Fired Up for Good Journalism, Observer Scribes Bag Awards

What occupies journalists, above anything else, is usually finding the best ways to convey information to their readers. Within The Observer newsroom, one of the leading preachers of this message is Richard M Kavuma, the tri-weekly newspaper’s editor.

“If journalists are dedicated to do the best whenever they try, that’s enough,” says Kavuma. “An award just comes as a plus.”

Yet, when assessing a tally of the individual awards that The Observer journalists have won over the last 10 years, it is evident that Kavuma has scooped the biggest of them all. In 2007, when The Observer was just three years old, Kavuma did the paper proud after he emerged overall winner of the CNNMultiChoice African Journalist of the Year award.

Kavuma received the prestigious award for a series on Uganda’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The same series had won Kavuma the 2006 United Nations Foundation Award for Development and Humanitarian coverage, as well as, locally, the UNFPAopulation Secretariat Award for Population and Development reporting.

During his nine years at The Observer, Kavuma has won at least seven awards locally and internationally.

So what makes his work stand out?

Observer culture:

The secret, according to Kavuma, lies in the approach to journalism that was inculcated in him by inspirational editors such as John Ogen Kevin Aliro, the late founding managing editor of The Observer.

“My passion is journalism that addresses the needs and concerns of ordinary – otherwise voiceless – people,” says Kavuma. “I believe that anything worth doing should be done well and that whatever has been done can be done even better with a little more effort.”

Like Kavuma, the majority of the journalists who have worked at The Observer have imbibed the paper’s culture of investing a lot of time into digging up information in order to provide readers with comprehensive stories. That approach has seen many receive recognition for their work on the local, regional, continental and global stages.

Features writer Shifa Mwesigye says because of the culture of in-depth reporting, even when a reporter does a story as an afterthought, the feedback shows it struck a chord with readers.

“I was on a campaign trail [covering President Museveni in 2011] assignment when I saw a young boy in rural Bungangaizi with a strange skin disease and desperately in need of help. I wrote the story just as a side story,” says Mwesigye.

“I was overwhelmed by the response. Readers called me to offer help to the boy. Now, everywhere I go, people remember me for that story.”

Mwesigye’s February 2011 story and subsequent articles chronicling the plight and eventual rehabilitation of David Muhwezi, won her a number of accolades such as the Tumaini award and the inaugural Nile Breweries award for exceptional journalism.

To Mwesigye, though, the more important thing is that Muhwezi got help, is now settled with a family that adopted him and is receiving an education that he would otherwise never have got. She says the awards were merely a bonus.

The sentiments from Kavuma and Mwesigye are shared by Jeff Mbanga, the business editor at The Observer and winner of the Kikonyogo financial reporting award in 2008.

“I don’t write to win awards, but to tell a good story in a simple way,” says Mbanga.

Journalists such as this award-winning trio may not be driven by the quest for accolades however, as Mbanga suggests, the awards help to serve as a measure of the quality of an individual’s articles when compared with those of peers from rival media houses.

“When we entered the Sheraton ballroom [for the award ceremony], the who-is-who in the financial sector was there,” recalls Mbanga. “And that gives you a sense of how seriously people take whatever we write.”

Burden, opportunity:

Those who have won awards say the honours come with a catalogue of prizes, opportunities and burdens in equal measure. Mbanga says one of the biggest burdens a journalist can get is an award, because it lifts one to a different pedestal in the eyes of the readers. People, he says, start following one’s work – some, with the sole purpose of establishing whether the journalist deserved the award or it was a one-off fluke.

For Edward Ssekika, who recently won the United Nations Award for the Post-2015 MDGs story, journalism accolades offer challenges that can inspire a reporter to produce even better work. Ssekika says the UN award has motivated him to dig deeper and seek for the most comprehensive information when covering stories.

Patience Akumu, who until last year was a human rights writer at The Observer, won the 2011 Uganda Human Rights Commission award and the 2013 David Astor Journalism award (DAJAT). The lawyer-cum-journalist says the two awards opened new reporting frontiers for her.

“I now contribute to international media houses including The Guardian and The Independent in the United Kingdom because of these awards,” says Akumu, who spent three months on a reporting attachment at leading media outlets in the UK, courtesy of the David Astor award.

The next story:

Kavuma, now editor at The Observer, says awards can, indeed, provide avenues for personal development. He, however, cautions that winning accolades does not necessarily make someone a good journalist.

“There are of course very good journalists who have not won awards,” he says.

Kavuma says different circumstances lead to a particular journalist winning an award, including good luck. He believes journalists need to strive for consistently high performance if they are to continue offering valuable service to their audiences.

“I always joke that maybe I was lucky maybe there was nothing better that year – that was my way of managing success,” says Kavuma.

“Success is a good servant but it’s also like fire. When it gets to your head, it can destroy you.”

If the number of awards is anything to go by, then on the matter of consistently high performances, The Observer has certainly ticked the boxes that Kavuma demands of his charges.

Source : The Observer

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