Portrait of a typical Ugandan reporter

… Broke and harassed, but hard-working

As the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day recently, media organisations in Uganda re-expressed their determination to uphold press and media freedom.

The typical Ugandan thinks reporters are a privileged class who rub shoulders with powerful newsmakers, earn good money, travel to interesting places and attend glamorous events.

This is only true for a small number of reporters in senior or management positions at some of the leading news organisations in the country.

But for the average Ugandan reporter, who toils away in the field to bring interesting stories, that glamourous life is a mirage.

In Uganda, a typical reporter joins the newsroom at the age of 22 to 24 years, after university or training at a media institution.

They are full of energy, dreams and aspirations.

One week into the job, some realise that journalism in Uganda can be an extreme sport. Only the strong survive.

They begin to wonder how the people they have admired from a distance for years have survived in an industry which can be deeply satisfying, but not materially rewarding.

In their first days at work, they discover that editors can be a pain in the neck.

They can make or break your career, so you have to handle them with care, boost their egos, and in extreme cases some women reporters have to sleep with editors.

This is a painful but unspoken reality in many media organisations.

In the early days, a typical reporter will discover that a newsroom in Uganda does not have enough computers for everyone.

Video cameras and recording equipment at some organisations are obsolete and function “when they are in a good mood”.

Some newsrooms don’t have enough furniture.

When a reporter is sent to the field to do a story, they realise that many organisations cannot even afford to give them enough money to move from point A to B.

“Weyiye,” an assignment editor would often tell a young reporter asking for transport money to cover an event.
It means reporters are left to their own devices to get to an event.

Some would walk up to 3km to a venue.

Once in the field, they would often find means of obtaining money from their sources.

Is it not what their editor told them to do?

Meanwhile, the source expects his/her story to run. That is the unsaid rule.

Back in the newsroom, the reporter would ferociously type his/her story and hand it to the editor.

Three paragraphs into the story, the editor would instinctively tell from experience that the reporter’s palms must have been greased.

Here is a reporter, describing a politician who has never uttered a word on the floor of parliament as a “vocal legislator”.

“Angella, get me a 10K, I will give it to you tomorrow,” the editor would ask the reporter.

The reporter can’t refuse, because if she does, the story may never run.

And the editor would not pay back the money.


The big media houses usually pay on time, even if the pay is a pittance.

The average starting salary for a reporter at most organisations ranges from Shs (Ugandan shilling) 400 000 (about N$1 965) to Shs 700 000 (about N$3 439) per month.

Senior reporters at big organisations can earn up to Shs 4 million (about N$19 653) a month.

These, however, are very few.

The average news anchor at a big television station takes home about Shs 2 million (about N$9 826).

Many media organisations do not remit the National Social Security Fund contribution on time – if they do at all.


A typical Ugandan reporter would work seven days a week, with no time off.

Some have not taken leave in five years.

“If you go on leave, who will work in your place?” a human resources manager, who has just taken leave, would ask a reporter who wants to take leave – as if it is their problem.

Smaller media organisations, particularly those in rural areas, don’t remunerate employees at all.

Some faith-based organisations have not paid reporters in over a year.

The owners, usually prominent pastors, would tell the hungry and angry workers that “they are working for God and their work will be rewarded on judgement day”.

To broaden their income streams and advance their careers, some industrious reporters would apply for story grants from organisations like African Centre for Media Excellence or the African Institute for Investigative Journalism.

Some would seek out travel opportunities for seminars and workshops abroad and earn some per diem money.

Still, this money, while helpful, does little to significantly improve their overall financial status.

After 10 years in the field with little to show besides a few accolades, some would move into public relations and communications, where the pay is much better and the job pressure much less.

Their dreams of becoming legendary reporters dead.


A typical male reporter rents a house not exceeding Shs 200 000 (about N$982) in one of the shanty slums in Kampala.

They wake up at 6h00 and make their way to their news organisation.

When they have some spare cash, they would consume dry tea with cassava or a chapatti from a nearby shop.

Most male reporters do not own more than five pairs of pants and five shirts.

They own at most two suits and two pairs of shoes. They, however, own several corporate T-shirts given to them by the organisations they write about.


A typical Ugandan reporter does not own a vehicle. ‘Boda boda’ (bicycle/motorcycle taxis) are their preferred means of transport. They hang out at local bars, where they are experts on everything.

They are envied at local communities meetings, which may not start until they arrive.

Female reporters tend to be more stylish than their male colleagues. But to scale the heights some have to do unimaginable things.

At the office, they are harassed by their male bosses, and in the field they are easy prey for male news sources.

Some are single mothers, and the money they earn cannot sustain them and their children.
They have to be ‘innovative’.

Finally, a typical reporter in Uganda never reads beyond what they write.

It is not unusual to wander into a newsroom at 16h00 and find the daily newspapers still lying in a heap on the table.

Some reporters are so ill-informed about the subjects they cover that it would not be a surprise to find a “senior” parliamentary reporter who can’t tell you in precise terms how a bill becomes a law.

A health reporter may not be able to tell you offhand what Uganda’s maternal mortality rate is.

A reporter who has covered the Kampala capital city authority for two years may not be able to name the last four city mayors.

Yet, irrespective of the challenges and their personal weaknesses, a typical reporter would strive to keep society informed.

In their quest to get news, a typical reporter works seven days a week, brave the elements and sometimes forgets he is poorly paid.

These reporters deserve to be celebrated.
Bbeg Media

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