It was April 2010. The date is beyond my waning memory. “Hi, I hear The Weekender has closed, what happened?” The message was signed “Kalinaki.” I was just approaching my muzigo off the Kireka market on the railway reserve. I replied explaining how along the way some hyenas had come beating around shares in The Weekender and guys got ahead of themselves and bloated it.
“Sorry to hear about that. So what are your plans?” Well, that the revered Kalinaki was chatting me up about what I planned to do from inside the belly of joblessness was itself amazing. His third text message that day followed my vague idea of what I planned to do with my idleness—at least crime wasn’t part of it. “Would you consider working with Daily Monitor as a sub editor?”
I had wanted to be a sub editor for ages. The New Vision had given me the job and then not given it. They had given it a second time and then not given it still.
I had left Makerere University with sub editing skills on my sleeves and could design pages. In fact, when we had left The New Vision to start The Weekender, I was the resident sub editor. Weeks before Kalinaki’s text message, Arinaitwe Rugyendo had asked me to join Red Pepper. I had given it a shot. Rugyendo is one of the few journalists who ever told me that I was a talented journalist. The others were Nigel, Carol Natukunda, Dora, Julius Mucunguzi–former news writing and reporting lecturer–and Denis Ocwich (RIP)–my former Specialised Writing lecturer.
Rugyendo had wanted me in Namanve and he still does to this day. He had set up a meeting with the bishops. But after the brief interview where the guys asked if I could play football, the bishops had asked how much I was willing to work for and I had said Shs700,000. They said they would call me. They never did. Kalinaki texted. Maybe Red Pepper would have used my inverted sense of humour to their fill, but that is past now.
I told Kalinaki that I would think about it. “Okay, when you are ready, holla at me.” Like a peer. Just like that. The last time I quoted our private conversation, it was wrong, but this time Kalinaki will understand. I had said I would get back to him in a week, but within five days I had sketched airtime and texted Kalinaki saying I was up for it. “Great! Just what I wanted to hear. You made the right decision. Thank you.”
He had thanked me. Kalinaki had thanked me. I found that strange but then I realised that perhaps the tough lecturer I had taken him for at campus wasn’t the real him. He forwarded my matter to Don Wanyama, then chief sub editor, to work on the rest.
Back in Makerere, Kalinaki and Charlotte Ntulume were our final year Newspaper Editing lecturers. While Charlotte was “good with marks,” everyone said Kalinaki was “mean.” In fact, he “gave” me only 56%. Yes, 56% and that is the marks that will live with me for the rest of my wretched life. As students, if you scored 70-plus marks, you would proudly say you got it, but below 60, “the lecturer gave me.” And so it was with this 56% in editing.
Now, let me tell you something. The best editors and line supervisors I have had have been at Monitor. Don was so good with interpersonal skills. I still consider Don my best line manager ever. When sulked over not being given a column when Monitor was redesigned in 2011, Don offered me his Letter From Kireka. He had just started it and was so serious about the offer. He loved his team and kept them closer to himself. Bettie, Harriet, Tony, Allan, Anna, Mark, JT and JJ. That was the basic composition of our team.
Carol was thorough like a woodpecker. It was difficult to imagine a comma would miss her eye and she read copies religiously. Before I had moved to subbing, Carol was my line manager as I wrote features. She would scrutinise vouchers so intently before signing them off. I later learnt it is something in her genes, thanks to her father who was with the central bank. Carol’s thoroughness once got me when I had ‘doctored’ voices of psychology lecturers at MUK in a story. An apology and she instead thanked me for apologising, saying many she had caught in plagiarism before had defended their mess rather than own up.
There was Alex and his easy personality. He was the first editor to say “okay, let’s keep it and have the reporter redo the story,” in response to my email that a particular article was too wanting to run. He also once spiked a story upon my advise.
Fred and Barbara, the two who kept pulling one of my legs to weekend desk, and Aidah, our dimpled kayungirizi. These two were tough between 10am and 3pm. After that, the early edition would be out and you would relax and hit out in betting.
Talking of betting, I actually learnt the damn thing from Monitor. That place was so lively and easy on staffers that freedom extended to betting too–although management tried to control it.
The Namuwongo newsroom was lively. It was the first and only newsroom where I saw alcoholic drinks allowed on special occasions. Drink responsibly and so we did. Wines, beers and spirits. Beyond the newsroom, Monitor was that place where editors joined the rest of the foot soldiers at social dos. We had this regular outing habit that Natty so religiously observed even when she was out of Monitor.
Sometimes I think I became a journalist as the kid who would steal newspapers from our next-door neighbour, Erinesti Lulua (RIP). He was the labour officer for Kakira so he got free office copies. He would neatly stack up the papers on the table and I would tiptoe into his living room to make away with them. I would then read from the sugarcane where I had a ‘library.’ One day I walked in there after to find the downpour had beaten my dry-leaves canopy. The papers were wet. What more, the only colour copy was wet.
Monitor had made inroads to become the first newspaper to publish a colour masthead and I had nipped that copy and thought I had me a great souvenir, only for the rain to get the better of me.
However, the childhood play with stolen copies was nothing, the real deal was joining Monitor and becoming part of a family that allowed views to thrive. The independence of Monitor is not just in a mantra but rubs you from the skin to the heart’s content. This is because, at Monitor, you express your views freely and where such independence of views thrive, the rest fall into place.
May the Truth Every Day continue to inspire journalism The Monitor Way.