Busoga Today at one: Q&A with CEO Isaac Imaka on finding success in uncertain times

One year has passed since Busoga Today, a newspaper serving the Busoga region in Uganda, launched its operations. In a time when print media, particularly at the regional level, faces challenges with resource constraints and evolving audience preferences, Busoga Today has established itself as a new, fresh voice.

This Q&A with Busoga Today CEO, Isaac Imaka, explores the factors behind the newspaper’s launch, its contributions to the media scene, and its plans for the future.

What inspired the creation of Busoga Today, and what unique role does it play as a regional newspaper?
There was a need for a media platform that contributed to shaping the development discourse in the region. Busoga’s story has, for too long, been pigeonholed through a negative narrative primarily driven by external perspectives. This one-sided portrayal has consistently amplified negative stereotypes through stories of poverty, jigger infestations, and political struggles.

Making matters worse, the existing media houses in the region showed little to no effort in moving away from programming dominated by political bickering, music and traditional herb promotion. This left the region without a media house that effectively articulates its narrative within the national development discourse. 

Therefore, Busoga Today aims to contribute to shaping the region’s development agenda by publishing content that spotlights noteworthy achievements, showcases inspiring local narratives and holds leaders accountable. We strive to be a reliable source of development information while maintaining neutrality in the political landscape.

What is the newspaper’s editorial philosophy?
Busoga Today is a pro-Busoga monarchy, pro-Busoga development-oriented newspaper. Our approach to content creation goes beyond traditional news reporting. We produce reporting that serves as a source of pride, inspires individual action, and encourages an appreciation for the region’s unique culture. We use a two-pronged approach to amplify constructive dialogue: one arm holds leaders to account, while the other empowers readers to participate in shaping Busoga’s trajectory.

In a region rich in different languages, what motivated your decision to make English the dominant language of Busoga Today?
Recognising the linguistic and cultural diversity of Busoga, Busoga Today offers content in both Lusoga and English. By being bilingual, we ensure inclusivity and accessibility for the region’s broad spectrum of residents, from urban areas to rural sub-counties. It’s important to note that the publication aims to serve all inhabitants, not just one specific demographic group. 

Due to historical factors and limited exposure to the traditional script, many literate residents of Busoga struggle to read news in Lusoga. This reality, alongside other considerations, influenced the decision to use English as the main language of Busoga Today.

 That said, Busoga Today publishes a supplement, ‘Agava Embuga’, written in Lusoga. This pull-out caters to readers interested in Busoga’s rich cultural heritage and traditions, including those who support the Busoga Kingdom.

What approaches does the newspaper employ to prioritise local stories while contending with competition from national or global news sources?

Isaac Imaka selling a copy of Busoga Today to the Jinja City Speaker, Mr Bernard Mbayo.

While national and global news sources play a crucial role, Busoga Today occupies a unique niche as a community newspaper dedicated to showcasing Busoga’s own narratives and perspectives. We don’t see ourselves competing with those broader platforms, but rather complementing them by offering a grounded, local lens.

Every national story receives a regional lens, highlighting its implications for Busoga. Conversely, all regional narratives are told with a ‘why should the country care’ touch, emphasising Busoga’s contributions and challenges as integral to the national fabric. This ensures our readers stay informed about the broader world while appreciating their region’s unique space within it.

Our mission is to elevate the Busoga narrative on the national stage and actively shape the broader conversation surrounding its development. Even if another outlet surpasses us in telling the Busoga story, their success ultimately benefits both Busoga and the media landscape as a whole. Success in telling the Busoga story, regardless of the source, represents a collective victory for all involved.

What are some significant moments or stories from the past year that exemplify Busoga Today’s mission and impact?
As the CEO of Busoga Today, I can tell you we’ve had quite a year! Looking back on the stories that resonated most deeply, a few moments truly exemplify our mission.

First, consider our hard-hitting ‘Govt unfulfilled promises to Busoga’ series. This wasn’t just a list of broken pledges; it was a reminder to our leaders of the priorities their citizens hold dear. The impact was undeniable, sparking conversation and prompting renewed focus on crucial development needs. Speaking of sparking debate, ‘Will Prayers Heal Busoga Wounds?’ challenged preconceived notions about addressing the region’s challenges. This critical analysis of the Busoga Development Consortium’s approach ignited dialogue among key stakeholders and even found itself dissected on political talk shows. The feature, ‘Best and Worst MPs in Busoga’, shone a light on the effectiveness of our representatives, generating healthy debate and reminding them of their duty to serve their constituents.  

But it’s not all about pointing fingers. We also champion stories of inspiration and progress. ‘Jinja’s Matama Shining in a Male Dominated Field’ showcased the courage and determination of a female boda boda rider, breaking down barriers and encouraging young women to pursue their dreams. Similarly, ‘Kikaramoja, the Jinja City Slum where resident live with disease’ exposed the harsh realities of a marginalised community, urging action.

Beyond individual stories, we’ve built platforms for collective thought and action. ‘Irresponsible citizenry eating up Budhumbuli-Namulesa wetland’ tackled climate change by holding communities and our leaders accountable for environmental degradation. And through initiatives like the Agava Embuga pull-out and ‘Young Busoga,’ we celebrate cultural heritage, educate the youth, and empower them to shape the future of the region they love.

How do you perceive the evolving role of print media in the digital age, particularly within the context in which Busoga Today operates?
The digital age isn’t a grim reaper for established media; it’s a catalyst for reinvention. At Busoga Today, we see digital platforms not as competitors, but as partners in enhancing the experience we offer. While breaking news finds its home in the lightning speed of online realms, print retains its unique strength: a space for in-depth learning, research, and development, published with the simplicity of good ole print journalism. We’re embracing digital avenues too, with our website, www.busogatoday.com, as a central hub, and plans for YouTube and TikTok on the horizon.

We’re not reinventing the wheel. We are, however, constantly spinning the wheel until we get to what works. Alongside established advertising and subscription models, we partner with development agencies and organisations, leveraging their expertise and ours to tell impactful stories about Busoga’s progress. Busoga Today remains attentive to evolving audience preferences within the community. While print currently holds a strong association for our readers, we are dedicated to adapting and exploring new avenues to serve their needs in the short and medium term.

What have you learned in your inaugural year that will influence the newspaper’s evolution and growth in years to come?
Two key principles have emerged as cornerstones for our future growth: relentless publication and constant innovation. We’ve learned that consistency is paramount. Our readers rely on a steady flow of diverse perspectives and updates, regardless of challenges. Additionally, we know success hinges on adaptability. We embrace a spirit of continuous evaluation, constantly assessing what works and what doesn’t work. Ineffective strategies are discarded, replaced by bold investments in innovation and improvement. It’s a journey of ongoing learning, and we’re excited to see where the next chapter leads.

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Feature image caption: Isaac Imaka at a Busoga Today community outreach engagement.

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