Mr. Ted Iwere, veteran journalist, lawyer and publisher has seen it all in the nation’s media industry. In this interview with Azu Akanwa, Vanguard Online Editor, he tells the story of his new venture- Best of Business Online. Excerpts:
Please, tell us about yourself. Who is Ted Iwere?
I started journalism at the Nigerian Observer in August 1978, fresh from Youth Service and the University of Lagos where I graduated as a National Merit Award student in Mass Communication. After a year of reporting news, and writing features and editorials, I moved to the Daily Times stable where I was Sub Editor, Reporter and Staff Writer.
By September 1981, I proceeded to the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, New York and the Centre for Publishing at New York University, New York, where I received, respectively, a Master of Science in Journalism and a Certificate in Publishing.
I returned to Nigeria in February 1`983 as pioneer Features Editor of The Guardian newspapers, where I was also acting Editor of The Guardian on Sunday and founding Editor of The African Guardian.
In December 1988, I started Business magazine, which I rested on assuming full-time work at Independent Newspapers Limited, publishers of the Daily Independent, Saturday Independent and Sunday Independent. There, from Project Director in January 2001, I became Executive Editor and Chief Executive Officer in October 2003. Before that, I was enrolled as a Solicitor and Advocate of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in July 2003, after earning a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Lagos and Barrister at Law from the Nigerian Law School.
Daily Independent won the Nigerian Media Merit Newspaper of the Year Award for 2006 and 2008.
I took a bow at the Independent in October 2009, and now focus my old passion (business journalism) on the new media (digital publishing) in the publication of Best of Business, Nigeria’s Internet Newspaper. Our website, http://www.bestofbusinessonline.biz, went live in February.
You are the Publisher of Best of Business, an online newspaper. How did you come about the idea?
In a real sense, Best of Business online is a re-birth of the publication I rested when I took up the assignment of starting and nurturing the Daily Independent and its sister titles. I have been involved in newspaper and magazine work at different levels, and have handled reportorial, editing and management functions.
At the end of my work at the Independent, I wanted to create something new. My desire was to leverage my background and experience into the creation of a new media property that will respond to the present condition and future direction of the publishing business. The result is Best of Business, Nigeria’s Internet Newspaper. It is a concrete expression of my love for business reporting and my faith on the internet as a publishing medium of the future.
Tell us about Best of Business
Best of Business is an online-only newspaper, without a print edition. It is a continually updated 24/7 news portal, with special concentration on business in particular and the economy in general. We blend this with a strong dose of politics, since politics sets the tone for business. Best of Business is the first of its kind in Nigeria. It is a pioneering work designed to fill a missing niche in our journalistic ecosystem.
Best of Business is a multi-option news site that combines news aggregation, original reporting, blogs and commentary. Our content is organised by categories, which include Business, Politics, Economic Outlook, Money, Science and Technology, Sports and Lifestyle. All these are presented from the business perspective, and the political angle where it may impact on business.
We also have the Blog section, where our bloggers can post opinion for readers to comment on, and the blogger can respond to the comment, thereby enabling both of them to engage in a conversation. Same goes for the Commentary section which welcomes opinions from all and sundry, with options for feedback from readers. Also in our line-up is the Consumer Confidential column, which receives and investigates consumers’ complaints about products and services.
What are the unique features of the website?
The primary goal of our website is to adapt our content to the time our readers have to consume news and information. While the vast outflow of news and information is growing daily, the time needed to separate the relevant from the mundane is not. Our readers are busy and time-starved. Their in-boxes are filled with spam. They have too many “friends” on Facebook. Their twitter accounts take time to handle. They face an over-abundance of content, and need a source to help them find what really matters.
Yes. We help our readers manage the flow of news. The most unique feature of Best of Business as a news site is our content development plan. Best of Business aggregates the news, and does that with a focus on business (and political) news. Best of Business curates the news, makes sense of the outflow and saves its readers the time needed to access a multiplicity of sources. Best of Business enables its readers sort through the excess and find what is relevant.
The site also contains a Small Business Institute and a Business Forum, both of which seek to cater to the unique interest of our target audience. The idea here is to provide support services to the business community.
The online newspaper business is still new in this part of the world. How do you intend to achieve a breakthrough?
You are right, to a large extent. But that is not the full story. The online newspaper business is relatively new in our part of the world. But the journey is no longer new.
