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The beauty of CNN, MultiChoice workshop for Nigerian journalists

By Yomi Awelewa

THE news came as a good development, one which does not happen frequently in the industry, when MultiChoice Nigeria in partnership with the Cable News Network International (CNN) announced a two-day media workshop to enhance the skills of journalists plying their trade in Nigeria.

The workshop, which paraded a list of high profile resource persons including CNN’s Thomas Evans,  Senior International Producer, Pan-African University’s Dr Isah Momoh and Mr Richard Ikiebe and top media executives including The Punch’s Executive Director, Publications, Azubuike Ishiekwene (who doubles as the chairman of CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards panel of judges); TELL’s Executive Editor, Ayo Akinkuotu; Daily Independent’s Editor, Ikechukwu Amaechi; former CNN MultiChoice Journalist of the Year, Shola Oshunkeye, among others, was meant to examine salient issues affecting media practice in the country, consider available tools to practitioners and suggest ways to improve on the job with a view to competing with other journalists across the world. The workshop held on Friday, January 29 and Saturday, January 30 at the Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

2nd l-r: Head of Corporate Communications, MultiChoice Nigeria, Mr Segun Fayose; Executive Director, Publications, The Punch, Mr Azu Ishiekwene; Executive Editor, TELL Magazine, Mr Ayo Akinkuotu; Senior International Producer, Cable News Network, Mr Thomas Evans at the just concluded CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist Awards media workshop in Lagos.

Declaring the workshop open, Mr Joseph Hundah, managing director of MultiChoice Nigeria, expressed his delight at the turnout of journalists for the workshop, stating that MultiChoice was proud to partner the Cable News Network International for the workshop. He added that the exercise would help participating journalists to maximize their potential and enhance their skills.

Life changing experiences
He acknowledged that journalists play vital roles in the development of a nation and must be well-equipped to be able to deliver on their mandate. He thanked the resource persons for finding the time to share their experience with their upcoming colleagues, expressing hope that at the end of the workshop, the journalists would have had a life-changing experience.

Dr Isah Momoh, senior lecturer at the School of Media and Communication, Pan-African University, Lagos took the first lecture which combined the class of both the print and broadcast journalists on ‘Personal financial analysis for media practitioners’. Momoh said “the changing face of the industry requires new skills, especially financial skills because the life of a journalist is managed by those who are not practitioners but media managers who are basically driven by profits”.

To ensure that the evening of a journalist’s life is better than his or her morning, Momoh counsels that personal finance is the only way to go. Responding to Momoh’s question about where she hoped to be in 10 years from now, Ms Ivy Kanu of Television Continental said she would have retired from the media into some other business. For Charles Okogene of Daily Independent, 5 years too long! Stella Sawyer of TELL would like to be a lecturer like Momoh.

The general opinion among participants was that they used to see the profession as a stepping stone to greater things. Commenting on the various responses, Dr Momoh stated that “journalism is a calling, there’s no retirement from it because it influences life”. He observed that modern journalists are no longer the bohemian, they are hip, technology-savvy and amenable to new developments around them. To Momoh, journalists are the only group of people who are invited to shows and are given transport fare to go back.

Dr Momoh encouraged journalists not to despair because of the present situation. He assured them that things would get better by and by, adding on a lighter note that journalism is the only profession that will stand in heaven because there would be communication. He recommended Stephen Covey’s Seven habits of highly successful people, urging participants to develop numeric disposition and quantitative skills: “Think figures, supplement your work by tables.”

Developing logical themes
Momoh wanted journalists to develop logical themes such that their conclusions would flow from the fact reported, and fact from the issues. He wanted them to be critical, as the dog that does not bark is taken for granted. He also wanted them to be objective, fair and truthful.

Finally, Momoh admonished participants to watch their company, stating that a journalist’s greater asset in the age of ICT is his or her network. He encouraged journalists to move with those who spend their time wisely. Momoh wanted journalists to watch their account, and go to where values are maximized saying they should go to places where they make money and not where they spend. He wanted journalists to watch their finances and become figure-friendly. Journalists must go beyond the figures and the number and interpret the stories they tell to the people. He gave the example of a Toyota Camry that goes for 1.6 million naira, and another car, which costs about 1.6 billion naira. If a rich man chooses to buy the car which goes for 1.6 billion naira, it means that the same amount he’s using to buy only one car can buy 1000 pieces of the Camry.

Or of a model house in a village which costs one million naira, and only one man wants to build a house for five billion naira, meaning the same five billion naira can produce about 5,000 model houses.
Momoh wanted journalists to live responsibly, live according to their budget and to create their loss and profit account, always detailing what they have and what they owe to stay financially afloat.

According to Momoh, if your income cannot pay your bill and leave a balance, you are operating a depreciating network and may soon disappear from the work. Financial success is key to a journalist’s career, as it helps the journalist improve his or her profile and be at peace with members of his or her immediate family.

CNN’s Thomas Evans tackled the subject, “What makes an award-winning story? A producer’s perspective”. He described an award-winning story as a product of two factors, content and execution. According to Evans, award-winning stories are stories that really help to stimulate people’s attitude towards an issue, as most stories hover around change.

