Gibendi Ramenya is a seasoned journalist with more than a decade worth of media experience. He is also the Managing Director of TUKO.co.ke, one of the biggest and most successful news websites in Kenya.
Having worked at TUKO.co.ke since its inception in 2015 in different positions, Ramenya is widely respected within the company and across the media fraternity. In this interview with Wok, Ramenya discussed the challenges and opportunities from his perspective in such a competitive industry, and explained the how TUKO.co.ke has helped shape the man he is today.
Please introduce yourself and what you do
My name is Gibendi Ramenya. I am currently the Managing Director at TUKO.co.ke, a position I have held for the past four years. TUKO is one of Kenya’s leading digital media houses; as the MD, I handle the company’s business side because the company is supposed to be financially autonomous from the co-founding company Genesis Media.
What is your career background?
I studied journalism and Mass Communication at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. I also have a diploma in Public Relations Management from the Kenya Institute of Management.
I am currently pursuing an MBA from the University of East London to expand and deepen my knowledge in management.
How was the start of your career after campus?
After graduating in December 2011, I started as a correspondent for Daily Nation, Kisumu Bureau, from September 2012 to March 2013, when I was promoted to the head office in Nairobi to join the business desk, a post I held until April 2015.
I then joined just as the company was established in Kenya following the success of a similar project in Nigeria called Legit-ng.
How did you learn of the opportunity?
A coworker, Joshua Masinde, shared the application link with me and asked if I was interested in the job.
I applied on a Monday, went for the interview on Friday and had the offer letter the next Monday. I was somewhat surprised at how fast everything unfolded, but since I had been praying for a change, I signed the offer letter and joined.
Currently, I am the only pioneer staff still working at the company. At TUKO.co.ke, we consistently develop our team into a strong force of creatives renowned for their passion for media.
What shaped your interest in journalism and media?
I have loved reading novels and self-help books and writing articles ever since I was in high school. Then, when I was in form two, I made the brilliant decision to pursue a career in media, though I was not sure of a specific area.
While at the University, I wrote many letters to the editor on topical issues, which got published many times. Seeing my articles published in the dailies encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming a journalist.
By the way, after high school, my father wanted me to pursue a career in Law because he wanted a lawyer in his family. Still, I convinced him of my passion and finally settled in Journalism and Mass Communication.
Having worked in both mainstream and online media, what would you say are the differences between the two?
The two are quite different, especially since audience news consumption habits are constantly shifted towards online platforms due to their real-time news updates.
Newspapers and other traditional news outlets will still be around for the next 1 or 2 decades. However, one of the biggest advantages of online media is the immediacy factor.
If you are a platform that dwells on highly digestible content like TUKO, you tend to measure performance and reach quite quickly; this helps in shaping your content strategy and approach.
The same cannot be said of traditional news platforms that rarely enjoy the luxury of making data-based decisions regarding content.
Make no mistakes; mainstream media still has a lot of influence, thanks to its trustworthiness and a loyal readership built over time. However, the future is digital.
As MD, would you say that TUKO.co.ke has achieved the goals set at its inception?
Yes. We have met and exceeded the goals we had set to achieve at the beginning. One of our prospects was to be the biggest news online website in the country, based on unique monthly visitors and pageviews.
As Ramenya, I have achieved a lot professionally; I have grown career-wise. I have had the opportunity to mentor others, and I have worked in management, enabling me to grow related soft skills.
What sets TUKO.co.ke apart from other news websites?
What sets TUKO.co.ke apart is that we do a lot of research and development, which informs our content strategies and approaches. Well, not sure about other publishers, but the training our sales, editorial, and video team undergo regularly is quite intensive.
We usually say you never know how demanding it is to work at TUKO.co.ke until you join.
To achieve the numbers we achieve in a month, you need to be a consistently aggressive publisher, and that is what TUKO.co.ke is; our editorial team produce a lot of articles daily from Monday-Monday.
TUKO.co.ke editorial team also produce content relatable to the normal Kenyan mwananchi. That is why TUKO.co.ke Facebook pages have some of the highest interaction rates.
Five times, NewsWhip has ranked TUKO.co.ke one of the world’s top ten publishers on Facebook, alongside big publishers like Daily Mail, CNN and Washington Post. TUKO.co.ke is the only Kenyan media house to achieve such a fete this year, with over 11 million monthly engagements.
How big is your staff?
The entire staff is about 55, including Editorial, Sales, Video and admin departments.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career?
On a personal level, TUKO.co.ke has given me many opportunities to grow.
The opportunity to grow is something I never knew I would get so early in my career. I think it can only get better.
What helps you identify a good journalist for your team as a team leader and manager?
At TUKO.co.ke, a model is used in hiring staff across departments, not just editorial; every respective section head adheres to it.
We select candidates through written tests and two levels of oral tests to test creativity and how people would handle different situations.
We can predict, with a high degree of accuracy, who can work and who cannot work, and this explains our low staff turnover.
What is next for Ramenya Gibendi?
I want to see how we can make TUKO.co.ke much bigger than what it is, perhaps expand our physical presence in the country and region besides growing our online footprint in tandem with the ever-growing internet penetration in the country and region.
That is why I am pursuing an MBA in hopes that I will also expand my management skills in readiness for the bigger challenges and responsibilities.
What is your advice for younger journalists who want to be successful?
People should follow their hearts and examine what they want in their careers. So I began reading self-help books, which helped me gain a sense of purpose in my career and life. I also followed many of the industry’s people I looked up to.
The younger professionals just out of colleges or universities should remember that success in any field or venture takes time; I am still on that road. So please do not do it for the money alone. Instead, do it to feed your passion and purpose.