A Day in the Life of Verah Okeyo

Verah Okeyo is a science journalist, teacher, and communications specialist in Nairobi, Kenya. As a midwife’s daughter who was born and bred in rural areas, Verah’s reporting focuses on global health—specifically maternal and child health, infectious diseases, and underrepresented communities. Verah worked as a reporter and editor at Nation Media, East and Central Africa’s most prominent media house. She is published in many outlets, including The Guardian and Foresight Global Health. She has a master’s in media and communications from the London School of Economics and Political Science and is currently pursuing other postgraduate qualifications. Follow her on Twitter @IamVerahOkeyo.

 

A woman in jeans and an orange, yellow and white top walks along a path outdoors while carrying a camera tripod balanced on her shoulder.Sandra Ruong'o

Verah Okeyo

 

What I’m working on:

I took a break from full-time newsroom work to pursue multiple projects that interest me, such as practicing freelance communications, completing my book on science journalism, and training reporters with less than two years of experience on the basics of science journalism. I am working on longer projects with my mentees—covering the profession of journalism and the technical skills of reporting about global health, mostly.

My dissertation research at the London School of Economics and Political Science between 2017 and 2018 motivated me to train reporters. As part of a project to turn my dissertation into a book, I interviewed 26 journalists and media managers in Kenya about the Gates Foundation’s impact on health journalism, and I noticed a pattern: They think the science beat is easy, as compared to politics, business or sports.

The media managers, on the other hand, thought science journalism does not attract advertising (which newspapers in Kenya rely on), and that newsrooms only report about science for prestige. These two assumptions couldn’t be further from the truth and have affected the quality of science journalism that comes out in Kenya’s media houses. It is almost impossible to change the minds of 50-year-old, old-school journalists who have been in the newsroom, to persuade them that science journalism is a complex beat that can attract readership and advertising. However, it is possible to influence young reporters to understand the beat, its complexities, and its importance. That is why I work with young journalists.

Where I work:

I work from Nairobi, mostly in my home office. The pandemic began just when I was moving to my godmother’s house, a space with old architecture that appealed to my generally boring, old-soul personality. So, when I took the house as a renovation project, I had to consider that I would be working from home a lot and make it a space that allows my creativity to thrive. So I added a lot of old-soul things like colorful rugs, and some storage material to cater to my tendency to litter my workspace.

 

Verah Okeyo writes on a tablet while siting at her home-office desk.Sandra Ruong'o

Verah Okeyo

 

Daily routine:

I am a creature of routine. My day begins at 5:30 a.m. I am also spiritual, so I give myself a half-hour for prayers and then spend an hour answering emails. I work on my communications job until 4:00 p.m. After that, I do a two-hour workout while listening to true-crime podcasts. Then I have an early dinner and switch to journalism until around 9:00 p.m., and then read for an hour before sleeping. Weekends are for my creative pursuits—music, textiles, and martial arts.

Most productive part of my day:

My productivity depends on many factors, such as whether I have slept adequately or exercised. There are also days when my mind just refuses to construct even a 300-word sentence. I do know that my most well-written articles are those I worked on at night, sometimes as late as 1:00 a.m.

Most essential ritual or habit:

There are two: silence and writing! I need time to be alone, especially when I am under a lot of pressure, to make sense of the world. I am a newspaper reporter and one whose job relies on writing to paint pictures in her head; I make sense of everything by taking a pencil or a pen and writing (not typing).

Favorite note-taking techniques/tools:

I have a tablet that I got myself when I realized I use as many as four A3 notebooks in a month and I misplace those notebooks from time to time. Losing a notebook from fieldwork in northern Kenya was the nail in the coffin that pushed me to buy the tablet. It backs up my notes on a drive. When an idea comes to my head on science journalism projects to pursue, how to lay them out in the newspaper, how to tweet about them on social media, I pull it out. I like that tablet a lot.

How I keep track of my to-do list:

I use an online platform called Any.do, which is linked to my personal and work emails. The app reminds me by ringing. However, before I go to bed, I will write what I need to do the next day in my diary. When I write them all down, my mind can process how much each task will take from me psychologically, time-wise, and financially.

Essential software/apps/productivity tools: Any.do and Google Calendar.

 

Verah stands outdoors holding a small child while speaking to someone out of the frame. Behind her is a large group of people dressed in colorful clothing.Sandra Ruong'o

Verah in the field during an ethnographic journalism project in northern Kenya.

 

Favorite time waster/procrastination habit:

Someone save me from Pinterest, and Google Podcasts! I love House & Garden magazine and have copies from as far back as the early 2000s (mostly inherited from my godmother), and it is not entirely weird that you would find me reading three copies simultaneously from as far back as 2005. In addition, I watch Roman Empire and Tudors documentaries.

My reading habits:

The Myers-Briggs personality test says I am an INFJ—that personality that likes analytical things (say, hard science and the processes in academia that people think are tedious) and creative things (branding, design). So my reading preferences swing from materials about health systems in the developing world to Branding for Dummies. I also like history and biogeography, which is why Yuval Noah Harari and Jared Diamond are also staples.

I also read when my creative flow is interrupted and I am struggling to tell stories and come up with concepts for design. Books and magazines can bring me back to generating ideas and stringing sentences. After my postgraduate studies at the LSE and a few stints as a lecturer in Kenya, I read journals and books about global health (infectious diseases and the history of medicine in Africa) and journalism (humanitarian reporting, science, and innovation).

I am often appalled at how much I don’t particularly appreciate books on Kindle and whatnot for someone whose life revolves so much around technology.

Sleep schedule:

The newsroom, and my own indiscipline (damn, Netflix), messed up my sleeping pattern. In my 30s, the consequences of inadequate sleep began to show on my physical and mental well-being. A psychiatrist advised that I need to have a routine. So, I go to sleep at 11:00 p.m. and wake up at 5.30 a.m. (7:00 a.m. on the weekends).

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