Journalism for Uganda | Celeste Gracey

Change is fearless.

A few weeks ago I was honored with the opportunity to help a group of teenagers at an Ugandan secondary school found a student newspaper.

In a country torn asunder by tyranny and corruption, the government is known to occasionally shut down its only independent daily.

The paper's journalists often disappear.

The project was not only a rare opportunity for Ugandan youth, it was a reminder what it means to be a fearless journalist.

The project began this summer when my husband and I decided to visit some friends working at a vocational school in Uganda, just north of Kampala.

As we prepared, our focus turned toward the nearby Cornerstone Leadership Academy.

Founded in the center of tyrant Idi Amin's worst atrocities, the boarding school now hosts 50 of the country's most brilliant teens. Taught first how to be "men of integrity," most of the students will go on to be businessmen, politicians and, I hope, journalists.

In August, we raised money to bring two laptops and a camera to the school. Generous people in our community also donated thousands in professional software for pagination.

CLA fulfilled its part of the deal, figuring out how to get the paper printed in Kampala with a little funding from some East Coast journalists.

We helped them organize staff, choose an editor and name the newspaper, The Ranch Times. The deadline for the first paper is Nov. 1.

I also was invited to deliver a two-hour lecture on journalism ethics and the power of community journalism.

Their writers club tripled the next day, and the talk is now about how the The Ranch Times is going to be a tool to bring together a divided community of NGOs, schools and villages.

We'll be watching what this group of boys can accomplish with the power the press, but the ripple affects could make even deeper impacts and not just for Ugandans.

During the lecture, I was also able to charge these young men, who will someday lead, to pursue reforms for open government.

It was a gutsy proposal, and for an American, it was easy to say. I take advantage of open courts and records weekly.

However, the students were taken aback. They had such disbelief, they began asking how I was able to stay safe as a journalist. So many Ugandan journalists have been killed by their own government.

My heart sank. I knew I had to encourage them to do something I wondered if I could do myself.

I told them to be careful, to make their words count, but ultimately to be prepared to lose everything for what they believe.

It was almost like calling soldiers to die.

I wanted to say, protect yourself, don't push to hard, protect yourself and make compromises.

I can't express the grief I felt in looking into their faces, asking them to be noble. But the good road is rough.

My message was a stern reminder that I, too, had to be fearless.

While I don't expect secret police to pull me out of bed at night, how often do we Americans back down for little more than fear of being disruptive?

Journalists must dare to be loathed.

We must pursue stories, regardless of what sources or friends we might lose. Regardless of even threat of litigation.

There is little difference between softening the truth to shelter reputations and flat out lying. We must be fair, but we must be bold.

I've seen better, smarter journalists fail to understand that real change happens at a community level.

Even with all its resources, a big daily is useless if it doesn't get in touch with the communities. It becomes irrelevant.

The work that The Reporter newspapers does is crucial, because we continue to seek relevance with our readers.

This week the Issaquah & Sammamish Reporter staff brought back six awards from a statewide competition.

However, I would count each of my four awards worthless, if I didn't feel like those stories made a contribution to my community.

As readers, I encourage you to challenge journalists and challenge me.

How a newspaper serves its community and what journalists are willing to do to ensure its prosperity is a real standard of success, not a list of awards.


Issaquah Reporter staff writer Celeste Gracey can be reached at 425-391-0363, ext. 5052.

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