The first phase started with newspapers publishing electronic versions of their print edition, an edition that is basically a condensation of the print edition. The next phase saw some publishers experimenting with virtual e-Paper versions of their print editions, complete with all pages and full content of the print editions. The present phase is what Best of Business represents: an online-only newspaper. This is a signpost to the future, and our plan is to ride the trend.
How do we intend to achieve a breakthrough? Whether a newspaper is print or online, it faces the same challenge of how to make money. In print, the work is to build circulation. Online, we strive to build traffic.
In the same way that we have managed print media properties to make money, we are striving to monetise Best of Business. We are hiring employees, refining our product, marketing our services, and making sales. We believe that if we stick to the knitting, Best of Business will breed readers, make money and achieve success, because it is driven by the desire to build a successful company.
Do you intend to publish a print edition of Best of Business someday?
As they say, you should never say never! We do not know what tomorrow holds. We cannot foretell the future, which is why we will not say we will never ever publish a print edition of Best of Business. What we can say is that, as of today, our only desire is to publish an online-only edition of Best of Business.
What are your expectations for Best of Business, and what is your advice for the business community in Nigeria and worldwide?
Best of Business, our burgeoning online news, blog and commentary site, is a work in progress. Our hope is that we will continue to improve our editorial content, expand our marketing effort and grow our readership and followers through traditional and social media. Our aspiration is to build Best of Business into a world-class brand that will be more valuable than some newspaper companies and rank with the likes of The Huffington Post, which, arguably, has become an online publishing success story.
Resulting from our of delivering of Nigerian business and political news, as it happens, Best of Business provides a convenient and credible source of business and political intelligence to the nation’s and the world’s prime movers. We expect and urge the Nigerian and global business community to leverage the advertising opportunities presented by the attractive editorial environment of Best of Business to showcase its products and services to our affluent and influential readers.
What are the challenges you face and how do you intend to handle them?
One challenge is that of transiting from print to online. It’s close to moving into uncharted territory. At the production level, we are in the world of digital reporting and publishing, dealing not only with reporters and editors, but also with webmasters, programmers, internet service providers, etc. It has its own language and requires its own skill sets.
In the marketplace, promoting product and service messages on the world wide web is just beginning to gain ground. We are beginning to see a desire by more and more organizations to establish their presence on the internet. And the trend is rising.
The flip side of these challenges is that they offer the rewards of adaptation and continuous learning. We have to adapt to working online. We have to learn fast and, where necessary, we have to also teach others how to get the job done. For us, our colleagues and the stakeholders we work with on a day-to-day basis, the publishing of Best of Business has been a joint voyage of discovery, and we continue to learn as we go.
Do you see a rosy future for the online newspaper business in Nigeria?
I won’t use the word ‘rosy.’ Not yet, because of the challenges we still face. But we think the future holds promise. As Nigerian telecommunication and internet service providers increase their broadband capacity, as ownership of computing and mobile devices rises, as the nation’s information communication technology infrastructure improve, as more corporate bodies embrace the internet and take their businesses online, as reporters and editors provide relevant digital content, the cumulative effect will provide new and expanded markets for online newspapers. The coming together of content, community and commerce will give online publishers a fertile ground to thrive.
How can the government facilitate online publications in Nigeria?
Speaking generally, government should leave business to the private sector, and limit its role to providing infrastructure, an enabling environment and the regulatory framework for businesses to ply their trade. Specifically, government should set out policies to enable the telecommunication companies to lower their internet service charges.
The Nigerian Communications Commission should also enforce its regulations over the internet service providers to ensure that they provide reliable, affordable and quality service to their subscribers. The increase in broadband access and internet penetration will boost the audience base and market value of online publications.
What more would you want to pass to online visitors of Best of Business?
We invite you to our Consumer Confidential column. If you feel short-changed by a product or service, tell us. We will take up your cause with the organisation that you are complaining about. We will seek redress on your behalf and, if you wish, keep your identity from the public domain.
You can also be one of our bloggers. Blog for Best of Business on business, politics and related issues, and get a conversation going with the readers who comment on your comments.
Do you need a summary of the key business stories of the day? Do you want to blog with us? Or, you have a consumer complaint to lodge? Get clicking. Visit www.bestofbusinessonline.biz.
And, if you can think of how we can improve on the site, let us know. We would very much like to hear about your experiences and your thoughts, in the days, months and years to come. More than anything, we would like to look back to our beginning and find that thousands of our readers remain regular visitors to our site. Welcome to Best of Business, Nigeria’s Internet Newspaper.