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Journalists shouldn’t be too close to politicians – Adetiba

By Dayo Benson, Political Editor & James Ezema
Mr Muyiwa Adetiba, is the pioneer editor of Vanguard newspaper. Between mid -80s when he left the medium and now, he has tried his hands on other publications. His present endeavours is Readers’ Delight and City Mail. The former, he said, is fashioned after Reader’s Digest while the latter focuses on Lagos as it transforms into a mega city.

According to him, the publication will speak to Lagosians. He spoke on this effort and democracy, the role of the press in a democracy and internet challenge as well as electronic medium threat to print medium. Excerpts:

Between when you left Vanguard and now, what have you been doing?

I left Vanguard to edit Prime People, which became at some point the largest selling publication around. At the peak of Prime People, we sold about 140, 000 copies. When I left Prime People because of boardroom palaver, I edited TNT (Today’s News Today). In all those areas, the major problem has been adequate finance and all that for some of those publications. These are the things I have done. And now I edit Readers’ Delight, which is about three years old. It is patterned after Readers’ Digest. And also, I have a printing press.

What is Readers’ Delight all about?

Readers’ Delight is a monthly publication for upper middle class really, featuring inspirational stories, stories about people who have achieved, more or less like the stories of the power of the human spirits to triumph over adversities. So, that’s what Readers’ Delight is all about and it is basically on subscription. We are in our third year now. But the one I’m doing now is City Mail.

City Mail is a paper patterned and dedicated to Lagos. If you go to US for example, you hardly have national newspapers. We have Washington Post, New York Times, metropolitan newspapers. So, what we’re trying to do is to say ok, Lagos as a mega city is big enough to have a newspaper of its own.

Instead of trying to do a national newspaper, we just said we should do a newspaper that is dedicated to Lagos. In other words, the people of Lagos, their interest, desires, whatever it is that concern them, things that Lagosians feel, is what we’re trying to do. As we go, we’ll try to go more into the grassroots, into different local
government and all of that but we will not go beyond Lagos.

Which segment of the reading public are you targeting?

The middle class. For obvious reasons have the purchasing power and the stories we are also trying to do are stories that will be of interest to them. We’ll talk about the success, about the ghettos of Lagos and about the slums of lagos. But largely, it is the middle class we’re aiming at.

Maybe you should take us into some of the products you have in the newspaper?

In the current edition, we have stories on politics, we business stories, then we have what we call Life, which is life features. We also have entertainment stories and society stories as well. Because it is weekly, the slant is slightly towards features for now. If we have more frequent publications, we might concentrate more on news.

The pattern of news we’ll be doing will be more of news feature, investigative news, not the daily hot breaking news as much because of the nature. We also have the sports page. Our approach also will be more of people, getting stories through people, getting people to talk, news interviews, short interviews and political interviews. That is the kind of slants that we will have. We also put cartoon on the front page as we want to give some prominence to cartooning and photography.

Even though it is a city based newspaper, what exactly would you say that you want to offer that is currently not in…?

(Cuts in) Most newspapers are barely national. For us now, the head of state is more likely to be Fashola. I just said that to put more emphasis. The difference between a community newspaper, a metropolitan newspaper or a national newspaper is that the emphasis shifts as we go along.

The emphasis in our own instance, for example, is that the little thing that a national newspaper may not carry because it has a wider audience, we’ll be more interested in it. So, if there is a bad road, for example, in a place, we’ll have more than a passing interest in it.

National newspapers also do that?

We’ll have more than a passing interest. A national newspaper will carry it if it becomes so bad that it becomes a national problem. In our own instance, it doesn’t have to be on a federal road. It doesn’t have to be Agege Motor Road or Oshodi—Apapa Express Way.

If someone is going to Akunwonjo and he is having problems everyday getting home, we would want to find out from the local government chairman what the problem is, how he is going to fix it. So, we should be more concerned about Lagos, its problem and its triumph than a national newspaper.

As the newspaper is in Lagos, are you going to work in partnership with Lagos State Government?

Independence is important to us. I would not want a situation where something is going wrong and we can’t correct it because of partnership. If there is bad governance, for example, we should be able to report it, if there is lack of transparence, we’ll be able to report it. But at the same time, we wouldn’t mind a situation where the people will talk to us and the government would talk to them back.

So, to that extent, maybe we talk of partnership. If, for example. they want a clearing house, we don’t mind. It doesn’t mean that we would not criticise what is being done. The important thing is that Lagos is big and Lagos needs a newspaper that can talk to it.

