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When CNN, MultiChoice trained journalists in Lagos

Unlike in the 60s when journalists were mostly school certificate holders, majority of practitioners in the 21st century are graduates, some with additional degrees. This…

Unlike in the 60s when journalists were mostly school certificate holders, majority of practitioners in the 21st century are graduates, some with additional degrees. This though has not eliminated the challenges confronting the average Nigerian journalist.

MultiChoice Nigeria in partnership with the Cable News Network International (CNN)  recently organized a two-day media workshop   to enhance the skills of journalists  in Nigeria.  The workshop, which paraded high profile resource persons including CNN’s Thomas Evans, Senior International Producer, Pan-African University’s Dr Isah Momoh and Mr Richard Ikiebe and top media executives including The Punch’s Executive Director, Publications, Azubuike Ishiekwene (who doubles as the chairman of CNN/MultiChoice African Journalist Awards panel of judges); among others, was meant to examine salient issues affecting media practice in the country, consider available tools to practitioners and suggest ways to improve on the job with a view to competing with other journalists across the world. The workshop held at the Victoria Crown Plaza Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Declaring the workshop open, Mr Joseph Hundah, managing director of MultiChoice Nigeria, said the exercise would help participating journalists to maximize their potential and enhance their skills. He acknowledged that journalists play vital roles in the development of a nation and must be well-equipped to be able to deliver on their mandate.

Dr Isah Momoh, senior lecturer at the School of Media and Communication, Pan-African University, Lagos took the first lecture on ‘Personal financial analysis for media practitioners’. Momoh said “the changing face of the industry requires new skills, especially financial skills because the life of a journalist is managed by those who are not practitioners but media managers who are basically driven by profits”. To ensure that the evening of a journalist’s life is better than his or her morning, Momoh counsels that personal finance is the only way to go. He advocated that in the face of poor pay, journalists should look at other avenues of making additional pay. Some of the avenues he said include, writing books, consulting and editing other peoples’ works for a fee. This he said would not only make the journalists to be comfortable but would guard against unethical practices.

Momoh had stopped to sample opinion of where participants would be 10 years from now, the few who responded didn’t want to remain journalists suggesting that journalism was only a means to an end. Dr Momoh however, noted that. “Journalism is a calling, there’s no retirement from it because it influences life”. He observed that modern journalists are no longer the bohemian; they are hip, technology-savvy and amenable to new developments around them.

He recommended Stephen Covey’s Seven habits of highly successful people, urging participants to develop numeric disposition and quantitative skills: “Think figures, supplement your work by tables.” Momoh urged journalists to develop logical themes such that their conclusions would flow from the facts reported, and facts from the issues. He implored them to be critical objective, fair and truthful. He also advised journalists to watch their finances and become figure-friendly.

Journalists must go beyond the figures and the number and interpret the stories they report.

CNN’s Thomas Evans tackled the subject, “What makes an award-winning story? A producer’s perspective”. He described an award-winning story as a product of two factors, content and execution. According to Evans, award-winning stories are stories that really help to stimulate people’s attitude towards an issue, as most stories hover around change. As an international reporter who has covered Afghanistan, Russian, Israel-Hezbollah wars, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the United States’ presidential campaigns, he suggested that the best way to report international news is to report stories as the journalist sees it, from his or her own point-of-view. He urged participants to always be alert as practicing journalists because award-winning stories are usually once-in-a-lifetime news material, which the journalist carefully puts together and delivers in a high standard, world-class manner.

A veteran of over 20 years in the profession, Azubuike Ishiekwene of The Punch Newspapers spoke on “Nigeria’s media landscape in 2010: The dominant paradigm”. Part of what Ishiekwene said would drive content in the media in 2010 are: Politics (the health or ill-health of Mr. President inclusive); the World Cup in South Africa; Reforms (banking, power sector, NNPC, Niger Delta, etc); Terror and Crime; Follow-ups (ASUU and FG, the SuperScreen TV bomber, Bayo Ohu and other victims of hired killings, Haliburton bribery scandal, 6,000 megawatts, etc); Media ownership (since publishers have their sympathies, media ownership will affect editorial direction); and Ethics, which he thought will play a major role in the practice of journalism in 2010.

Ishiekwene rounded off by urging the participants to be in tune with latest development in technology, online platform, social networking, etc, as failure to catch up with the trend spells doom for any practicing journalist.

In his lecture, Ayo Akinkuotu of TELL discussed “The secrets of award-winning features: The TELL story”. He posited that winning awards is about writing a great story, which is like a good soup, written in good prose without bombastic language and unnecessary adjectives, and not playing to the gallery. For him, a writer of such great stories will be one who has passion for books; he or she is versatile and handles assignments with panache.

Concluding, Akinkuotu urged journalists to strive for the best always. He said great stories are not only about the past or present, a great story can also foretell the future. He cited a story in TELL (1987) titled “War by all means”, which foretold the uprising in the Niger Delta long before it happened.

Participants were paired on the second day into print and broadcast groups. Thomas Evans took the first broadcast class while Mr Ishiekwene took the print class. They both examined “The profile of an award-winning journalist: The footfalls and the pitfalls”. These gurus brought their insider perspective to bear on who an award-winning journalist is. The lectures dwelt on practical aspect of reporting: How to recognize a news, how long it should take to put the story together, the role of freedom of information in the discharge of a journalist’s duty, his tools, his qualities, and ultimately his drive for excellence. The two facilitators took time to review works of previous winners of the CNN/MultiChoice journalist awards, listened to participants’ comments, and gave insights based on their experiences on the job. “Start the story with a character, then move to the community, and then return to the original character to bookmark the story,” Thomas Evans counseled. That to him should be the universal principle of storytelling.

The closing session of the workshop featured a panel of the resource persons including Ikiebe, Ishiekwene, Akinkuotu, Amaechi and Evans. Ishiekwene moderated the discussion on “Ethics and ethical considerations for journalists”. The atmosphere was charged as participants wanted the panelists’ view on issues affecting them. One clear message from these people to all practicing journalists is: Ethics is the knowledge of right and wrong. Always do the right thing. Do not take graft in the course of your duty, as whoever pays you to do your job automatically becomes editor who determines what you must publish in your story contrary to your house style, rules and regulation. That can put a journalist in trouble.

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