Elnathan John: How to be a Nigerian journalist

by Elnathan John

If you ask me, you have the best profession in the world. As a Nigerian journalist, even though your bosses never pay you, you have so much potential to make it in this life. I have taken my time with this one because of my dedication to your hustle.

As a Nigerian journalist you must recognise that people appreciate the good work that you do. That is why they provide souvenirs and other freebies at events. You must collect as many freebies as come your way. It is these freebies that will eventually make you a ‘branded journalist’.

The fully branded journalist wears the face cap he got from covering the Cancer Awareness Walk on International Cancer Day. He uses the fancy pen from the speech and prize giving day of a British school in Abuja. His notepads – all seven of them – are from different seminars; he prefers the one he got from the Business Law Conference briefing. His flash drive is from an Oil and Gas seminar – he likes Oil and Gas people because they are not stingy with souvenirs or food and drinks. His bag is from the National Conference of the Nigerian Society of Engineers; he knows how conference bags don’t last, so he looks forward to another conference this year. He has white, blue, yellow and orange T-shirts from the unveiling of new companies, product launches and company anniversaries. His shiny key holder is from covering the Annual General Meeting of a bank.

You need branding. To help in your branding process, I am hereby making a call on companies and organisations to stop being stingy and step up their souvenirs to include jeans, belts and sneakers (or palm sandals). Wouldn’t it be nice to have it all?

You must watch out for stingy people. Some obscure group invites you to cover a symposium with a dangerous topic like ‘Curbing the Boko Haram Menace’. You take the risk, dust your Cancer Walk face cap and iron your orange 10-year anniversary T-shirt. You get there and find, to your shock, that the high table has only bottled water. This can’t be good. If the high table has bottled water, they will serve pure water to the audience. But you stay and cover the event, do the interviews. When the time comes for you to leave, the organisers greet you with big grateful handshakes and smiles and tell you they look forward to seeing their event on air or in the papers. Someone gives you his card. They ask for yours. You don’t have a card but you tear a sheet of paper from the Business Law Conference notepad and write your number. They walk away. Nothing. No food in take-away packs. No ‘thank you’ envelopes. No souvenirs! You think of the money you paid the motorcyclist to get here; the way you argued because he didn’t know the hall was far from the junction; the way you shouted and told him if he didn’t know his way around Lagos, he had no business being a motorcyclist. Something has to happen to those tapes and interviews. They will buy all the newspapers tomorrow and watch your TV station until their eyes hurt. They will see NOTHING. Just like you saw nothing. Because that is what happens to ingrates.

One of your sacred duties as a Nigerian journalist is to connive with the authorities when it comes to figures of fatalities. Nigerians are bad with numbers and they have bad tempers. If you give them the real figure of how many Muslims or Christians or Igbos or Hausas were killed they will go and start another round of killing. So when 500 people are killed in that village, you must report the official figure of 16. It is better.

Make no mistake about it, you need to sell newspapers. Good headlines make good sales. So if your paper sells in the North, for example, and a non-Northern Boko Haram member is caught you must find out and include his tribe in the headline. “Yoruba Boko Haram Kingpin Complete With Tribal Marks Nabbed in Kaura-Namoda”.  Just like tribe is everything, a headline is everything.

Sometimes you will be fortunate and land a cool job as a senior guy in a media organisation. You will get to anchor a discussion programme. Important people will be on your show. You must not do any research that will spoil your ability to think on your feet. You need to argue with your guest and interrupt him as much as possible when he is speaking. Butt-in with your own views and suggestions. Nigerians like it when two people are speaking at the same time. They will enjoy the interview. After all, why be on TV if you can’t speak your mind?

If you get really fortunate, and I pray you do, you will be discovered by the almighty foreign media and they will make you a stringer – one of those guys they phone when they hear we have been bombed. Then you will be able to sell our bad news in exchange for the title, ‘International Journalist’. Some people may dislike you and call you a snitch that shows our dirty linen to foreign media. God will judge them. Bad news sells; it is not your fault that you get paid in crisp Western Union dollars to send in pictures and stories of bombings. Pray to be within driving distance when there is a bomb or shooting. That way you can quickly get there and do a phone interview and get paid. The more bad news, the more dollars. Foreigners don’t need to hear our boring good news. It is a job, and, unfortunately, like the undertaker, bad things must happen for you to make money. God sees your good heart. It is He who will bless your hustle.

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Comments (3)

  1. Very nice as usual. I have a prayer, that you find time to write many more 'how to's and compile them in one spot for those who need it to find….I suggest the title…The Complete Idiot's guide to Professions & How to succeed at them in Nigeria!Lol….

  2. Elnathan sha!!! Twas same dude that wrote on Lawyers abi? If yes, ur wit and sarcasm is edible. I want!!! I covet!!! Nice read. Not sure Journalists wld tap you on d back for this tho…

    1. Thanks Eziaha for your kind comments. I appreciate it. You can find the entire 'How To…' series on my blog: elnathanjohn.blogspot.com

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