By Patty Huston-Holm
Andrew Bugembe’s early experience with audio journalism involved walking outside the Uganda Christian University (UCU) gate and, with his phone, recording what random people along a dusty street thought about topical sports issues. He, thereafter, walked back on the Mukono campus and shared his “African English” recordings with five friends who used this information raw or as background for stories in UCU’s student newspaper, The Standard.
“I wasn’t good at writing; I wasn’t good at sports,” Andrew, who hails from Mityana in central Uganda, admitted. “The credit I got for this work was ‘thank you,’ and that was enough. God puts you where He can use you.”
Sitting on a black, wrought-iron bench between the newspaper and communications offices in the third month since post-Covid, in-person learning resumed, the final-year student in UCU’s School of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMC) shared his comfort and enjoyment of being behind the scenes.
Thus, as UCU launched in January 2022 its first podcast – the only university podcast in Uganda – Andrew was the guy splicing the audio and monitoring the analytics of who was listening and from what devices.
“It was exciting,” he said during a March 2022 discussion. “I didn’t even know the word ‘podcast’ until I was tapped to be a part of it last year.”
The UCU podcast training for a small group of students began through David’s United Church of Christ in Canal Winchester, Ohio, USA, in June 2021. Students used the church’s podcast platform to conduct interviews on topics such as Black Lives Matter, Hate Speech, Street Preaching and Fake Pastors.
Under the supervision of veteran broadcaster and UCU lecturer, Geoffrey Ssenoga, and with support by the School of JMC head of undergraduate studies, John Semakula, UCU started its own podcast.
By early April, students had recorded and produced 17 podcasts under the umbrella of the new on-line Standard newspaper with the theme “Lighting our Way.” With a combination of fun (male-female differences, etc.) and serious (Ankrah Foundation, etc.) topics, the initial target audience is students.
“Students are always excited about new ways of applying their knowledge and skill,” said Geoffrey, a lifelong journalist with most of his work in television. “We were teaching radio, but during the Covid shutdown, the practical application of that was mostly non-existent. Podcast recordings via Zoom allowed students to learn this form of media while practicing coronavirus safety protocols.”
As the School of JMC revises its curriculum for the Council of Higher Education, podcasting – the fastest-growing media channel with two million globally – is included.
While not necessarily listening to recordings in the initial phase of UCU’s podcast, two Ugandan professionals, New Vision’s Stephen Ssenkaaba and Max Adii, are lauding them. Together, they started the New Vision podcast three years ago. Fresh from a research project on online strategies for emerging markets as part of a fellowship in Michigan, Stephen became fascinated with podcasting and pitched the idea upon his return to Uganda.
“I came to understand how podcasts were relevant to people in Uganda and Africa where the culture revolves around talking, and having conversations,” Stephen said. “After I pitched to the Editorial Board, I was charged to work with our radio expert, Max. We got it rolling.”
“More and more, media audiences are shifting to on-line content,” Max said. “Podcasting is Internet-based – allowing our audience potential to be people all over the world.”
Data indicate podcasting is especially popular with those under age 35 because of the content’s 24-7 accessibility, generally casual delivery by interviewers and ability to stop and start a 15-to-30-minute recording. To date, podcasting is less expensive and less regulated than radio.
Commenting from Oregon, USA, where he is studying for his Ph.D. in Media Studies, Stephen said “a one-size-fits-all” podcast should not be the goal in today’s cafeteria of media genres. At that, younger listeners lean towards light-hearted, celebrity podcast content, while those older tend to want to supplement what they don’t “have time to get sitting and reading a newspaper or listening to radio at home,” he added.
“Podcasts done right take the listener into a situation,” Max said. One of his favorites that does that is a 12-episode New Vision podcast that tells the story of an undercover reporter who became part of the slave trade in Dubai.
Student Nicollette Nampijja, one of the first UCU Podcast interviewers, expressed appreciation for UCU’s launch into the podcast medium. Despite her experience speaking in front of classmates in secondary school, her “heart was beating” for the first recording she did at UCU. Now, with three podcast interviews under her belt, confidence of the 22-year-old has soared.
“The UCU podcast has added excitement for students while giving them hands-on experience in a cutting-edge part of our industry,” Geoffrey said. “That we added the podcasting piece to what we teach and did it in the midst of coming off a pandemic lockdown speaks volumes about where UCU is going and can be.”