Hittin’ the Beat

Of the 24 weeks I’ve been in Uganda, this week was the best one yet. On Wednesday I started an internship at the Daily Monitor, Uganda’s largest independent newspaper. After waiting for over a month to get clearance from human resources, I had very low expectations for this position. I expected to do grunt work and write unimportant stories that no one would ever read; but when the deputy managing editor asked me what I was interested in, I responded truthfully—peace and security. A few minutes later, he assigned me to the military and security desk, which is now comprised of me and a senior reporter who has graciously taken me under his wing.

I’ve been a reporter hittin’ the beat for five days now and my partner and I have already published three articles:

M23, Kinshasa agree to review 2009 agreements

Russia targets Uganda as big market for weapons

Uganda, US troops find tusks in CAR

My first day on the job I worked for twelve hours straight and attended a press conference of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), an organization hosting peace talks in Kampala between the Congolese M23 rebels and the Kinshasa government. After spending almost two years researching peacebuilding in the eastern Congo for my senior thesis, this felt like a dream come true. Here I was in the field, surrounded by journalists from BBC, Al-Jazeera, and Reuters, reporting on peace and security issues that I care deeply about.

After only five days, I can already tell that this internship will change my life. I have loved every moment so far, but I also feel completely unqualified to do this kind of work. I have written and edited for a college newspaper, but that is very different from working for a national publication. More importantly, however, is the fact that I only have the most rudimentary understanding of Ugandan politics and society.

Imagine a Ugandan coming to the United States and trying to write for the Washington Post without knowing the name of the Vice President, how the legislature operates, or what happened at Watergate. Well, that’s me in reverse. As the only foreigner working at the Daily Monitor, I am their least qualified employee, so I am grateful that they have taken me in and are willing to train me as a journalist and teach me about Uganda.

Despite my inexperience, I am looking forward to using the few skills and little knowledge that I have to put the principles of peace journalism into practice. I have already seen how difficult it is to find diverse sources and verify information—especially when you’re working under a tight deadline. The three articles we’ve written so far were entirely based on press conferences, press releases, and interviews with government spokespeople. But this week and in weeks to come, I hope to work on some exciting pieces about how peace and security issues affect civilians on the ground.

My life is much busier now that this internship has started and  am already exhausted, but I also feel so fortunate to be sitting in the news room, listening to Uganda’s most intelligent journalists, and hearing the news before it comes out. Although the luster of freelance journalism can be quite attractive, there seem to be a lot of benefits to being affiliated with a publication. The Monitor is very well-respected in Uganda and even though I am completely unqualified, I can tell people the publication I work for and they are happy to talk with me.

I am a bit nervous that working with the Monitor will erase any objectivity that I had as a media researcher, but there is much debate in media studies whether anyone is truly objective. In my view, no one is truly objective. Even before I came to Uganda, I was already biased against the government-owned newspaper. I didn’t even have to know it existed, because my cultural values already instilled in me the belief that there should be some separation between the media and the state. So as long as I reveal my biases and have a clear and consistent methodology, I think I can still conduct academic research on the relationship between the Ugandan media and the military. My work at the Monitor may even improve my research as I gain an in-depth perspective that few researchers get to see. It’s one thing to study how the media reports on the military from afar, but another thing entirely to jump into the newsroom and do it yourself.

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