Monitor at 30: Editing a newspaper is like a daily exam- Chekwech

Mr Allan Chekwech started his journalism career in 2004. PHOTO/ EDGAR R. BATTE

What you need to know:

  • Pivotal role. Allan Chekwech is the Chief Sub Editor of Daily Monitor newspaper.
  • If the newspaper comes out error-free, he gets patted on the back. Likewise, if there are errors, he is the first to feel the heat. He shares his career journey with Edgar R. Batte.

What was your motivation to pursue journalism?
I want to believe all the time that journalism is inborn; you don’t have to study it. And for me it came as a passion, I wanted to write because of my Literature background, and I loved fast-moving events.

When and how did you start your journalism career?
I started my journalism career without knowing that I had started it. I was in Senior Five at Masaba Senior Secondary School in Sironko District in 2004 when it all began.

We had a small community taking Literature in English at both O-Level and A-Level.  One day, in the second term, Mr Don Wanyama, the chief executive officer of Vision Group, then a student of Makerere University, walked into our classroom to teach us. We had spent the whole of the first term without a stable teacher for Literature.

A few weeks later, he tasked me to assemble all the Literature students in the school. We sat in the school’s library, where I was also the Senior Library prefect, and formed a writers’ club. Luckily, I was elected as the editor-in-chief of the club. We had only two editors and the rest were reporters.

We started collecting information, and I would then sit with my team on Saturday evening and Sunday in a quasi-newsroom and compile them on manila paper (two of them). It was sectionalised into national news, local news (school), international news, sports, interview (a student per week), and the editorial, which I wrote. Our head teacher then, Mr Edwin Babimpa Nuwagaba, was very supportive. He did not only contribute articles but also authorized Shs2,000 per week as a prize for a quiz that the newsletter – the Masaba Herald - carried in every edition.

Interestingly, the school marked the Golden Jubilee celebrations that year and we had a chance of reporting all the events. Coincidentally, I was also the head of the school’s wildlife club; so I was in charge of selling trees to President Museveni and high-ranking government officials such as Prof Tarsis Kabwegyere, who asked me to be in charge of his tree.

The following week, we reported that we had interviewed President Museveni and Prof Kabwegyere based on the conversations they had with me while planting the trees.

The club taught us a lot about journalism – unknowingly. One day, a student footballer nicknamed N’Diefi (after Cameroon’s Pius) and another called Bobi Wanasolo walked into our ‘newsroom’ and said the sports patron had ordered that footballers should be given bigger food rations than the rest of the students.

Being the greenhorn editor I was, I carried the one-sided story and it was very popular. At assembly on Monday, the sports patron, Mr Sheme Mangusho, was so livid. He summoned me – the editor – to prove the comments. We couldn’t.
One month later, I was unwell and had asked one of the members in O-Level to step in. They carried out an ‘investigation’ into the theft of school desks by a former head teacher. At 7am the next day, a deputy head teacher raided the notice board and tore the newsletter into pieces.

At the assembly, he wondered what kind of journalists they were training. That is when it occurred to me that we were (actually) doing journalism. So, when I left high school, all I wanted to do was either Literature or Journalism. I was spoilt for choice; Literature has an infectious thing about it.

As fate would have it, I was given a government sponsorship to study Literature in English and English Language at Kyambogo University in 2006. But while there, I got an opportunity to work for the university newspaper, Kyambogo Times, as its Lifestyle and Entertainment Editor. It didn’t take off though. 
I graduated in February 2010, and one year into teaching, the Daily Monitor advertised for a sub-editor role. That is how I got into the newsroom, finally!

What was it like cutting your teeth in the profession?
When I got into the newsroom in 2011, I held the job with both hands because I was doing something I had been so passionate about. However, I used to think I had it all until I got a rude awakening on the deep end of the news desk. The newsroom requires a lot of knowledge and skills and I realized I didn’t have even half of those. But the newsroom had immense talent that I learned from; a brilliantly assembled team of top drawer brains, and soon I was moving places.

How did you get to where you are today?
First is teamwork and very brilliant newsroom mentors. I also fused the mentorship with my personal work ethic, discipline, endless desire to learn, ability to entertain criticism, improve and focus. I love to put my all in tasks assigned to me. 

What does your job entail?
As the newspaper’s Chief Sub Editor, I’m the conductor of its production. I plan, together with other editors, what stories to run, where they should run, and how they run. I look at all stories that get into the paper, oversee headlines and picture usage, and implement editors’ decisions on the lead stories on the cover page.

The job entails waking up early and going to bed at 1am every day. Being the newspaper’s last gatekeeper, the job requires me to know something about everything, and demands a high degree of interest in reading and keeping abreast of events around the globe. It also demands that I listen to criticism and remain as rational as possible while making decisions. It requires a high degree of alertness because a slight mistake that gets into the newspaper has the potential to ruin the organisation.

Looking back, what have been the highlights of your journalism career?
I’m forever grateful for the responsibilities that the organisation has entrusted with me even when I thought I was too young to handle them. I also sometimes write stories when I can, and the feedback is always immense. The Managing Editor NMG-U, Mr Tabu Butagira, asked me when I was one year old in the newsroom to cross to reporting; I think he saw a talent. And I think I should write more often even when my job keeps me in the newsroom kitchen all the time.

What challenges have you faced along the way?
Balancing between family and work is a major challenge. I leave home very early and return very late. I also work during public holidays, meaning limited time for my family.
Many people who do my kind of work do not progress academically but I braved it and studied my Master’s degree while holding the job; a huge challenge. 

The job is also high-stress and looks like a daily examination, so I wake up every morning expecting a complaint about a mistake in the newspaper or that we have done a poor job, or that someone is going to sue us. And being particular with good work, I ‘mourn’ every time the paper has mistakes or is exposed legally. And it affects my mental health.

What does journalism look like in the near and far future?
Journalism is becoming more challenging because the future is not in reporting but thinking. We must train critical thinkers who will go the extra mile in doing journalism. The future is also in multiple skills; everyone in the newsroom must acquire skills in broadcast, print, and digital. It is 360 degrees!

Big lessons 

There is always room for improvement every day. I have also learnt that everyone in the business of journalism has to be at their best all the time.

I have learnt to be a better decision maker because the job entails making huge, important decisions every single moment. Patience is a virtue, the job teaches. It also dictates that you must be as honest as possible.