My favorite columnist David Brooks in one of his columns urged that we all go back to our childhood and see those aspects about us that we always dreamt of pursuing. Apparently, the exercise allows us to search our deeper self and build the inner spirit which in turn makes us better people.
I searched my soul and the aggregators all returned one thing – Journalism.
My fair part of childhood was spent living around a radio station. As a boy, my mum worked her day job as a programs manager for the biggest broadcaster in Fortportal at the time – the Voice Of Tooro. Occasionally, I would feature on kids programmes, then radio adverts and I made a couple of news anchor friends that went with me to studio whenever they would go on air. I remember fondly the station journalists like Bouka, who I have never seen ever since,Kasimbazi popularly known as Cash at the time, Mapapa, who has since grown to become the LC3 in the region, then Patrick Kamara, a show host at the NTV now, Sam Gummah, the ED at Uganda Radio Network currently and many others. One thing they all have in common is that they have all progressed to do better things with their journalism.
Indeed, as you progress in life, you get exposed to the thick and thin of being in a working environment, the bills start coming, responsibilities grow, challenges set in and moments form. When this time comes in life, you need to stop, take stock and reflect. For me, this stage is crucial and that’s where I am right now.
I stepped into active journalism at the age of 17 as an intern at Uganda Radio Network (URN). At the time, it can be argued and also accepted that URN had one of the best newsrooms in the country. I won’t call out names, but as a 17 year old, I was far too young and inexperienced to be pacing around the same space with the country’s best.
I always had journalism as a passion and it wouldn’t be long before I fitted into the newsroom. I learnt my pitches, grew my sources, got friends and lost some on the way but most importantly, I grew a by-line as a good journalist. Occasionally, I got locked up by sources over stories gone bad, I got hit by tear-gas canisters here and there, a few kicks from policemen, suspensions from the newsroom, heated arguments defending my stories, scary mails, warnings, life threats but I persevered. On the whole, journalism for me, was far too important to get derailed by such.
I watched my by-line grow from Kwoyelo’s first trial in court – which was my first story – to interviewing some of the most wanted men in the region. I picked my niche in security and military related stories and I tried each day to make my understanding of that grow. The best journalists, I have read, are those that report what they know and know what they report. Gauging from what I know now, it can pass for a success.
However as many of you know, ‘journalism rewards those who are patient’. Ours is not just a profession, it’s a passion that you have to carry with you despite its multitude of challenges. I still feel sad that journalists earn peanuts but that’s because, you, the readers of our work, do not invest in the content we put out. Many media houses, given the chance, would give the dream salary. I have had stints at freelancing with international media houses, what they pay per story can clear a staffer’s salary for a month. Many of our good journalists, due to the social pressures, bow out of the profession and find ‘better’ things in life. We have seen Semujju, grow from a journalist into a politician, Wafula Oguttu now leader of opposition was even a pioneer of a leading paper, COO now writes weekly columns on top of his day job as an editor, even younger turks like Songa Stone who do impressive journalism find themselves having to stay away for longer than they wish from practicing journalism.
The profession is not as rewarding and needs a little more patience to keep up with.
Early last month (March), I made up my mind to leave Uganda Radio Network, a national news agency. It took months of hardship to arrive at the decision. Having been with URN for over 2 years,I had seen the good, the bad, the ugly and nasty of journalism. I had temptations to quit journalism as a whole. The fact that I had a law degree on its way did not help matters. The legal profession, you will agree with me, presents itself with far more appealing credentials than journalism. In that period, I turned down multiple offers, from television stations to newspapers and online publications. I was determined that journalism perhaps was a stray decision and passion I should have avoided. My editor, Wilson Kaija, found out of my intentions and handed me the book, All the Presidents Men. The book is a chronicle of how two journalists investigated and delivered to the world one of the biggest scandals of all time, The Watergate scandal.
The lessons to learn from the book are quite many but I will pick out for you an outstanding one, PATIENCE. The feel and texture of the book tells you journalism is not a run-in take-away shop where you pick eateries and fly off, journalism means you stick the hell in the kitchen, get roasted, burn the meat and return your sweaty self with burns to the reader with a well made meal which he may or may not pay for. As readers, even the simplest of stories you see, is not made by sitting in an office with legs in the air and a phone call to the source. Journalists do the dirty pipework to deliver to you good, informative an accurate reads. We walk, get abused, arrested, trailed, delayed responses or none at all just to feed the daily reads for you.
Today, the decision I made a month back comes to pass. URN is one of the few places I would recommend for those that have a passion for journalism, they will mould and tolerate you until you make it to the desired level of journalism – or at least the one Uganda would praise.
Naturally, that would raise the question of where I am headed next. Ask no further, I join the Vision Group at their digital desk.
I am happy to leap to a multi-national company and the biggest national media house. I take my journalism with me and hope I will make a better deal of it with my day-to-day tasks. For those that have helped me, keep on helping. Goodbye URN, Hello New Vision!