Ali Balunywa in Kampala, Uganda
For the first time since travelled to Uganda for my research, I woke up with a purpose. I was invited to attend the editorial meeting at the New Vision Newspaper to meet all journalists. Editorial meetings take place every day at 8.30am. The meetings are meant to map out activities for the day, deploy journalists and to do a postmortem of the previous day’s newspaper.
At the meeting the news editor reminded the journalists to email their stories to the editors and avoid duplication. The journalists complained about the IT department making news stories read only which ends in one story being saved under a different name every time a different person edits it. I was deployed to the parliament to attend the plenary session with the parliamentary reporters. However due to mis-coordination, I failed to go and opted to attend a committee meeting the next day.
Later, I conducted my first interview with the New Vision IT manager. His name is Mr. Paul Ikanza. He is a holder of a Bachelor of computer science degree from Makerere University, Uganda’s leading educational institution. He is also CISCO certified, level two for network professionals on top of a Masters degree in data computation.
Ali: What can you tell me about the IT department here at the New Vision?
Paul: The It department here started in 1999/2000. The computer penetration then was small. Lay out of the newspaper was done by a group of typesetters. Every section of the editorial had a typesetter. The typesetters were using “Adobe Page maker” software for laying out the pages. Internet was more or less a luxury until 2003 when the Internet edition was started. Foreign news and sports was downloaded from the Digital Satellite Television (DSTV). Satellite dishes for Reuters, AFP and Xinhua news services were situated on top of the New Vision office roof.
What is the situation like now, 10 years later?
The Internet traffic is now much heavier after upgrading from 92 KB to 3MB bandwidth. However to ensure that the network remains efficient services like Face book, You Tube are blocked because they consume a lot of band width. Internet usage is therefore monitored to maintain effectiveness. The network is now mainstream not only for typesetting, but is also used by subeditors and editors. A reporter types in a story and sends it together with pictures to the respective sub editor through the system network.
Apart from the editorial, who else uses the system?
All departments at the New Vision need to log onto the system to operate. Today all banking is done electronically. Production machines cannot be turned on without logging onto the system. Typesetters are no more, so sub editors have to lay their allotted pages. Page maker software is no longer used. The latest version of Quark Express typesetting software is currently in use.
How is the news processed today?
A reporter searches for news, types it in and sends to the news editor. After editing the news story is forwarded to the subeditor in charge. All the transmission is done electronically. The subeditor places the story on the specific page and when the full page is done, mails it to the chief subeditor who after approving sends it to the pre press through the network shared folder. Pre press staff creates a plate straight from the computer.
Are the regional up country offices linked to the system?
All upcountry offices are connected to the Internet, but not to the main server at the New Vision. They cannot long onto the system. Stories and photos from upcountry are instantly emailed to the New Vision as soon as they are written or photos taken. Previously, the New Vision used to send drivers to pick photos by car from all around the country.
What other technological advancement haven’t you talked about?
We currently have what is called the mobile office. All senior staff at the New Vision own blackberry handsets, which can log onto the New Vision system outside office hours. Normal email can also be sent and received from the set. Breaking news can be reported at any time of the day from anywhere without any impediment.
We also subscribe to 2 closed user groups. That is Mobile Telephone Networks (MTN) and Uganda Telecoms (UTL), whereby all our 500 staff is connected. New Vision pays a lump sum per month and within the group calls whatever the duration are not charged. This reduced the amount of money we used to pay prior to this.
All departments of the New Vision like production, circulation, marketing, engineering and marketing cannot work without a computer. One must log on before doing any work for the New Vision.
How do you envisage the future of the New Vision with the new technological developments?
By July this year, we expect the fibre optic cable to have arrived in Kampala. This means that Internet will be much faster and we shall be able to free the journalists to actively participate in social networking sites and access You Tube in addition to speeding up the system.
Soon a full color-printing machine shall be installed. It will be fully automated and all pages to be printed in color at once. We also hope in future to develop a content management system where a reporter can log onto the intranet system and submit a story even while outside the New Vision establishment within or outside the country.
Archiving is also one of the things that are yet to go fully digital. All our records since independence are kept in hard copy form until the year 2000. It is our hope that they will all be scanned and kept digitally for future reference
What are your concluding remarks?
The mandate for ICT at the New Vision is information and communication and making communication accessible and sharable. Initially it was only data, but we have now added audio (own 3 stations) and soon video (TV) .