Lekan Otufodunrin, journalist and media career development specialist is Managing Editor, Online and Special Publications of The Nation Newspapers. With almost 30 years experience in the profession, Otufodunrin, former Sunday Editor of The Nation has also worked for various media organisations, including Punch Newspapers where he was Group News Editor, City Editor and Group Political Editor. Otufodunrin holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Mass Communications from University of Lagos and a Certificate in Advanced Digital Writing from the School of Communication, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos. He was an adjunct lecturer at the Mass Communication Department of University of Lagos and Professional External Examiner at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism. A member of the Nigerian Union of Journalists and Nigeria Guild of Editors, Otufodunrin is the founder of Media Career Development Service, a training and research organisation committed to the development of the media in Nigeria. A passionate media trainer, Otufodunrin initiated the Nigerian Young Journalists Conference and Awards, through which many students and young journalists in the country have been trained and rewarded for excellent media practice. On record, Otufodunrin has been guest speaker in almost all universities and polytechnics offering Mass Communications in the South Western part of the country with awards in recognition of his contribution to media education in the country. His publications include Purpose Driven Journalism, Excelling in Journalism, a Reporter Extraordinary and Wisdom for Journalists. He is due to release two books next month titled Journalism of My Life and Becoming the Journalist You Ought To Be. Otufodunrin is a fellow of some international media fellowships, including Thomson Foundation, Cardiff, UK, Poynter Institute (School for Journalists), Florida, USA and Bloomberg Africa Leadership Initiative. In this interview with the Editor, FOLORUNSHO HAMSAT, Otufodunrin who is also a Governing Board member of Journalists Against AIDS, Nigeria and other Non-Governmental Organisations shares his encounters through stages of life. Excerpts…
Why did you choose journalism for career?
I developed interest in journalism following the exposure I had to newspapers while growing up. My father usually bought newspapers which I read and at some point wanted to be able to write the kind of things I read in the publications. He also gave me books to read and write summaries. As far back as my secondary school days, I was Library Prefect at Government College, Ibadan and Editor of a magazine of my Swanston House. When it was time to choose a course to study, journalism was my natural choice.
What was the biggest challenge you surmounted editing The Nation?
My biggest challenge editing the Sunday Nation which I and my team did our best to surmount was getting exclusive stories to publish. The Sunday paper is the most difficult to edit because it’s weekend and there are usually no breaking stories, except once in a while. Sometimes, you will be working on a story and before the weekend it can be published before Sunday in even The Nation or other papers. Many correspondents who should send stories also take the weekend as break and therefore don’t have the urge to work as hard as they do on weekdays. However, we did our best to generate good interviews and investigative reports. I must note that Alhaji Yusuf Alli, our Managing Editor, Northern Operations eventually joined The Nation and with him, you can be sure to get exclusive reports to publish. At a point, our title was the best selling in the company.
From your perspective as a top professional, how would you describe the impact of online revolution on the print media?
The impact is major to the extent that it has altered the way journalism is practised. The traditional way of sourcing and publishing news is no longer enough to remain relevant.
In many ways, we are no longer gate keepers as the gates have been removed by new technology. Even before we get many stories, they have been published on social media and we are running to catch up.
The future of the print media and the professionals is threatened unless we become new media compliant. Copy and advert sales have reduced and we now have to compete with new media platforms.
What is the most disturbing trend you have seen in journalism since your first day in practice, and what in your opinion is the way out?
I have always been worried that journalism does not have formalized orientation and continuous training for journalists. Many get into the profession without proper orientation by media organizations unlike in other sectors. Training is not a priority and even when some organizations offer programmes to improve our skills, we are not allowed to take full benefits. This explains why many easily get frustrated and look for options which are not necessarily better than journalism but for their better pay and organized structure. The way out for me is that we have to be more professional in the way our media houses are managed and provide the opportunity for career development with commensurate pay for the work we do.