Once in-a-lifetime news material
As an international reporter who has garnered experience covering the Afghanistan, Russian, Israel-Hezbollah wars, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the United States’ presidential campaigns, he suggested that the best way to report international news is to report stories as the journalist sees it, from his or her own point-of-view. He urged participants to always be alert as practicing journalists because award-winning stories are usually once-in-a-lifetime news material, which the journalist carefully puts together and delivers in a high standard, world-class manner.

As a veteran who has put in over 20 years in the profession, Azubuike Ishiekwene needs no introduction. He was the right choice for the topic of “Nigeria’s media landscape in 2010: The dominant paradigm”. Adopting a very interactive procedure, Ishiekwene engaged the participants, asking them to state what they think the defining features for the media landscape in 2010 would be. Part of what Ishiekwene said would drive content in the media in 2010 are: Politics (the health or ill-health of Mr President inclusive); the World Cup in South Africa; Reforms (banking, power sector, NNPC, Niger Delta, etc); Terror and Crime; Follow-ups (ASUU and FG, the SuperScreen TV bomber, Bayo Ohu and other victims of hired killings, Haliburton bribery scandal, 6,000 megawatts, etc); Media ownership (since publishers have their sympathies, media ownership will affect editorial direction); and Ethics, which he thought will play a major role in the practice of journalism in 2010.

Ishiekwene rounded the workshop  off by urging the participants to be in tune with latest development in technology which included ,online platform, social networking, etc, as failure to catch up with the trend spells doom for any practicing journalist.

In his lecture, Ayo Akinkuotu of TELL discussed “The secrets of award-winning features: The TELL story”. He said it was not a coincidence that TELL Magazine has the highest number of winners of the CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist Awards, either as overall winners or category winners. He listed Ibim Seminatari, overall winner 1997; Shola Osunkeye, overall winner 2006; and category winners like Lucas Ajanaku, Adeyemi Ayodeji among others. Akinkuotu said TELL’s exploits stemmed from extensive legwork, research and commitment to the ethics of the profession. He posited that winning awards is about writing a great story, which is like a good soup, written in good prose without bombastic language and unnecessary adjectives, and not playing to the gallery. For him, a writer of such great stories will be one who has passion for books, he or she is versatile and handles assignments with panache.

In conclusion, Akinkuotu urged journalists to strive for the best always.  According to him, great stories are not only about the past or present, but a  story can also foretell the future. He cited a story in TELL (1987) titled “War by all means”, which foretold the uprising in the Niger Delta long before it happened. He also noted that a good story is a product of team work, as when an editor sees a good story and recognizes it and helps in bringing it to life.

The second and final day of the workshop saw the pairing of the participants into print and broadcast groups. Thomas Evans took the first broadcast class while Mr Ishiekwene took the print class. They both examined “The profile of an award-winning journalist: The footfalls and the pitfalls”. These gurus brought to bear on the topic their insider perspectives  on who an award-winning journalist is. The lectures dwelt on practical aspect of reporting: how to recognize a news, how long it should take to put the story together, the role of freedom of information in the discharge of a journalist’s duty, his tools, his qualities, and ultimately his drive for excellence.

The two facilitators took time to review works of previous winners of the CNN/MultiChoice journalist awards, listened to participants’ comments, and gave insights based on their experiences on the job. Thomas Evans wanted reporters to pay greater attention to the execution of their stories. He counseled, “Start the story with a character, then move to the community, and then return to the original character to bookmark the story.” That to him should be the universal principle of storytelling.

The afternoon session was led by Mr Richard Ikiebe and Mr Ayo Akinkuotu who took the broadcast and print classes respectively. While Ikiebe looked at the “Factor changing the face of broadcasting: Front burner issues,” Ayo Akinkuotu challenged the print journalists on sundry issues affecting media practice like beat associations, ethical considerations, etc. They described the journalist as a go-getter, who must knock hard at doors if they ever hope for success in the industry. Ikiebe lamented the dearth of stimulating programmes on radio and TV and challenged participants to go beyond sponsorship inhibition to writing and producing great programmes everyone wants to see. Akinkuotu wanted journalists to have self-respect for themselves and observe the ethics of their profession by being above-board all the time in the course of duty.

The closing session of the workshop featured a panel of  resource persons including Ikiebe, Ishiekwene, Akinkuotu, Amaechi and Evans. Ishiekwene moderated the discussion on “Ethics and ethical considerations for journalist”. The atmosphere was charged as participants wanted the panelists’ view on issues affecting them. One clear message from these people to all practicing journalists is: Ethics is the knowledge of right and wrong. Always do the right thing. Do not take graft in the course of your duty, as whoever pays you to do your job automatically becomes editor who determines what you must publish in your story contrary to your house style, rules and regulation.

“CNN/MultiChoice African journalist media workshop, as an initiative set up to empower media practitioners in Nigeria, will return every year,” said Mr Segun Fayose, head of corporate communications, MultiChoice Nigeria. He thanked the resource persons and the participants and promised that MultiChoice will continue to invest in the growth and development of the media industry in Nigeria.


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