School debate club inspired and nurtured her journalism career

According to experienced journalist Shalini Pathan, journalism is one career opportunity that gives an individual the power of thought, confidence and creative freedom.

The BBC, one of the leading global media houses, believes that a good journalist is one who is able to tell compelling stories but above all, remain distinctive and maintain both their reputation and the audience’s trust.

Sarah Biryomumaisho is a journalist with 10 years’ experience in broadcast and publishing. Her biggest passion is helping women and children tell their stories.

Like Sarah, a good journalist is one who has been built by experience and passion. Self-driven and has a goal to tell stories that create positive impact.

Why Journalism?

I believe that everyone has a story, successful or not. I also believe that everyone deserves a chance to tell their story and that it is only humane that as journalists we give them a platform. There is nothing that makes a human more whole, than telling their own story, allowing the world to see their vulnerability and strength. But also, I believe that no one can tell your story better than you.

Tell us about your journey as a journalist

I started my media career in July 2011 at an English Radio station called Love FM in Mbarara Town in western Uganda. It has since closed business. I started as a presenter, news writer and anchor. I learnt how to write while already on the job.

I was lucky to have started working just two days after graduation. I got this first break from a lady called Sherry Carabo who was the manager at the time. She held my hand because I was learning everything on the job.

I had always wanted to write and read news from an early age. While in Primary School, I was a very active member of the debate club and was on Radio nearly every Sunday. I remember Radio presenters then used to come with tape recorders to school and record our debates, which would later play on Sunday afternoon. 

We were always excited knowing that our parents and other people in the village were listening to us as we spoke English. Being from a UPE school, many people did not expect a lot from us, much less being able to speak good English that was worthy of being broadcast on radio.

I carried this passion through secondary school and continued debating. After A level I told my father that I wanted to become a journalist and work on radio, which he did not like. He told me working on radio was just a passion and needed talent and that going to journalism school without talent wasn’t enough. So, I studied Business Administration so as to not annoy him even more, but went on to practice journalism.

I was lucky to learn on the job, before getting training in Media Management. I worked with a few other radio stations like Mbabule FM, Juice FM, and Galaxy FM. I have worked with other media companies outside radio. I had a fulltime contract with Andariya International Magazine where I worked as a managing director for the Ugandan team and then writer until last year.

I now own an online Magazine called The UG Post where I publish most of my work.
I still do freelance work, but the UG Post gives me a home where I can have any story with my name without having to worry that it will be assigned someone else’s name. It has also helped me pitch and win some story grants that in the past may have not been accepted by other media companies. 

How do you balance work, family and being Sarah?

Since I am currently unemployed, I do most of my work from home. I go to the field, gather all interviews I need and sit home to compile and write my stories. Being a single parent, this gives me enough time with my daughter and time to rest. This is something I treasure a lot.

Well, being me is so easy. I love to smile, I cry a lot in happiness and sorrow, but most importantly, I love to give love. So, it isn’t that hard to balance life when you are me.

What has been your most memorable moment as a journalist?

My most memorable moment was my first day on radio. I wish I could go back in time and be as perfect and excited. I wish I could see the same impressed faces like I did that day. I am so proud of myself for what I did that day. 

Would you encourage anyone to take up journalism, why?

Journalism is a passion and talent. Away from going to class and learning how to write a story, someone must feel it within. It is like music; you can’t fake it forever…oh except when a musician has money. For a radio presenter, you are either good or you are not. You are either a good writer or not. There is no bargaining when it comes to talent. Things have changed and people are getting jobs for odd reasons, but ratings do not lie.

I say if you are talented and have a passion for it, then join the business. It allows you to grow if you keep an open mind. It is one business that never gets boring. 

How can we empower women through journalism?

Empowerment of female journalists is simple; just give them a chance to do what they are good at. Do not stop a female reporter from going to the field just because you think she is weak. Give her a chance to fail as many times as you give her male counterpart.

Give female journalists the same salaries as those given to their male counterparts. No one should earn less due to their gender. As long as one can deliver, give them what they have worked for. Also, let women know there is more to journalism than being just a presenter or pretty face on TV. 

Training: there are many women media organizations like World Association of News Publishers (WANIFRA) that train women who are already in the business and those just joining.