Corporate interview of Mike Awoyinfa, the immediate past Managing Director of Sun Newspapers and his deputy, Dimgba Igwe. It is about the upcoming launching of their biography of Segun Osoba, the quintessential reporter and former governor of Ogun State. The book, Segun Osoba, the newspaper years, will be launched on March 22, 2012 at MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.
Interview by BAYO OGUNMUPE and Beauty Edia: Excerpts:
How has it been as a journalist so far?
I am Dimgba Igwe. Talking about how it has been as a journalist. We started our journalism career in the Concord newspaper. Two of us happened to work with an innovative man called Dele Giwa. Somehow, he impacted deeply into our lives because we worked under his editorship and he is someone that made a huge impact in Nigerian journalism in the sense that he came in to change the rules of the game. He introduced the American type of journalism approach to news papering and he featurized the story and he was a man that has new ideas. In our days under him, we were made to write magazine. It was usually a page pullout.
After the Dele Giwa period, we continued to work in the Sunday Concord until the management of Concord decided that Mike should lead the starting of a new type of newspaper called the Weekend Concord.
The reason why the weekend concord started was because, on Saturday, we noticed that newspaper sales drop. It was so bad that some people contemplated that Saturday should be a free newspaper day but our managing director then and editor in chief, Dr. Doyin Abiola, after going abroad for holiday and after looking around came back with a notion that maybe if we do a different kind of newspaper, maybe, Saturday will be better.
The editor selected for that assignment was Mike and I was made the deputy editor and then we founded the paper called the weekend concord from the scratch. That newspaper became so successful that it became the first Saturday newspaper in the country and not only that, it was after that we left Concord and started our own company called Mcdee Communications Limited.
It was basically into publishing of books and one of the first book we wrote was a book called 50 Nigeria corporate strategy. One striking thing about the book was that it was a book where 50 chief executives of the biggest companies in Nigeria’s experiences and memoirs were tapped.
The secrets of managing businesses. It was my capturing of the memoir of 50 different field into one book. The book was about 900 pages and we were selling it for N10,000. It was so successful and we have done print runs of that book.
As we talk today, not even one of the book is left.
We later followed up on another one called Nigeria marketing memoir. That book was basically 50 case study of marketing campaigns, brand building, product positioning, product strategy. The book was also very successful.
We later moved on to start a newspaper called The Sun. What we basically do when we started the Sun was to lay it back to the surface formula of the Weekend Concord and the surface formula of the weekend concord was the fact that this is a newspaper that strive on human-interest stories. So the Sun, we also built it around human interest and editorial content. Many people initially thought that it will be difficult to sustain a daily newspaper built around human interest but it took only a couple of months to discover that they were wrong. The Sun you are still seeing today is an evident that they were wrong.
But of course, after about 8 years in the Sun, we have to part ways and we came back to nurture a new programme entirely and that's a newspaper called Entertainment Express.
We started a little over 6 months ago. It has become successfully enough and it also gave birth to another paper called Sunday express.
That is talking journalistically. But, coming back if you are looking at what is our journalistic pedigree.
What has been your motivating factor in your pursuit of journalism career.
We love this job. We are adventurous. We like to find out things. We like to report news. The news is in our blood. News is a very interesting phenomenon. Its always changing. In this kind of job, everyday is not the same. What we like about this job is the surprises. The unpredictability of this job. Its a job where nobody knows.
News can break at any time. Today, there's a coup, tomorrow, there's is a boko haram. As a reporter, you just have to go out there at the risk of your life to get the stories so that you know, your readers will read the story and get insight into it. Its a very dangerous job where you can lose your life but, we risk our lives to get the story.
Regardless of taking this adventurous risk, what has made you so successful, do you attribute it to risk.
Its the love of journalism and the fact that, like we said, we interviewed CEO's from all over the country sharing their experiences how they run businesses. That was our training ground on knowing for knowing how to run businesses and as Dimgba told you, we also wrote a book on marketing, brand building. This book became the template, from which we went to practicalise the Sun but this interview is not about the Sun but the book.
Basically, you are known to be an entertainment journalist, and in The Examiner, you gave us a lecture that your style of journalism was entertainment, I would want you to expand on that?
