Anselm Okolo is a media entrepreneur.
He is the founder of 7am News Extra – an online news platform, and Journalism.com Center – a journalism consultancy outfit. He has a basket full of ideas that he feels he must accomplish, and describes himself as a journalist, a journalist trainer and a mentor.
Starting up . . . It was difficult.
It happened at the time when it looked like there was nothing else for me to do. I had circulated around the media space long enough, I was fortunate to have started journalism at the time serious practice was still going on.
There were a lot of people to mentor you; people to learn from. And God also assisted me in the sense that I passed through the best journalism hands in the country: under the News watch and Tell Magazine stables.
In terms of practice, I had a lot of people to look up to and desired to be like them.
When that finished, I left core journalism to the journalism development.
I joined a USAID funded implementation partner called Inter News Network.
Inter News Network is a global news development and media organization development in the world. It operates in over 50 countries, encouraging open press, the practice of humanitarian journalism and civic journalism, and encourages the practice of journalism where objectivity, balance, fairness and then people is the center of practice. We have trained over 150 journalists in the country within a period of five years, and at the end of the project, I thought about replicating what Inter News was doing. So I set up the Journalism.com Center, under which all of our journalism consultancy services are done. We have been involved in journalism intervention training for organizations in Nigeria.
Confronting the ‘giants’ . . . In a country where policy summersaults are an everyday thing, it is a herculean task. When we started publishing 7am News Extra, we wanted to do something unique.
We were not out there to pursue or compete with anybody because we knew that what we were going to do was completely unique.
We were publishing in Abuja weekly, circulating on Mondays, something difficult to fathom as most weeklies would either circulate on Saturdays or Sundays, but we wanted everybody to realize that we were out for serious business.
We were reporting the unreported parts of Abuja. Every week, we had stories the residents of Abuja didn’t even know of.
Whenever we got to the newsstands, it was always with a big bang. We wrote some revealing things about the satellite towns, so we had our target audience waiting for us every Monday.
The basic challenge we faced was in the cost of printing.
I believe that journalists should be able to fund media outlets.
I didn’t think to go meet any politician to fund us, we got our funds internally. The cost of printing was colossal, and another challenge was the quality of professionals. For you to get stories properly sourced and written, you need to have people with a knack for news.
They did their best but were not up to the quality we needed.
Standing out . . . I think outside the box. Our focus was direct: we didn’t leave our cover pages to politics. Sometimes, some of the stories you will call small were what graced our cover page because they touched lives and had a direct impact on the people we talked about.
When we did the story on what we called The Abuja Black Spots, it was so interesting that even the commissioner of police called to know where we got our insights.
Areas where residents were advised not to be at certain hours of the day because of the level of criminal activities going on around those spots were mentioned.
Those were the kind of stories we published, not necessarily that President Buhari has flown to Korea, why should it be? We give that kind of story treatment inside the newspaper.
Human interest was our strong point.
Projecting into the future . . . I see myself more in the area of radio and television production.
That’s one area we have not really conquered.
Our printing press is running at half-mast, but we are glad to say that our radio studio is coming on.
In Nigeria, the quality of editing and scripting remains a major concern.
We need to go into that area to show the right example; how productions should be edited, why pictures should come well ahead of the audio, why you don’t need all of these razzmatazz on the screen.
We will do full-blown documentaries for companies, we will record mile-stone moments. Many organizations don’t do that, so we want to introduce it to them. We will incorporate training in our institute that is mutedly.
Final words . . . Take time and get trained.
That you have a degree in mass communication, English, Theatre arts, Mathematics, Medicine or Law does not give you the preparation to be a good journalist.
Journalism is not for the faint-hearted, it is not for the lazy, not for the person who reads one book in a year.
A journalist forays for knowledge. Hands on skill are things you don’t learn in school. Our schools do not have the system and knowledge to provide that. You must deliberately go seek for appropriate training.
When you are not properly trained, you will stumble a lot. Search for mentors and read.
Be ready to work hard. The business of media is still open in Nigeria. We need to have monster organizations.
An organization that can have 12 titles that are mean, in terms or marketing strengths. We need to get Nigerians back to reading newspapers and magazines. I don’t believe in the small lakes and big fishes, I believe in the ocean with sharks. While the shark is doing its own, the tilapia is carving its own niche.
Anselm Okolo is a media entrepreneur.