Journalists leaving newsrooms in Uganda

High turnover seen in mid-career reporters without mentors

The media industry in Uganda is facing challenges as journalists are announcing their exits from the industry.

While some have hit the glass ceiling and others are burned out, the toll the coronavirus pandemic has had on an already demanding career is worsened by financial pressure arising from low salaries that have propelled many to leave.

Others said professional hazards, including censorship, no career progression, management issues, threats, and long working hours as reasons for their exit from what they once deemed their vocation.

Swaib Kaggwa, a mass communication lecturer at the Islamic University In Uganda, said journalism is a calling and an opportunity and people who pursue the profession usually do so not for the money but for other reasons like the desire to be involved with socio-political issues, the love of pursuing interesting stories and writing them and enriching themselves with knowledge.

“This is not a profession for the faint of heart. It takes grit, stamina, and a very tough hide to be a journalist. You work so hard for basically peanuts with little benefits and poor compensation,” he said.

Sadab Kitatta, a former journalist with the Ugandan weekly Observer, said censorship imposed by the regime of President Yoweri Museveni has impeded mainstream media from being the voice that people go to when they want to be heard.

“You get into journalism because you have this idealism to tell great stories, to change things about your community, to share underrepresented perspectives. Then, in reality, you realize that you have to constantly control your ideas to conform to what’s seen as an objective story by the editors and their audience,” he said.

“Their influence is eroding, and trust in them is eroding. They are also not realizing that young people can build their own platforms to tell their own stories. Eventually, it will be independent journalists online who have made names for themselves that will replace the mainstream.

“If I have the experience as a journalist, I don’t need the pressure of my editor, so why am I spending my time and energy in the newsroom? I’ll just tell stories on my own,” he added.

Talent loss

Haruna Kanaabi, the executive director of the Independent Media Council — an association of journalists that campaigns for self-regulation of media in Uganda — told Anadolu Agency that it is not mid-career journalists leaving the industry but those early in their careers and at the apex and that is a problem for the talent pipeline for the next generation.

The high turnover leaves the early and mid-career reporters in newsrooms without mentors and vulnerable to challenges that every journalist faces.

Institutional memory is also lost in the process. Important to note is that journalists are made in the newsroom and this takes time, so every talent or experience lost from the media is a blow to the industry.

Umar Kyeyune, a senior journalist who worked with the national broadcaster, said journalists are not leaving their profession but organizations. He said those working in state-owned media are leaving organizations like any other sector because issues affecting them are similar across the board.

“It is the economics of market sustainability that has tested journalists’ patience and showed some of them the exit. When I was a freelance journalist, I would attend press conferences and cover special events. People at the door did not block my way in because I was invited to be at the events. Some refreshments would be served after some of these events and I would be one of those people to enjoy the complimentary food and drinks,” he said. “Well, that part of the job was good because I felt thirsty and a bit hungry and I got to wet my dry throat and fill my rumbling stomach. This enabled me to have the energy to write and turn in my stories to my editor, but what about the people whose survival depends on what I bring to the table? And this is true for very many journalists.”

“Many journalists are paid by article, which means after a year of this hard work they are hoping to have enough money to keep a roof over their heads, clothes on their bodies, and food for their families but this never happens. Many have pointed out that many are resigning because they find greener pastures too irresistible. It may be true but we should not forget that the pasture is greener where we water it,” he added.

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