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Opinion: How to thrive as a journalist despite little pay

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Journalists at work

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By Pat Robert Larubi

There has been an ongoing debate in the country about the situation of journalists in Uganda. The discussion has been focused mainly on the poor pay, exploitation and intimidation that has in turned threatened the true meaning of journalism.

The worst affected are supposedly reporters who do a lot of the donkey work, risk at the front line to get a good story and yet walk home with peanuts to sustain their hustle.

With some newsroom paying as little as 5000/= for a fully-fledged story, the struggled to file more than one story has outrun the value needed in a story and because of editorial pressure frontline journalist are more concerned about hitting the target but not the quality of the stories submitted to editors for final publication. There is more to quantity than quality and that seems to rule the game.

But journalists have been urged to wake up and fight for their freedom and stop pretending with a majority locked up in the racket of survival for the fittest characterized by low pay, working under pressure, and intimidation.

The discussion about the welfare of journalists happened to coincide with the World Press Freedom Day which falls on May 3rd. Held under the theme of ‘Journalism without fear or favour”, key media managers in Uganda sought to reshape the debate around journalism in a live tweet chat.

However, the challenges of such events has always been to account for an action but with no impact. Powerful speakers are lined up to spark the motion but more than often they are powerless and also just employed by the power that be “proprietors” who make final decision on the future of their ventures.

For instance, to discuss a befitting wage and advocate for a conducive work environment for all journalist in the country, a concerted effort by all players in the field is needed. This must go beyond panel discussion but rather continue to lobby and engage entities like National Association of Broadcaster with majority of these media proprietors, Government regulatory bodies, policy makers, donors and CSO with a bias in media development work as well as reporters so as to take on this debate heads on.

Short of that, the impression created through staged events to be seen as working for a common good of journalists in the country will lag on as the profession continues to be chained to death. Just like NIJU, the body of journalism established by the act of Parliament that died on its arrival. This implies that Uganda has no professional body tasked with issuance of minimum guidelines for entry and exit in the profession thus the mushrooming number of quacks.

Nonetheless, a few journalists have upheld the game and remained authentic by thinking hard, inventing, planning and moving on to build their career further to outmatch the standard and avoid being in the loop of quacks per say.

To thrive under the prevailing conditions, journalists have to find a niche. You need to find a topic and build your expertise and become a reference point. By doing so you have full control over your work and not being seen as a jack of all trades and master of none because you are lost chasing everything and yet you have nothing substantial to present.

With that said, you will need additional marketable skills say in photography, graphic design and video editing to stand out in the crowd.

Next on is value addition, you have to attach cost value to your work with close look on the time spent and expenses incurred in offsetting the production including airtime, data, food and on ground travel.

Newsroom continues to expand everyday with people who are willing to work for less or no pay at all but rather get their byline, face on the screen and voice on air but its good enough to have freedom and command on what you report.

About Author:

Pat Robert Larubi is an independent investigative journalist, special features TV News producer, and Lifestyle photographer.

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