IT had been almost 2 decades since I worked in the busy newsroom of Uganda’s leading daily, the New Vision Corporation. That was way back in 2000, before I went for further studies in Norway and changed my professional life trajectory. So, when, this March, I was asked by my collegeue, also an academic, to join UNESCO organised World Press Freedom Day celebrtions in Addis Ababa as an academic mentor, I was justifiably nervous and apprehensive.
Memories of a heated, noisy and open newsroom, bustling with news producers:editors, reporters, photojournalists, freelancers, visitors and complainants came streaming. The long days and late nights often punctuated with urgent calls in the wee hours of the night to get back to the newsroom to cover breaking news, gave me the shivers.
It was a restless job, where one’s ears were always on the ground, where whatever you ate, drank, saw, felt or even dreamt had to have a journalistic interpretation. Nosy, was our middle name. As a journalist working for the leading daily, the ever-present understanding was that: It was easier to get to the top but very hard to stay there – as all the others worked knuckle-hard towards beating (and embarassing) us with: news scoops, interesting angles and better sales.
But that was not the worst of my fears. Back in 2000 when I was a sub-editor on the New Vision, Sports desk, we were at the dawn of the technological disruptions – Infact, on our desk lead by Louis Jadwong, were pioneers in the transition from analog to digital. Several intermediary jobs such as typesetters, proofreaders, etc were on their way out. Media convergence and multimedia platforms were budding to what today is a well established conglomerate (New Vision employs thousands in it’s roughly: 7 newspapers, 5 radio stations, 4 TV stations and several (e) magazines and other services).
Anyway, soon my apprehension to join the Addis Youth Newsroom, was slowly replaced with a strange sense of excitement and adventure – and a promise of a fast-paced, adrenalin pumped existence swept over me. But mostly, I looked forward to working in a multicultural newsroom, with different collaborators such as academics, young practicing journalists, students etc. I also looked forward to learning from and mentoring the young people in this era of technologically infused journalism.
From the offset, I understood from the UNESCO coordinators especially Soraide Rosario, that it was desirable to foster inclusive, transparent and effective processes around the Youth Newsroom. The aim was to open spaces and opportunities for young journalism students and practitioners to experience a ‘global newsroom’. as well as gain access, insights and practice in covering mainstream issues around press freedom while highlighting minority, thematic and national level concerns, nuances and perspectives from around the world.
Participants included; govenrment representatives, journalists, academics, students, advocacy groups, legislators, judiciary members, religious organizations, civil soceity organisations and more. We were all here to celebrate and remind ourselves about the fundamental principles of Freedom of the Press; assess the status of Freedom of the Press around the world; defend press freedom and honour and pay tribute to Journalists who have been killed, arrested and abused for doing their work. Thanks to the Ethiopian government, UNESCO and African Union for the support, about 2000 particiants graced the conference whose theme was: Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”.
So, allocating and editing the young journalists’ stories offered me a broad range of insights: thematicall from: the role of cartoonists play in promoting peace and democracy, to understanding the pros and consequences of critical journalism – also manifested by the story of the jailed winners of the UNESCO Guilermo Award. I also gained insights into some of the dangers of disinformation as well as the double victimhood that female journalists face as well as the worrisom problem of impunity of several actors and governments who continue to abuse journalists’ fundamental human rights – rights ascribed by Article 19 of the universal declarations. Just as an example, on the very day of the WPFD, Ugandan regulator Uganda Communications Commission orderd the suspension of editors of broadcasters for their critical coverage of a budding opposition leader.
The lessons are inexhaustable.
Practically, i was humbled by the brave, pleasant, eager, driven and hard-working young journalists and the fact that I was honoured to work with them. Culturally, i witnessed the importance of being flexible to contextual influences and practices especially pertaining to culture – when working in multicultural contexts. Lucky for me, my colleages were some of the best people, one could work with: relaxed, friendly, professional and inclusive.
A few tips for prospective students and mentors:
For young journalists/students:
- Embrace and exploit the opportunity
- Put the theory into practice
- Be (pro)active and creative in your pursuit of fair, balanced and inclusive stories.
- Ask the tough and critical questions when newsgathering.
- Do your homework/reasearch to support your articles. Verify for accuracy, fairness and balance especially in this era of disinformation.
- Build networks (of friends and future sources).
- Prepare to adapt to and reflect multicultural influences, backgrounds and contexts.
- Enjoy the experience!
For the prospective mentors/editors:
- Prepare for multicultural influences and experiences: Prepare to adapt to and work with different cultures and for multicultural influences and backgrounds both from the teams and content.
- Start early: Endevour to work with the team to start early – especially orientations to the location, platform orientation and job specifications.
- Clear communication: It helps to have an overview, clarity in assigning duties and constant communication not just with teammates but also reporters.
- Enjoy the experience: this is not a knuckle-hard newsroom, so do your best, inspire the youth, help them produce their ‘best works’, pat them on the back with each delivery, attend some of the events, network, be you – but mostly, enjoy the event and contribute to a thriving atmosphere.
Many thanks to UNESCO, UAA and NLA Univerity College and all partners for this positive experience.