Anthony Irari Ngugi serves as the Chief Editor/Country Manager at Opera News East Africa. The 29- year-old holds a degree in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of Nairobi.
Prior to joining Opera News East Africa, Irari held various positions at several digital media outfits in Kenya.
The father of one narrated his career path on Sunday Nation.
Briefly tell us about yourself.
My first love is actually music and not journalism. I only discovered I wanted to be a journalist when I once watched Nation Media Group’s then CEO Wilfred Kiboro dancing at their end-of-year party bash.
He made a big impression on me and I was sure that is the kind of guy I wanted to become. A terrible dancer who gets featured on prime-time TV!
Also, because I can’t sing to save my life, I embarked on a journey to learn and understand all genres of music including Senegalese Jazz and Rock n Roll from the ’60s and ’70s.
I think it is this curiosity that has enabled me to be good at journalism because as you probably know, journalism is about institutional memory. For that matter, I try to read and understand everything I come across.
I’m also passionate about digital journalism, music, food, and adventure.
Tell us about your childhood and family life
I was born and raised in Kiambu in a nuclear family of four. I’m the firstborn closely followed by my baby sister who is 24. My parents are the most liberal and understanding parents ever. I honestly wish everyone had them as parents!
I would equate them to driving classes with my sister and me as the ones learning to drive and them being our instructors. We are entirely in control of where our lives go and their work is merely to give us guidance and support. The faster you learn how to drive, then the faster they will let you be. And they have!
Our family is also growing having been pronounced a father and uncle recently.
I started my education at Gatundu Primary School in Gatundu South. It was a favorite for the area’s white-collar professionals. I later went to Mururia High School for my secondary education (the only popular person I know from the school is Jaymo Ule Msee) and later on to the University of Nairobi where I studied Journalism and Media Studies.
I have since pursued other professional courses like Facebook For Journalists from Poynter Institute and Project management Foundations from Project Management Institute. I intend to enroll for an Executive Masters later this year.
Share with us your career journey
My career journey started in 2011 when I joined Capital FM as a founding member of Capital Campus, a desk fully dedicated to newsworthy stories across Kenyan Universities. I was still in school then.
I later joined Internews Network after a year (2012) where I worked as a media monitor in the run-up to the 2013 elections.
However, my career really started hitting it off when I landed a position at Ghafla Entertainment in 2014. They were trying to expand into other segments outside of entertainment, technology, and travel.
My starting salary was Sh15,000 only. It has since grown exponentially.
I joined the travel desk but after a year I became the Chief Editor. I later moved on to Kenyans.co.ke/Kenyamoja.com as the Head of Operations/Managing Editor.
After two and half years at the organisation and having moved Kenyans.co.ke from position 48 to number 6 as one of the most read and reputable news websites in the country, it was time for me to take on new challenges.
I’m currently at Opera Software, as the Chief Editor/Country manager for Opera News where I’m in charge of Opera News EA (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia).
Opera News is the biggest news and video aggregator in Africa with a presence in more than 10 African countries and with over 15 million active users.
What do you remember most about your career journey?
I think every workplace has had something to remember. Ghafla taught me how to be confident in my execution, to trust my gut, and go for it. It is here that I also learnt the power of networking and creating relationships.
I remember with excitement when I published my first travel story and I asked the guy who was in charge of social media then whether he thought my story and title was good.
I will never forget his response; “It doesn’t matter what I think. You are trending in totally different waters from what we’re accustomed to so just post the story and the audience will answer your question.”
It was then that I felt confident to continue because I had my audience to dictate my success. We would definitely go where they wanted to go.
Kenyans and Kenyamoja taught me the skills of managing talent, creating systems, and excellence. It is also here that I learnt how to set goals and have enough willpower to achieve them (It’s called GRIT).
In Opera, I’m learning the power of consensus and negotiation considering it’s a global company with a diverse range of moving parts but working hand in hand. I’m also learning how to understand culture and diversity which is a great component in making any company successful.