I have always believed that entertainment has always been a key thing in journalism. As a person, I hate boredom. What is the point of buying a newspaper and everything you read are just texts. Nothing draws or excite you.
I mean, journalism is like marketing and marketing is excitement. You have to excite and woo the readers. How do you woo the readers? You do this by presenting your stories is very easy to read and entertaining manner.
When you are not entertaining, nobody wants to read you. Before, you can educate, you must entertain. Also, for you to inform, you have to entertain.
Like I was saying, in another setting, its like taking drugs. If you don't put sugar around it, it becomes very difficult to swallow.
That is the point about bringing entertainment into journalism.
There's no business like entertainment. Its the best business in the world. So, I always like drama, excitement, surprises. I hate been boring my reader.
Have you got that sense at play in your writing of Osoba's biography?
People who have read this book why they say they want to hold it. It is unputdownable.
Everything we have learnt in journalism has been brought to bear in this book in our ability to present in a very lousy, breezy and conversational style. The approach of this book is conversational. Osoba who is the hero of this book is been used as a plough. Its not just a book about Osoba per se. Its a memoir of all the key players of Nigerian journalism from the 1950s up till date. People who work with Osoba.
Osoba in his days was a great reporter. He was not just a great reporter, he was a great turn around manager who did extra ordinary things worthy of celebrating and this is what we have come to celebrate so that the younger generations of journalists will know and appreciate what he did in the past. Not just Osoba alone but what journalism was in the 50s, 60s, 70s.
Its always good for today's generation to know the history of their profession. To know the makers, the big players. People who have being there before them so that people will not just say journalism just dropped today. You know there is nothing new under the sun.
Its an attempt to go back to the past, to exploit the journalists of the past so that we can use it as a benchmark to compare the standards of today for improvement.
I like the writing on Bonuola. So, I was surprised that what concerns you. So, I was wondering why him. What is the connection since you are writing the biography of Osoba.
What we are doing is looking at the history of journalism and the story of the evolution of journalism over the last 50 years. Looking at it, we strive to use a character to focus this story. So, Osoba becomes that character around which the story evolve.
Why he became the character was because he epitomizes the art of great reporting which was fundamental to the very essence of journalism.
Secondly, he was also a good turn around manager. He demonstrated that in Daily Times.
Now, those are two pillars, that is, the journalism side and the business side. That if they don't marry properly, the newspaper will collapse. Alignment of this two dimensions will make a newspaper fly.
Osoba calculated this dimension. In the writing of Osoba's journalistic story, there are people that came in contact with him and those he came in contact with who had to capture the story of Osoba. Bonuola now came in because he was a sub editor at the daily times and subsequently, he was one of the founders of The Guardian.
Osoba was instrumental to Bonuola coming into the Guardian and in doing so, we needed to ask him that who is this man that changed your life? So, the man keep telling you that this is the man that shaped my life.
Osoba thought then that he was coming to run the Guardian but was drawn away by politics and couldn't end up in The Guardian.
In reading about this book, you are not just reading about Osoba. You are also reading about the newspaper and their stories.
If you don't know the Guardian, by reading this book, you know how The Guardian started. How they evolved their house style, the culture. Everything is told in this book.
So, it is an historical book. A book that today’s generation of journalists will read and understand and know their history. Like we said, there is no one that will read this book and will not succeed not just in journalism but in life generally.
How has it being so easy for you to compile this book?
It wasn't that easy. Anything that is good is not easy. It takes a lot of hardwork, determination and willingness to reach the goal you have set for yourself. It is not easy writing any book. It takes discipline, determination, perseverance and a sense of focus because there are so many reasons why a book should not be finished.
There are so many distractions. It takes the grace of God to finish the book and planning.
I assume that entertainment newspaper is your own personal business. So, what are your plans for the future in that regard?
We intend that it should be daily. Let's start by saying that when we talk about entertainment, sometimes, it depends on the. Every book or material that will be read need to be presented in an entertaining manner for people to accept it. So, for every journalism of any source, stories have to be presented in an entertaining and acceptable manner for it to gain readability. That's what we see Time Magazine, Guardian and that’s what we do in New York Times. If they are not, their is a deficiency.
