A documentary photographer encounters ACME

Miriam Watsemba first encountered ACME in 2020 when she applied to attend an investigative journalism training workshop that we were conducting in Jinja. From that workshop, she took her chances and applied for a reporting grant administered by ACME.

She tied together different strands of part of ACME’s work (training and story grants), which works just fine for ACME because the reason the centre exists is to support good journalism through myriad activities. Miriam tells her story:

“I took a chance on myself and applied for the five-day investigative journalism training with the African
Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) in November 2020.

It was a leap of faith given my background as a documentary photographer, which is not the typical line of journalism followed by the majority.

This Photo by Miriam Watsemba was Published by teh BBC on 8 March 2021
This Photo by Miriam Watsemba was Published by teh BBC on 8 March 2021

The training carried me through a journey of self-discovery and learning the A-Z of producing an investigative story. My mind was blown by the entire experience.

I always had a hunch that there was more to storytelling than the knowledge I had been exposed to in my journey as a documentary photojournalist. I felt limited to ‘just taking photos’ and yet I wanted more.

The Jinja training gave me more and opened to me a world of research, observation, analysis, pitching and production of stories beyond simply taking great photographs.

There were many experiences that stayed with me from the training, but the one thing I took away with me was the ‘art of pitching stories’. I repeatedly studied the material and made sure to start applying it in my line of work immediately.

My career took an upward trajectory with that single piece of knowledge and led me to the actualisation of my first grant of $2,000 with the African Women in Media to do an in-depth story on “Who will care for the carers? The untold stories of Uganda’s refugee-host relationships.”

The second grant of $1,000 came in quick succession from InfoNile to do a photo story titled “The sinking land,” documentation of the Ripon landing site in Jinja which is being sunk by the rising water levels of Lake Victoria due to the effects of climate change.

A photo by Miriam Watsemba published in The Observer on 28 May 2021
A photo by Miriam Watsemba published in The Observer on 28 May 2021

The money came with six months of training, workshops and mentorship in story writing and photojournalism.

The third was the ACME story grant. With it, I was further privileged to continue receiving professional mentoring and training from ACME during the production process of my story on the impact of the construction of Bujagali dam on the locals in Budondo Village. It was my first print story.

The engagement and feedback I received from many people, including those I look up to like Nancy Kacungira and Patience Atuhaire from the BBC, was confirmation that this was a great start in the right direction.

My story was picked up on social media and shared by InfoNile and Next Blue Stories. It also attracted an invitation for me to exhibit photos from my story at the f2 Foto Residency in German through FOTEA Foundation.

This journey so far has built confidence in me to assert myself in the industry with the knowledge that I know how to find and build in-depth documentary stories.

The push from ACME set the ball rolling for me in the professional spaces of journalism and I have since had more articles out and joined the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) as a 2021 Gender Justice Reporting Fellow.”

Watsemba now contributes to the BBC and Reuters. Her work can be accessed here and here

Lessons from Watsemba story

  • Effective mentorship matters.
  • There is yet talent out there if organisations such as ACME can figure out how to find it, nurture it, and reward it.
  • Allow and encourage varied ways of storytelling.

### Featured Image by Nze Eve

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