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‘Journalists need more institutional documentation than oral folklores’

Mr. Lanre Idowu

Mr. Lanre Idowu was an editor, author and trainer. He is a fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors. He was a media consultant with the United States Information Service (USIS) and managing partner of Richard Munds and Enigma in many newsrooms. He was a writer with the Daily Times, head of investigating team of the Sunday Guardian, Assistance editor, Democrat Weekly, and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Thisweek. In this interview, he explains his sojourn in journalism and the future of the media in Nigeria.

 

You got into journalism 39 years ago and have remained a journalist ever since. What has been the attraction and how have you managed to remain relevant?

Right from my secondary school days through university, I knew I wanted to be a writer and I kept myself busy doing so for various campus platforms and outside outlets expressing my thoughts on issues of personal or communal concerns. I decided to be a journalist for the simple reason that it afforded me opportunity to have a regular outlet to address those issues. The interest remains and I have tried to continually feed that interest of serving what I consider to be the interests of my society.

As a media observer, what would you regard as key issues defining media practice today and what should the Nigerian media do to stay relevant and profitable?

The media continue to grapple with their sense of identity. What should be the role of the media in society? How best can the role be played? What should be the role of the Nigerian media in the context of happenings the world over? How is the practice of the media affected by the evolving technological change? How can the media master the opportunities available and tame the accompanying threats of the new media? At the heart of these questions are ethical issues that must continually be considered if the media must remain relevant, respected and patronized. Market knowledge, relevant content and necessary engagement remain key components of any meaningful relationship between the media and their patrons or audiences. The profiles of the audience, their tastes and needs will shape content, the manner and intensity of delivery will drive engagement and the satisfaction provided will stimulate prolonged patronage.

You will soon mark four decades of a writing career. What are the key lessons from your reflections as a writer?

A reading society is a thinking society. A thinking society is a productive society. Ideas drive conversations, stimulate growth and development. Writers are products of their environments and their ideas are shaped by their environments even as their environments are also shaped by their thoughts and ideas, formed and nurtured beyond their immediate environments. In that vein, writers are teachers for the ideas they canvass for good or ill have implications for the moral health of their society. I hold that our country is under-published.

There are so many stories waiting to be told. There are too many people going to the great beyond without sharing their experiences and reflections on what life has thrown at them and how they responded. We need a lot more of institutional documentation of our memories beyond the tradition of oral folklores, which tend to be diluted with the passage of time and human susceptibility to decay. We need to develop a better sense of our communal and national identities by documenting in creative ways our histories. We need stronger support for the arts and the media with endowments to feed the creative hunger of our people. Good books need to be turned to movies. Greater documentaries that speak to our conditions need to be produced. More journalists need to transit from reporters and writers to authors.

There should be periodic sabbaticals from journalism to academics to produce useful and longer-lasting works that would aid practice and training.

As someone who has been a mentor and role model to many journalists, how fulfilled are you when you consider your contributions to media practice in the country today?

I feel privileged and thankful to my creator for the bit I have contributed. I am privileged to have been mentored by many distinguished people in and out of the media. I am honoured to have been a mentor to others too. Part of rounded growth is having people you look up to and people who look up to you. And this is really not limited to age, money, ethnicity, religion or class. I hold that blessed is the one who is a blessing to others. One of the most thrilling things for me is seeing and feeling the joy of our journalists when they are recognized at the annual Diamond Awards for Media Excellence. I am grateful to Almighty God for being privileged to be a vessel to bring some joy of professional validation into the lives of the recipients. I also appreciate it when some professional says to me ‘your Media Review was very useful when I was writing my dissertation.’ Such joy, for me, is beyond money. But there are times I get discouraged when things don’t move as fast as I would want. For instance, by now I thought we would have overcome some of the challenges that still surface in the area of funding form DAME. We set out to have a Nigerian product using best global practices. We have done well in building brand integrity for the scheme. But there is still more work to be done to ensure Nigerians give in a sustained manner as they should for this development scheme.

What do you foresee for journalism in the next decade, especially considering the phenomenal growth in technology and peculiar economic realities new papers are facing globally?

There will be more migration to digital platforms but we will still have newspapers. Many of the newspaper houses will continue to have multiple platforms to sell their products. More specialized publications and platforms will emerge. The integrity of the news business will continue to be tested in light of the advantages across time and space provided by digital media.

Looking at the depth of ethical crisis in the Nigerian media today, what are your recommendations for enhancing credibility?

My position is that what we sell in the media is credibility. We are in the business of non-fiction reporting. Once you take credibility off, nothing is left. So, it is in the enlightened self-interest of the media to market credible products. So, the first thing we should do is to ensure we hire trained media personnel and periodically retrain those already hired. This training and retraining should be an endless cycle and should underpin self-regulation. We should also put in place some form of acceptable regulation where individual media platforms fail to self-regulate. Previous efforts in this area have been problematic between statutory or self-regulation. The federal government came up with the Press Council mechanism whereas the Nigerian Press Organisation replied with the Independent Ombudsman scheme. Both suffer from a crisis of confidence. But we cannot continue to live in this state of ethical waywardness.

Both platforms can work side-by-side if the necessary steps are taken to amend the contentious clauses in the Press Council law and the NPO is serious about subjecting media performance to professional scrutiny where offenders can be punished through a name and shame mechanism.

 

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