A lot of national newspapers are based in Lagos and because they are based in Lagos they carry a lot of Lagos stories. But I have been an editor of a national newspaper and if you are casting a headline your mind is saying this is a second edition headline, the audience outside Lagos should be interested and so on.

So, you are looking for a national story, you are looking for a headline that will interest other people outside Lagos. But if you’re an Osun State newspaper for example, then in your headline, you’ll be thinking of people in Osun State as opposed to people in Lagos State. These are the little things that will be different.

I want a situation where the people will pick up the newspaper and say, ‘this newspaper talks to me because I’m in Lagos’. And when I say Lagosians, I’m not really talking about just those who were born and brought up in Lagos.

If you pay your taxes here, you live here, you have some interest in the state and that’s why we’re concerned. If the schools are not well run, you would not go to your village to go to school. So, the term Lagosians refer to those who live and have stake in the survival of Lagos.

But you’ll agree with me that the market is actually saturated, whether you call it a community newspaper or metropolitan newspaper, and in that crowded market, how do you break even?

The success of what we’re trying to do will depend on how we approximate our vision. We can claim to be a community newspaper and we don’t take care of the interest of the community. Then we’re not successful. We can claim to be a metropolitan newspaper and be diffused in the kind of stories that we carry that people cannot identify themselves with us, then we’re not successful.

But to the extent that people can say, ‘this is our newspaper, I know that if I talk, this newspaper will carry the things that concern me because I’m a Lagosian’, then we’re successful to the extent that we approximate the needs of the people.

First, we’re identified in it, we can approximate it and we can empathise with it. To that extent, I would think we’re successful because there is a clear difference between a national newspaper that takes care of 36 states and newspaper that takes care of one state, there should be a difference. If we don’t get that, then we have a problem.

How are you going to make it acceptable to Lagosians in view of the fact that the people are already familiar with the regular ones.

In fact, that is the challenge. First, the story content must be right. Second, penetration into Local Government Areas should also be a bit sharper because we’re not going beyond Lagos. So, gradually, as we go, we’ll be thinking more and more on how to penetrate into the local governments, into the areas of Lagos, get them to talk to us and use them as a vehicle really to talk to government as we talk with them. It is a challenge actually to get to the grassroots, to get into the local governments and that is what we want to do.

What about politics? Are you going to be interested in Lagos politics?

We have to be because our newspaper is about governance and politics as we know it is also about governance. So, we also have to show some interest into Lagos politics. But our strength really, again, is that we’re not partisan; we’re not a PDP newspaper, we’re not an AC newspaper and we’re not an ANPP newspaper or of any of them. So, we’ll be able to criticise them and to recommend as we deem fit for the interest of Lagosians.

As a former editor, how would you see the performance of the print media in the country, especially in this democratic dispensation?

I think the press is a product of its environment, more or less. Of course, one thing comes to my mind. When I was editor, I remember when Dele Giwa had a Mercedes, we all celebrated the first Mercedes editor. now, the editors are much more comfortable.

The editors are now probably forming relationships with politicians, which can be good or bad. It is good because when you are close to them you know what their problems are, then you know how to criticise. But it can also be negative in the sense that they get so close to them that they begin to sympathise more with them than with the people. And that will be a problem in your role as a watchdog.

To that extent, I think the editors would have to be a lot more distant, not getting too close. Secondly, the quality of reporting, quality of the personnel has dropped a bit. This is a national malaise. The dedication that we had, I think, has dropped a bit. Like I said, that is not in journalism alone, that itself is almost in different aspects of our national life.

The dedication isn’t quite what it was in our time. Given all the things I said, I think the press has tried. We all know that there might have been a Third Term if the press hadn’t come out forcefully. So, the June 12, the Third Term, the Abacha years, and a lot of things are there to show that the press has tried.

In what other areas would you say there is non-performance in terms of the role of the press in a democracy?

In our time, we didn’t have private television stations. People saw what came out in the morning as authentic, so people waited for us. I think the print should be more aware of the challenges of electronic media. They should also be more aware of the challenges of the Internet. Those two things are not going to go away, they make impact but the print media have their own strength. It is just to be aware of the strength of the print media in terms of editorial direction, in terms of treatment of stories.

For example, there is no point carrying “20 die on an express road” if you know that not only the television will carry something like that but will continue to show the pictures of the 20 people that died. What are you waiting for the following morning to carry that one?

But immediately that the thing happens, the electronic carries it. Today, you see the newspapers carrying news the way we carried it in our time whereas headline casting has become a bit more imaginative, news features are coming out more and more on the front pages. There are a few things the immediacy of the electronic has take away from the print.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.