Ihave known for a while now that things are not always what they look like at first, but I don’t seem to have succeeded in applying it to books by Mike Awoyinfa and his late brother Dimgba Igwe. Vintage the authors! Their books are fat.
Obviously, they take their time to write as a French woman would do preparing meals. This one, 50 World Editors, took them the whole of 10 years to write. When I got a copy, I went “phew, when am I going to read all that?” All 616 pages. And all interviews!
Busy with an official schedule; my own writing and having to write two columns a week for newspapers during my spare time, my plate is always full. But as always, it has been fun reading this new book.
As a news hunter, I hate being told or reading what I know; it bores me to hell. Trust Mike and Dimgba to always tell you something you don’t know even if the subject is as familiar as Mr. Nduka Obaigbena, a boss I worked with for years, or Mr. Segun Osoba’s celebrated world exclusive story on the corpse of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who was killed in a coup.
Osoba was asked about his defining moment in journalism. Old story, but it sounded fresh and detailed from the horse’s mouth. A good fit for a book on journalism.
“Well, two things happened. Contact and luck,” he said of two of the ingredients for exclusive stories. “Contact in the sense that I was hinted first by those who were sent out to go and look for the body where they found it. They just said they had found the body somewhere outside Lagos, in Ota.
“They didn’t tell me the location. But then, my former teacher, Mr. A. A. Osuneye was the one coming from Abeokuta and he stopped in Ota and saw the body and told me the particular place.”
Osoba also showed why exclusive stories are not all about luck. It is also passion and hard work, as many respondents in the book confirmed: “Even though it was evening, I did not wait to look for transport, I just rode my Scooter all the way from Yaba to Ota. I would describe that as the passion and the love for to pursue a story instantly.
The love to find out. I didn’t wait. As soon as he told me that he had found the body a few miles after Ota and at a spot near the main road, I just went after it. And it was the defining moment of my life.”
I have had occasions to remind some editors that the newspaper is just about what the name suggests – news. News is new, and the more exclusive it is to the news breaker the better.
Obaigbena echoes that, which I have known to be one of his key success factors. “What is news?” Mike and Dimgba asked him.
“News is news; news is what’s happening, what is new,” he said. (And I can even feel the spontaneity of his response on paper as I recall that in those days, he would always ask, “Bisi, what’s new?” I think he still does.)
“For it to be news, there must be something new about it that the reader has not heard before or read anywhere before. News is novelty. If it is not news, it is not news.”
The one thing I hurried to confirm on getting the book was the inclusion of our own (Nigerian) icons. Besides Osoba and Obaigbena, there are four other entries from Nigeria – all icons. They include Alhaji Babatunde Jose, the newspaper legend. Of course there are many more media icons but it is always safe to respect author’s decisions, which are often based on factors that may not be readily known.
Out of the fifty entries, the Americas made 20, Europe 19, and Africa/Asia, including Nigeria, 11. The spread indicates how far and wide the authors travelled. The trend of questions posed respondents suggests interviews were one-on-one.
Awoyinfa said, “We love the profession so much that we had to travel round the world, interviewing editors of the biggest newspapers that you can ever imagine.
“We asked them to recount the stories of their different journeys into journalism, the highlights of their journalistic careers. We had to attend international conferences not only to listen to symposiums but also to look out for iconic journalists. Immediately they delivered their papers, we hijacked them. At the end of these travels, this is what we got, a book involving interviews with 50 world editors.”
They are respondents from iconic media houses – print and broadcast. They include, BBC, CNN, Guardian, Mail and Mirror of UK, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, International Herald Tribune, The Washington Times, Financial Times, El Mundo, Channels, Reuters, Hindustan Times. A great collection of icons, I must say.
I have always admired Channel TV’s John Momoh, so I was happy to read so much from him. You watch the much respected station and you won’t ever suspect John had problems setting it up. Hear him: “…we got the licence in 1993 and couldn’t start. There was no money to start. We got the licence when the industry was deregulated by the then military President, Ibrahim Babangida. And we could not start. So we kept looking for funds everywhere to a point where we were almost swindled by a company called International Coordinating Centre (ICC)…”
Another beauty of the book is that you don’t need Wikipedia to know the respondents. Each one of them is sufficiently introduced in a profile embellished with their background and achievements.
They say experience is the best teacher. It is true, but one may require thousands of years to learn all that one knows that way. For skills acquisition and honing mentors and icons help out a lot. To my great relief, I noticed that the interviews are not ego trips of the respondents.
In addition to their special moments, worth sharing, the responds explained contemporary issues in journalism, where the electronic media is at war with print, where journalists are still engendered specie in some areas.
True to the promise in the introduction, the book captures the history, similarities, diversities and sociological nuances of media operations in different countries of the world in over half a century of media practice.
The icons were also successful at situating the media in the reality of modern day complexities. The public needs the book to better understand the media; media practitioners need it to chart survival and success strategies in a world fast becoming a maze of sprouting challenges.
I like this one from Sir Harold Evans, the legendary editor of The Sunday Times of London, on the effects of present financial challenges of the media on news quality that leaves the reader robbed somehow.
“To get the real news, you need time, energy, money and also an ownership which is committed to truth. Everybody embraces truth until they find it’d got prickles on it. Anytime a vested interest comes along, whether it is a corporation, a bank, the beastly bankers or a trade union or a political figure, they no longer embrace truth, they want to embrace the partial truth. The job of the media is to confront and get the public the nearest approximation of the truth.”
Question is how well is that done these days?
50 World Edi¬tors: Conversations With Journalism Masters On Trends and Best Practices is a neatly bound book and the layout, reader- friendly. A great book with so much to learn from.
Make Writing a Habit
From Cris Freese: Finding writing time requires a modicum of organization, but using it productively demands dedication. The theme of virtually every article about getting organized to write is straightforward: Just do it. Wanting to write and writing itself are cousins, not identical twins. Psychological research indicates that writing every day, whether your muse is whispering in your ear or has deserted you, produces not only more writing but also more ideas for future writing.
The writing habit, like the exercise habit, is its own reward. When you don’t do it, you feel as if you’re cheating yourself. Real writers don’t sit around and wait for inspiration to strike before they put fingers to keyboard; they put fingers to keyboard and know that somewhere during those hours they will discover small nuggets of inspiration.
The fingers-to-keyboard, butt-in-the-chair pose is like exercise for the writer. In a way, this is just like real runners who pound the pavement or the treadmill in all weather, whether they are busy with work or on vacation. Like physical exercise, writing is often not enjoyable while you’re doing it, though occasionally an endorphin or two will spark and the serotonin does its thing. Most of the time, though, writing is just a matter of discipline, plain and simple. Discipline comes more easily to some people than to others, but it is certainly a skill that can be cultivated.
“The only thing I can tell you I do that’s inviolate is when I have to write, I get up in the morning and literally go straight to the typewriter,” says Stephanie Culp, who has written books on organization and time management. “Any little distraction that takes me away from my desk kills it. When I’m writing something large, it takes about three fitful days, and then I’m in the rhythm of it, and I write it. I can still write a book in three weeks.”
Here are some tips for getting into a writing habit.
• Start by setting aside an hour or a half hour every day to write.
• Or make a goal to write a set number of words each day.
• Try to write at the same time every day so it will feel peculiar to do something else at that time.
• Write even if you feel uninspired, even if you don’t feel ready to write. If you want to be a writer, you must write.