There is therefore a distinction between making the story entertaining and focusing on people on the lighter side of life or frivolism. That's a different dimension of entertaining. We, are looking at entertainment journalism in the context of making a platform that captures the mind of a younger generation. If you look at the demographic population of any country, they are the largest segment.
What are the things they are interested in? They are interested in the things that are dramatic. The kind of things they see on television, Internet, and so on. Our job as an entertainment newspaper is basically to capture all this rhythm of life of the young generation whether it is in music or film or in lifestyle or dressing. When you put it together, we believe that will be the future of the media market because already, the mainstream newspaper are having difficulty in circulation and reason is because the readership is shifting away from hard issues.
Newspaper will not die but it is a paradigm shift in the media readership. Its creating problem of survival. Around the world, hundreds of newspaper are dying probably because of the problem of readership.
So, you got to where they are. If you want to catch fish, don't go to the desert. You go to where they are. Where do you go? You go to the seaside. Where are the young people? Go to where they are and catch them.
That is what they are and we are using price. It is sold for N50. The pricing dimension is simply that this people you are going to capture have low purchasing power.
Also, if you out priced yourself, they drop you and switch on to the television. Or go to their twitter or ping on their blackberry. To catch this people, your price also have to be entertaining.
Our strategy is to build the customer of the future. To catch them young. By the time they start at this early age to get used to Entertainment Express, Sunday Express and Daily Express when it finally comes on board, they grow with it. They ride on the express as they grow so that it becomes a part of them as they grow. We believe business is not about today but about the future.
What's your message for Nigerians?
You can see that PDP is not doing well. Inspite of their failure to meet the needs of Nigerians, they are still winning the elections. Is it the innate stupidity of Nigerians?
Well, its not about the innate stupidity of Nigerians. Nigerians are no the ones that are voting. What is voting is a machinery. It is not the people. It is a system that is designed to disemphasize the people and by doing this, they really have no say and that is why you see that some of the people that get elected, some people say that they were elected in vote but anytime they have a court of appeal overthrow an election. You now see the people jump over the tree and jubilate and then you ask yourself, who were the people that voted this people in the first place. Everybody was rejoicing that they were removed. The reason is that they were never really elected. It was the system and this system is been used in the alias in the conspiracy of the INEC, security apparatus and coalition of even the electoral agents.
So, that's is why they are winning.
Message for the nation.
The message for the nation is that money is not everything. And that we need to rally round to restore integrity to our nation, of our value system and the more we sell our conscience to enable politicians to win elections, the more we are destroying the fabrics of the future of the nation. We need to come together and make up our mind that enough is enough. A time has come when men of good conscience should come together and make a vow that the next election, we will monitor our vote. Because the man that rob you of your vote has robbed you of your humanity, and individuality. We are just victims.
The tragedy of Nigerians is subsumed in the story of PDP. Recently at an event, when a woman was honored. What did she do? PDP tried to bribe her in Ibadan and she refuses to yield to the bribery inspite of everything. An organization decided to honor her for resisting temptation. I was very touched.
It brought to fore the stinking nature of our political system. All we know in this country is about rigging. Going through the back door. How I wish holiness will flow into our political system and how I wish righteousness will flow into our political system, how I wish rigging will go back to the devil where it belonged. We don't need it. Let the man who has won come into power. Not the one who came in through the backdoor through rigging and all that.
Dimgba – and that reminds me about somewhere in this book is a story of how S.A Akintola was plotting how to rig an election and unknown to him, there are some contentious Nigerians working at a telephone company who bugged the line and all the communication process were captured by one reporter and his name is Osoba.
So, before the election takes place, go and arraign so so person, go and charge him for this, they didn't know that as he was speaking, one reporter was listening in hearing the different command he was issuing and he was publishing coups and using it to abort elections.
You see, rigging is an old story. It has always been there. But also, the role of journalists in stopping it has also always being historically central. It is not only PDP that rig, other parties are also doing it.
What we are saying is that enough is enough. Let the people speak and let them vote.
We should also be talking about the cost of governance, which is also very high that little or nothing is left for actual development. It means we are simply designing a system simply to fund political office holders.
Those are the challenges I believe as a person we face in the nation.
When are you launching the book?
We will be launching it on March 22nd at MUSON Centre. By 11am