It is also at Opera that my project management skills are being tested to the maximum alongside the power of setting goals, especially long-term ones.
How have you progressed in your career over the year?
In the last nine years, my career has been nothing but an engrossing journey of passion and zeal for creating a positive impact, championing innovation and igniting success in digital newsrooms.
I wake up every day seeking relevant opportunities, making every day count and this has in turn put me at the centre stage of some of the most successful digital products in the Kenyan media landscape.
What has been a key driver of your growth? Lessons learnt, celebrations and failures?
The biggest driver in my growth is my innate need to be productive, curious and innovative in offering suitable solutions to everything.
This has mostly been cultivated by being a firm believer of the 5-hour rule. The five-hour rule is a simple concept that was first coined by Michael Simmons. It involves setting aside five hours a week or one hour each working day, dedicated to deliberate practice or learning. Learning comes in different forms, including time for reading, reflection and experimentation.
I have also learnt that there is power in numbers, teams and collaborations. One of the biggest tasks I embarked on as Chief Editor at Ghafla was building a spirited team of young dynamic individuals who shared my vision and determination to make an impact in the digital media space.
Together we disrupted the status quo and we were able to hit the biggest milestone of 3 million unique visitors and 15 million page views per month. This was unheard of from a non-legacy news outlet.
There is also power in showing up, and I mean every time. People are always fond of people who are reliable, trustworthy and consistent especially at the workplace. Always strive to be that person. Networking, especially in journalism, is also key.
Listening and giving everyone a chance despite their background has also been a blessing. Trust me, I have learnt over time that everyone in the world has something to bring to the table and your work should be to see through them and identify it. This is what I seek to find from my current team at Opera News in order to bring out the best in them.
Lastly, confidence and a winner’s mindset is also the hallmark of getting it done.
I think my biggest failure has been getting too engrossed in my job. For instance, I’m now on paternity and I can’t resist the urge of getting my hands dirty.
Who influenced your career growth and how did it happen?
My parents have greatly contributed to my success. They’ve always respected my decisions and given me a chance to be in charge of my own life and destiny. They understand very little about my industry (they both work in the health sector) but they always trust that I’m sober enough to know what I’m doing. I will forever thank them for that.
I must also acknowledge all the bosses I’ve had so far. My current boss, Vincent, for always giving me the autonomy to make decisions. There is also my former boss, Robert, the proprietor of Kenyans and KenyaMoja who pushed my potential to the limit. He awakened the GRIT I currently have. He also taught me the foundations of leadership.
There is also Majani, the proprietor of Ghafla, who taught me how to be confident, to always trust my gut, and to always go for what I want.
There are also other people I seek counsel from like Lucia Musau, the CEO of African Elite Group, Patrick Githinji, the Influence and Advocacy Manager at EABL and my colleagues from whom I always learn something new.
Key decisions you might have taken along your career?
For me, knowing when time is up, that the season is over and it’s time to jump into something new, is what I’d consider a key decision. I think this is a major component for success and it cuts across all careers and businesses.
What would you tell your younger self?
I honestly wouldn’t change anything about my career trajectory. I have put in the work and I’m proud of how far I’ve gotten. In regards to my personal life, I should have started playing tennis a bit earlier in life. It is absolutely rejuvenating.
What would you advise the youth in Kenya?
They should learn, understand and follow the art of always showing up. And this doesn’t matter if you are gaining anything or being paid for it as good tidings always follow people who are reliable and dependable.
I don’t advocate this new mentality among Generation Z of always proclaiming to know their worth. Worth, in my view, is measured by your value and this comes with experience, your networks, self-discovery and achievements. There is no harm in starting small and building. They should also apply the 5-hour rule which I live by.
I have plans of going back for a Masters later on this year on media management and further advancing my course at Opera. I have barely scratched the surface so I’m baying for more blood.
And of course, my quest in transforming lives through digital journalism remains a core component of my life.
Can more young people invest their time in politics? I doubt they will see any positive changes in this country if they don’t invest in understanding politics. That’s where all decisions concerning their lives are made.