing World: A Cross Continental Analysis. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Barber, Karin. 1997. Readings in African Popular Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Barnett, Steven. 1998. Dumbing Down or Reaching Out: Is it Tabloidisation Wot Done It? The Political Quarterly 69 (b): 75–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bird, Elizabeth. 1992. For Enquiring Minds: A Cultural Study of the Supermarket Tabloids. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bunce, Dick. 1997. A Vision for Pacifica Radio: Creating a Network for the 21st Century. Strategic Five-Year Plan – April 1997. Accessed 12 Feb 2016.
  6. Cheeseman, Nic. 2014. Are Newspapers on Their Way Out. Nation, March 30.Google Scholar
  7. Connell, Ian. 1991. Tales of Tellyland: The Popular Press and Television in the UK. In Communication and Citizenship: Journalism and the Public Sphere in the New Media Age, ed. Peter Dahlgren and Colin Sparks, 236–253. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Media Discourse. London: Edwards Arnold.Google Scholar
  9. Fenton, Natalie. 2010. New Media, Old News. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  10. Fiske, John. 1992. Popularity and the Politics of Information. In Journalism and Popular Culture, ed. Peter Dahlgren and Colin Sparks, 45–63. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Frankel, Max. 1999. Media Madness: The Revolution So Far. Accessed 14 Mar 2016.
  12. Franklin, Bob. 1997. Newszak and News Media. London: Arnold.Google Scholar
  13. Gripsrud, Jostein. 2000. Tabloidization, Popular Journalism and Democracy. In Tabloid Tales: Global Debates Over Media Standards, ed. Colin Sparks and John Tulloch, 285–300. Lanham, MD: Roman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  14. Haugerud, Angelique. 1995. The Culture of Politics in Modern Kenya. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hermes, Joke. 2006. Hidden Debates: Rethinking the Relationship Between Popular Culture and the Public Sphere. Javnost-The Public 13 (4): 27–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Iraki, Fredrick. 2010. Cross-Media Ownership and the Monopolizing of Public Spaces in Kenya. In (Re)membering Kenya: Identity, Culture and Freedom, ed. Mbugua wa Mungai and George Gona, 142–159. Nairobi: Twaweza Communications.Google Scholar
  17. Jewell, John. 2015. Very British Scandal Continues Rich Tradition of Tabloid Titillation—and Never Mind the Ethics. The Conversation, July 29.Google Scholar
  18. Langer, John. 1998. Tabloid Television: Popular Journalism and the ‘Other News’. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  19. Mburu, Steven. 2013. The Viability of a Free Newspaper in the Nairobi Metropolitan Area in Kenya: A Needs Assessment Study. MA dissertation, University of Nairobi.Google Scholar
  20. Ndegwa, Stephanie. 1997. Citizenship and Ethnicity: An Examination of Two Transition Moments in Kenyan Politics. American Political Science Review 91 (03): 599–616.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Newell, Stephanie, and Onookome Okome. 2014. Popular Culture in Africa: The Episteme of the Everyday. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Nyabuga, George, and Nancy Booker. 2013. Mapping Digital Media: Kenya. New York: Open Society Foundations.Google Scholar
  23. Ochillo, Polycarp. 1993. Press Freedom and the Role of the Media in Kenya. Africa Media Review. 7 (2): 20–33.Google Scholar
  24. Ogola, George. 2010. ‘If You Rattle a Snake, Be Prepared to be Bitten: Popular Culture, Politics and the Kenyan News Media. In Popular Media, Democracy and Development in Africa, ed. Herman Wasserman, 123–136. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 2011. The Political Economy of the Media in Kenya: From Kenyatta’s ‘Nation-Building’ press to Kibaki’s Fragmented Nation. Africa Today 57 (3): 77–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. ———. 2015. Social Media as a Heteroglossic Discursive Space and Kenya’s Emergent Alternative/Citizen Experiment. African Journalism Studies 36 (4): 66–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Ong’owo, Jim. 2011. Ethics of Investigative Journalism: A Study of a Tabloid and a Quality Newspaper in Kenya. MA dissertation, University of Leeds.Google Scholar
  28. Sparks, Colin. 2000. Tabloid Tales: Global Debates Over Media Standards. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  29. Wasserman, Herman. 2008. Telling Stories: South African Tabloids and Post-apartheid Politics. Accessed 10 Mar 2016.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • George Ogola
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Central LancashirePrestonUK

Personalised recommendations