It is official: William Pike is leaving The New Vision. From a very humble beginning 20 years ago, New Vision is now one of Ugandaâ€™s very few successful public enterprises.
The editorial management of New Vision under Pike has been the inspiration of some newspapers.
This editorial management was based on a need to balance the articulation of popular interests and the appreciation of local political sensibilities. Indeed, the founders of the New Times, Rwandaâ€™s premier English newspaper, were inspired by this approach to editorial management. Even the name of New Times had that generic attachment to the name New Vision.
And yet we should not write about Pikeâ€™s departure as if it were an eulogy. He is of course still around; and may continue being an influential player in the media industry in Uganda and the region in general.
However, his departure from New Vision now affords us an opportunity to have a critical look at how his stewardship at New Vision has influenced the development of the media in Uganda since 1986.
The story of New Visionâ€™s humble beginning and growth into the giant company it is now has been documented. Initially started as an ideological mouthpiece, but Pike transformed it from the political activism into a profit-making business and an all-pervading brand-name corporate entity in the industry.
Pike steered New Vision through the political vicissitudes and positioned it as a paper of record. This does not mean that there are no controversial commentaries and opinions.
The opinions and commentaries had also to pass through the rigorous test of being based on facts. With this kind of editorial management approach, Pike reconciled the limitations of the industry and the interests of the political leadership.
And need I mention that the dividends are there for all to see? Being used to writing commentaries and opinions, it took me unnecessarily long to find my feet at New Vision. I poured myself into feature reportage.
Not that the paper would not publish commentaries and opinions; but the editorial management demanded that even opinions be based on verifiable facts. I remember Ms Barbara Kaija, the venerable Featuresâ€™ Editor, telling me:
â€œFacts, facts facts. Commentaries should interpret for us the meaning of those facts and tell us whether the facts represent a pattern of political interest to the readers. But the issue is facts, facts, facts.â€ I was later to tell a friend living in the UK that New Vision practiced â€˜clinical journalismâ€™.
However, the most important aspect of Pikeâ€™s stewardship at New Vision is the demonstration that the media can be real big business. Added to that is the transformation of New Vision from an old-school newspaper as a functional tool of political and ideological activism and its banal entreaties to a respected profit-making business with the capacity to influence socio-political and economic actions.
The challenge for the media in Uganda and the Great Lakes region now is to appreciate the role of the media in influencing economic and socio-political trends in the region.
And to achieve the respectability and muscle to influence political trends, a media house would have to be big enough. To understand how a media company can grow big in the prevailing circumstances in the region, we would have to seek Pike out for clues.
There was another side of Pike: he was accused of being snap-tempered, although I never came under fire from him during my three-year stay at New Vision. But even after expressing his anger, he will call to say sorry for the bust-up even to junior staffers.
Such was the unusual persona of â€˜The Headmasterâ€™, as some staffers fondly called him. Among the Bakonzo, people with such persona are said to have uneven ribs and no gall bladder.
The nearest I came under Pikeâ€™s fire was when I was reluctant to do a story on the arrest of Col. Patrick Karegeya of Rwanda Defence Forces.
It was my perfect story, being the â€˜in-house specialist on Rwandaâ€™. Company Secretary Robert Kabushenga, Pikeâ€™s successor, brought me the tip.
I had earlier got information from Kigali indicating that Col. Karegeya had â€˜some issuesâ€™ to sort out with the military authorities. But when Kabushenga brought the tip, I viewed it as a small matter thinking that the arrest would after all not be effected.
Trouble came when Daily Monitor used the story the next day. In the editorial management meeting that day, I was told that Pikeâ€™s temper shot the roof. He wanted to know why I didnâ€™t do the story. I was told that it was David Sseppuuya who placated Pike by vouching for my attempts to do the story. I called a source in Kigali from Sseppuuyaâ€™s office and spoke in Kinyarwanda.
The source told me Col. Karegeya was only under restriction from moving out of the country. I called Karegeyaâ€™s relative who said everything was fine. And with that I personally didnâ€™t think that was a story. David is said to have convinced Pike that I tried my best â€œbut the facts of the story just didnâ€™t seem to come throughâ€
Pikeâ€™s big mark on the media