Monitor at 30: Times change but the Monitor’s values don’t

Author: Robert Madoi is a sports journalist and analyst. PHOTO/FILE/NMG.

What you need to know:

  • The central plank of this column is to highlight how the values of journalism are always in a state of flux. A consumerist shift is always a heartbeat away. When I worked at Daily Monitor at the tail-end of its first decade and start of the second decade, the moral – even material – existence of the newspaper was influenced by the fact that public-interest reporting mattered a great deal.

When Daily Monitor completed its first decade, I was a sophomore at Makerere University who – despite being wet behind the ears – found purpose in holding power to account.

I had always been struck by how the dispersing of information to a large group of people can have such an equalising effect. In a sense, I still am.

Maybe not quite the same scale of democratisation I accepted – almost unquestionably – during my freshman year as a mass communication scholar at the ivory tower. Yet there is still a seductive authenticity about telling stories of the powerless, and holding the powerful to account. Now as then, really.

In fact, I started filing stories for Daily Monitor in the second semester of my freshman year. My maiden piece – a commentary on Ugandan tennis carried on one of Sunday Monitor’s sports pages – faced down the powerful by asking one simple but perilous question: Why is it so hard to groom the next John Oduke?

Soon, I was covering the cricket and golf beats with the same sense of duty to the reader and a sense of responsibility to the respective fraternities. I look back at those formative years of my journalism career not to delight in the work done being either prodigious or intensely imaginative. I doubt it was.

The central plank of this column is to highlight how the values of journalism are always in a state of flux. A consumerist shift is always a heartbeat away. When I worked at Daily Monitor at the tail-end of its first decade and start of the second decade, the moral – even material – existence of the newspaper was influenced by the fact that public-interest reporting mattered a great deal.

Back then, social media was not part of the conversation. The merits of a content-rich website were argued for with modest success. To put this into context, a contrast between the 2004 and 2022 International Cricket Council (ICC) Under-19 World Cup tournaments serves a useful purpose.

The 2004 event was held round about the time Facebook was launching. YouTube was still a year away from seeing the light of day. Cricinfo didn’t offer ball-by-ball updates that now acclaim it as a considerable success. Conversely, this year’s event – the 14th of its kind – had an extensive social media footprint. The ICC official website live-streamed matches while doing ball-by-ball updates for good measure.

In 2004, the website was updated several hours after a contest was decided. I remotely covered the tournament as one of my last assignments at Daily Monitor before starting a new job with The Weekly Observer in March.

My byline returned to the Daily Monitor pages – this time as a columnist – in July of 2013. The newspaper had well and truly entered its third decade. The conceptualisation of journalism was much more than using established and hierarchical sources of information to answer the classic five Ws (who, what, where, when and why) and one H (how) recurring questions. If eagle-eyed editors were asking the ‘so what’ question in previous decades, it took on added resonance in this new decade.

We soon learnt that telling the second-day story necessitated us to be explanatory, visual and keepable in print. Investments in digital expansion meanwhile compelled us to break news across Daily Monitor’s socials. This is precisely what we did on that rainy September day when Faruku Miya shattered an Afcon hoodoo that had straddled nearly four decades.

As Daily Monitor enters a new decade, it’s imperative that we – the foot soldiers – be mindful of what lies ahead. We have to be alive to the things that represent what is now a lost innocence. Click bait and alternative facts – the staple of digital journalism – ought to be eschewed, particularly during the so-called ‘silly season.’ We should seek only the strictest fidelity to the truth as we’ve done in past decades. Consumerist shifts – be they around age, gender, consumption and presentation – should not pass us by.

Happy 30th, Daily Monitor!

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