Please, tell us about your soft side, and your strong point
Not sure what it is but I like to sing. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do this as much as I would have loved to. Strong point? I love journalism with all my heart. I am very passionate about media career development, mentoring and counseling young journalists.
It is said that journalism is not for those who are looking for money; is that true?
Everybody needs money. It depends on what kind of money we’re talking about. We all have bills to pay. Journalism may not be able to offer the kind of money paid in some sectors but it should pay wages that will put us in good state of mind to practise the profession.
These days, old and experienced practitioners don’t like being called veterans. What’s odd about it in your view?
I think it is the context in which they are called. In some cases, it has negative connotation to describe old journalists who have nothing to show for the years in the profession like their contemporaries in other professions. The profession is sometimes to be blamed for the way many old journalists end up which is not inspiring for young journalists. There are indeed some veterans like former Governor Olusegun Osoba who remain proud of being journalist not withstanding their other accomplishment outside the profession and upcoming ones are also proud of them. If the word is used to describe old and disabled soldiers as it is in some cases, it is understandable why no one wants to end up a frustrated veteran journalist.
If you had the power to hire reporters in this digital age, what are the four factors you will consider, regarding the success of the medium?
The four factors for me are computer literacy, new media knowledge, verifiable professional use of new media and interest in new approaches to information sourcing and dissemination.
Please, share with us your childhood days and dream.
I was born in Ijebu-Imagbon, my home town, spent my early years with my grandparents and later joined my parents in Lagos. I grew up at Ajegunle, the notorious AJ city when I went to primary school and lived until I joined The Punch in 1987 and was sent to Abeokuta. Many people are usually surprised that I lived in Ajegunle and according to them, I don’t behave or look like one. Most people have erroneous impression about the place but I thank God for my parents who ensured that the environment did not have any negative impact on my upbringing. My dream has always been to be a journalist and I am glad I ended up one.
There are those that, despite their lack of a journalistic background, later found themselves doing very well in the business and rose rapidly through the ranks. Does that appear strange?
Not strange. I know too many of them who turned out better than those who studied Mass Communication. Journalism is about passion and natural writing skills. I know journalism graduates who cannot write.
What do you love most about the job you do?
Nowadays, I am more excited about mentoring, counseling and training particularly young journalists. I cherish the opportunity to report and write on issues that can help individuals who need information to have better standard of living.
Would you honour an invitation into public service, especially if it is coming from a politician?
I am not sure I would. I like what I do for now and don’t think I will feel fulfilled in a political office except it is directly related to heading a media organisation, not as a Press Secretary or Media Adviser.
Is it a healthy trend where you have every Dick, Tom and Harry; the learned, the ruffians, and all sorts running blog sites and claiming publishers?
It is not good to the extent that the content of some other platforms are not verified and readers are being misinformed. I must, however, note that there is not much we can do about the freedom of any interested person to publish online. It’s a free world. Publishing is no longer the exclusive preserve of traditional media publishers.
What we should do is to keep talking about best practices and ethics of publishing. Regulating online publishing is almost impossible. There are, however, laws which can catch up with publishers who are guilty of publishing falsehood.
What are your tips to becoming a successful editor?
There are many ways to becoming a successful editor. Principally, it is necessary to have requisite experience in various editorial positions. You should have reportorial and production experience needed to provide leadership for the editorial team. A good editor should have managerial and administrative experience to manage the team. There is more to being an editor than editorial knowledge.
Tell us about your family, and are your kids having interest in becoming a journalist?
My wife, Ronke trained as a journalist but she is an Assistant Director of Education in Lagos. It was a compromise to avoid two of us being practising journalists without enough time to cater for the children considering the hectic nature of media job. I have four children, three boys and a girl. The first, Damilola is a Post Graduate student at University of Lagos who is also a Fashion designer. Two others, Yemisi and Femi are also undergraduates at UNILAG and the last, Daniel is at Kings College.
None of them has direct interest in journalism but Damilola and Yemisi write.