It is the first month of the calendar year, and the heat that comes with the season has not spared our offices in Soya-Bunga, a quiet and serious-minded neighbourhood that lies a couple of kilometres away from the shores of Lake Victoria on the south-east of Kampala.
This heat seems to hint at what is in store in the months ahead at the African Centre Media Excellence, better known as ACME.
The first big pressure point is to get right the inaugural national journalism awards event slated for the second week of April in Kampala. Ugandan journalism may not be as well organised to push for its interests both industrial and professional, but that is all the more reason concerned people and organisations should try do something. The evening gala at a prime location in town is a starting point for what we hope will be an annual not-to-be-missed event that recognises and rewards what excellence still bubbles up in our journalism.
One cannot talk of excellence, however, without working to promote and encourage it. In this first quarter we will announce a generous grants programme. Reporters, with the backing of their newsroom managers, will compete for money to do compelling in-depth stories.
Some of the stories may well be about interesting trends gleaned from large data sets – the era of data journalism has reached Uganda, after all. If you looked at the national high school entrance results over the last five or 10 years, what questions and answers could you possibly arrive at? The possibilities are tantalising.
Of course, understanding big data does not come easy, especially to journalists. This is where ACME’s resources – human and technological – come in. Training of mid-career journalists is central to our work. In-house trainers – all former national journalists of some note – will continue to join hands with our network of external trainers to offer training in making sense of data and other issues using the latest methods in working with adult learners.
At ACME we believe in journalists sharpening not just their skills – grammar, investigative techniques, interview tricks, cultivation of sources – but grasping the subject matter as well. Which is why our in-house and external trainers are supported by a number of expert guest speakers.
Whether we are delivering media literacy training to civil society actors, politicians, or corporate company workers, which we will continue to do in 2014, use of external expertise is central to our approach.
It is also an approach that abhors one-off one-day or three-day training workshops and that is it. Continuous coaching and mentoring via social media, email, phone and face-to-face interaction is something we value and insist on. The conversation must always continue for several months at least so we can begin to see impact, if any.
Part of the face-to-face interaction involves ACME hosting monthly talks and movie nights. You have something useful to say on a subject of significance? We will seek you out to come over and chat with a group, primarily, of some of the more engaging journalists in Kampala. For example, in February we will host a rousing and thoughtful speaker on the subject of political turmoil in South Sudan. Why would anyone miss this sort of thing?
For movies, we show mostly documentaries and docudramas that touch on public life, politics and the media. We then sit down in our ever-lush gardens and chew on the meaning of what we just saw as we also chew on scrumptious goat ribs, washed down with chilled beer (it has to be chilled because Uganda is not Kenya). We started doing this stuff in March 2013 and have no intention of stopping.
That aside, and for the god of clarity, here is a summary of broad areas we will work on in 2014 – and possibly beyond if humanity can still wake up after December 31:
ü Training of mid-career journalists in covering extractives, finance and economics, politics, human rights
ü Offering media literacy classes to civil society and other groups
ü Launch of an annual lecture series on media and politics in Africa
ü Media research
ü Media monitoring
ü Advocacy in pursuance of free speech
ü Expanding our physical and online libraries
Other interesting ideas will come up during the year as they often do and, if we deem them useful to the ACME agenda of promoting excellence in journalism and communication in Africa, our talented and vibrant team will take them on. You will hear about that and everything else we are doing if you visit our website regularly, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
All that we do comes together neatly on the state of the art online media resource centre/library that we are building. Although primarily targeting Ugandan journalists, this resource is open to all interested people out there.
Should you step inside our office, who knows, you could borrow a serious book for serious reading from our physical library. With all that online talk, we are still believers in newsprint – in ink on paper. If we are old-fashioned that way, that only means we are still cool and well meaning people.
Finally, ACME formally makes five years in August. If you wish us well or are our friend or client, we shall invite you to a little nice party under a little nice tent at our office for a lot of great food and intelligent talk and great music.
A bountiful 2014 to you all.