One can unapologetically state that without brave journalists, we would have lost more lives to Covid-19. Health care workers alone could not contain the growing numbers. With the world under lockdown, reporters went far and beyond to ensure that people are educated and informed about countering the virus.

They continually work with experts to fact check and verify growing misinformation on the coronavirus and vaccines. As we applaud the role of health workers globally and other professions in fighting the pandemic, we must not forget the role of media in this battle. History must always salute the press in such uncertain times.

This idealistic mentality that journalism can create a better world comes with unconventional thinking, moving away from traditional journalism or media. It takes media owners, practitioners, and innovators to intentionally invest in a media that works and serves everyone, not a few, or create a media that we want our children to consume.

It starts with questioning the existing traditional systems of reporting. Is it enough for journalists to play the “watchdog role, or do the audiences today expect more than that?” What does “balance and objectivity” mean in covering unpredictable times like the Covid-19? Do we stick to the status quo or take a stand while following journalistic ethics and principles?

Skilled journalists needed

The next generation of storytellers will need more than just market skills. They need a village of community mentors to raise them and a network to create strategic connections and opportunities. The Media Challenge Initiative foundation is anchored on the desire to use journalism to change the world by developing a one-wo/man-army-journalist concept. The thinking is driven by today’s changing media needs and trends and the next decades.

A report by Poynter Institute on Core Skills for Journalists showed that for a journalist to succeed today, he/she should be an “applied psychologist, resourceful researcher, good writer, responsible analyst.” Such a journalist must also possess aggressive digital skills and have a strong understanding of journalism fundamentals and a solid editorial ethic. It isn’t easy to find all these qualities in one journalist.

Through our interaction with media managers in Uganda, one complaint stood out. Most of the media graduates were half-baked. They didn’t have the required relevant market skills, which is a significant challenge across all professions.

To respond to the above need, we started asking ourselves, what are the media trends? What challenges will the next generations of storytellers and journalists face? Most importantly, how do we prepare them to tackle these challenges? If we want to use journalism to create a better world, how can we fashion a critical journalist who plays the traditional watchdog role and advances positive and social change?

The result of this reflection was the Next Gen Journalist Project, a four-phased program designed with a thoughtful and intentional vision of building the next generation of storytellers and journalists that we also call journalist-leaders. It starts with a mobile newsroom supporting students in over 15 universities with practical skills in storytelling, mobile journalism and youth participatory radio.

The training is then followed by live news reporting and anchoring auditions to identify a news team from each university to compete in the annual Inter-University Media Challenge. In this contest, the students are given a chance to participate in various journalism contests, including news anchoring and reporting, feature story (essay) writing, photography, radio features, video features, and ‘One Minute of Fame’ features. Journalism is a practical course, and the media contest, in this case, is a participatory methodology to prepare the students for a highly demanding market ahead of them.

The five pillars of journalist training

The live contest is also witnessed by a panel of judges who provide participants with constructive feedback and help the organization identify the best 26 students for the annual Media Challenge Fellowship program. The fellowship is a 25-day multimedia training program spread out over six months for the top two young journalists who emerge from the yearly Inter-University Media Challenge. The strength of the program is premised on five pillars;

  • The concept of building a “one woman/man – army journalist”: a journalist with multifaceted skills and knowledge.
  • Solutions journalism: reporting on solutions shown to be effective at addressing societal problems.
  • Development journalism and journalism for social change: reporting on specific topics and in such a way that advances positive and equitable development within society.
  • Leadership in journalism: nurturing fellows as skilled journalists and as leaders in their communities and field of choice.
  • Objectively telling the African stories to challenge the negative narratives that exist about Africa.

Besides being exposed to an interactive practical journalism curriculum, each fellow is also connected one-on-one to a professional media mentor in the industry for individualized career guidance and support. At the end of the fellowship program, fellows are equipped with practical skills and are ready to break into the media industry. Through the mentorship and networking events with media managers, fellows can create their strategic connections and professional relationships to get work.

By creating a pipeline and database of talented young journalists, the MCI fellowship program has become a recruitment platform for media managers and improved Uganda’s media landscape.

About the Author

Author ProfileMpindi Abaas
Mpindi Abaas is the chief executive officer of the Media Challenge Initiative

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