I have always known that we needed more journalism books. But I didn’t know how badly we needed them till recently. I had just finished making a presentation to a group of young journalists in December when a participant approached me outside the hall.
She told me the story of a recent unpleasant encounter with one of her editors. She had just turned in what she thought was a good copy and was on her way home when she got a call from the office.
According to her, her boss was very upset that she had written a story with poor headline punctuation marks.
“I was mad,” she said. “Mad that that was my thank you for the day’s hard work. I was taught at school that it is not the job of the reporter to write the headline. But see what I got for doing what is supposed to be the job of my boss!”
I don’t know what she learnt at school, but if she kept learning after school, she might have found that today’s journalist needs to know more than writing good copy.
She needs to be a jack-of-all-trades and a madam of all. Who knows what else her editor will be asking next?
One place to start would be to find a book, which could help her unlearn or re-learn some of the things she learnt in school.
Journalism And Business: My Newspaper Odyssey, by Isiaq Ajibola, is a combination of a memoir and a how-to book written mostly chronologically in simple conversational prose.
The 179-page book, published by Hapicom Nigeria Limited in December, is made up of 12 chapters with a preface by the grandfather of Nigerian journalism, Mr. Sam Amuka-Pemu, whose comments may have inspired the book title.
Readers like me who are still suckers for print will find the A5-size of the book convenient to handle and the use of serif font for the text, with careful use of a few iconic photos on some pages and the clean layout, quite pleasing to look and feel.
The author’s objective, in his own words, is to draw on his experience of about 25 years in journalism to share “the reminiscences of the team spirit that built a newspaper from scratch to strength in a short period of about 17 years in Nigeria with the hope that others will be inspired by that.”
Ajibola’s odyssey boils down to three main parts: chasing the dream; working/living the dream; and the morning after.
The first two-and-a-half chapters of the book taken with the intro show that the author was not an accidental newspaperman. On the contrary, even though he had trained as an economist at the university, his heart and soul had always been in journalism, or more correctly, in the business of journalism.
From his first full-time job at Just Politics magazine as an advert executive in 1989 until he retired as Managing Director/COO of Media Trust two years ago, he has not looked back.
From chapters 3 – 9 the author shares the story of his journey as a co-founder of Trust (which started as a weekly) and also invites the reader on an odyssey that tests the genius of most entrepreneurs – how to understand your market, personal discipline, hard work and sacrifice, when to push the frontiers and damn the myths, the thrills of learning from those who have been there, the joys and mixed feelings of travel, and the serendipity of finding a good partner and a guiding hand.
These chapters are at the heart of the book.
Before the author co-founded Media Trust with his colleague, Malam Kabiru Yusuf, he had been employed in three media houses – Just Politics, Citizen and Sentinel.
Two key related, even inseparable questions that the author wrestled with were: one, can media business survive and be profitable in the North; and two, can editorial and business success go hand-in-hand?
“My first stint with the media,” he writes, “was fundamental to my affinity with the print media and my understanding of the imbalance between the so-called Lagos-Ibadan press versus the northern press in Nigeria…I was well informed to see the problems that deepened the dichotomy and bias of one region against the other.”
The author argues that this “dichotomy” has both political and economic dimensions. Citing what was arguably the North’s best chance at journalism business success at the time, he quotes one of the leading lights, Malam Mohammed Haruna, as saying, “Citizen magazine made editorial success but not business success.”
This conundrum and the author’s belief that journalism and business success were not mutually exclusive, that in fact, journalism was business, remained a driving force.
So, how did he conquer his mountain? He started from the ground up, with the savings he and Kabiru managed to gather from their PR consultancy until they were both able to multiply their resources by inviting like-minded people to join them, some as investors, and others as non-financial investors but believers in the dream nonetheless.
Anyone particularly interested in start-ups – how to get funding, develop the right habits, find people and build a sustainable system – will find chapters 3 – 6 very useful.
It is in these chapters that the author shares the how-to secrets, enlivened by anecdotes from books he had read and places he had visited, and enriched by a second degree, a Masters in Business Administration.
The author captures some of the changes that have taken place in the newspaper business in the last ten years or so in a way that will make younger journalists cry and laugh at the same time.
Ajibola notes that newspapers have grown from the days when they used to buy fleets of distribution vans and hire drivers who married new wives in every new station, while supplementing their income by using the distribution vans as kabukabus to the modern practice of outsourcing distribution and simultaneous printing.
He also notes that the use of computers and the automation of the production process, especially the pre-press, have improved the turnaround time and made the business more efficient.
But new problems have also replaced old ones. And nowhere is this more obvious than in the contest between the business of journalism and ethics.