Nigerian journalists can turn their art into business ventures –Fatoye, international media professional

fee bbb

By Josfyn Uba

Jackie Opare-Fatoye is a fellow of the United States National Press Foundation, also a fellow of the Association of British Science Writers Diversity Scholar, and the regional deputy editor for SciDev.Net, a science and development media organization in the United Kingdom.

In this interview with Daily Sun, Jackie Opara-Fatoye, who X-rayed the Nigerian media, noted that journalists have so much potential and can match their foreign counterparts, if only they create time to learn new ways of practicing journalism so that they can maximize their potential and turn their art into a business venture. She also stated that media organizations should be open to partnerships and create solid collaborations with global media players and develop projects that are fundable to make impacts in the lives of people and communities at large.

What were the early influences that shaped your career in journalism?

I had wanted to go into broadcasting because I wanted a talk show like the Oprah Winfrey Show. So, during my youth service year in Jigawa State, I joined the orientation broadcasting service during camp and as a result I was sent to Radio Jigawa where I had my own show called Children’s Variety Programme. Before that, I had interned at the Guardian Newspaper, Lagos, and I became caught into doing broadcasting or print, I later settled for print as I believed it gave me more time to explore and I have no regrets.

What was our personal experience as a journalist in Nigeria?

My early days were quite eventful. I covered everything, including politics, entertainment, food, agriculture, crime and judiciary until I majored in science journalism. I met a whole lot of dedicated and talented journalists that I am grateful for till today. I also made incredible connections that are still useful for me – but along the line, I decided that I wanted to diversify, do good stories and get paid for the value of the work I do. I wish media owners would recognize that there are great Nigerian journalists that can turn the tide, if they put more value on them.

What do you think are the greatest challenges for most Nigerian journalists?

I think Nigerian journalists have a whole lot of challenges. The first one is the fact that they don’t get paid – you will hear that some journalists are owed up to one year’s salary, imagine that. Journalism is not a job that you do in hunger because, how will you get innovative stories that will make an impact on an empty stomach? Also, this lack makes many not see opportunities even if you place them under their nose. To be able to break free, journalists must actively and deliberately seek out opportunities – and I tell you, there are many out there waiting to be taken. They must look beyond their stomach and strive to move out of their level by setting goals that they need to achieve, short-term goals, long-term goals – to make it easy, break the goals into small pieces to keep them motivated. As they achieve the small goals, it keeps everything moving

How did you get your break and leave the conventional newsroom to where you are now?

When I started having kids, it was a bit difficult for me at that time to combine the two – my career and taking care of kids. So, I went online and started a search for how I could work as a freelance journalist – I tried with the freelance model in the Nigerian media but the payment was abysmal. So, I looked up on Google, Twitter and LinkedIn for freelance journalism and I started taking courses on freelance journalism because I felt I needed expert guidance to pull through. In addition, I started applying for journalism fellowships and these afforded me the opportunity to work in South Africa and the United Kingdom – these experiences levelled me up and my freelance journalism blew up – my stories have appeared in a lot of global media platforms – until I became a force to reckon with in my sector. I coordinate affairs for the Nigerian Association of Science Journalists and one of the things I do is organizing a freelance journalism master class to teach members and any journalist interested to take them on how to pitch stories for global media platforms. I have toured the world doing good stories and gaining experience that are making an impact in the global science journalism and communication sector and also taking along with me journalists that have decided to take the path that I am on.    

How do you think that Nigerian journalists can maximize their potential and turn their art into a business venture, given your experience?

It is very possible for them to maximize their potential and turn their art into a business venture. All they need is discipline and to create time to learn new ways of practising journalism. They need to be alert and scout for new opportunities and follow through. It is important to always upgrade their knowledge and strive towards excellence.

In my journalism journey, I have worked with many editors who want different things. My stories have appeared in Research Africa, NatureNews, SciDev.Net and Forskning & Framsteg, IPWATCH.ORG, Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism, Mail & Guardian, Afriscitech, University World News and many others. Take it from me when I say, there are no short cuts. I coordinate affairs for the association of science journalists in Nigeria, also a member of the World Federation of Science Journalists. Like I said earlier, I have seen lots of journalists get discouraged a lot due to especially lack of remuneration – what I do now is share opportunities and speak to my fellow global editors to share opportunities too in their organisations for journalists to pitch stories. I also have a freelance journalism master class, which was meant for science journalists but is now open to all journalists to learn how to pitch good stories and get paid for it. If you are not disciplined and constantly strive for excellence, you really cannot make a mark locally or globally as a journalist.

Having been writing for an international outlet and given your exposure and experience, what skills or tools are  militating against newsmen in developing countries?

There are tools available and there are new ways of doing this work that journalists can take advantage of. They need to research and connect and not work in isolation.

What do you think can be done to improve the working conditions of the Nigerian media space in order to compete with foreign counterparts?

There needs to be a total overhaul. The way it is run now, less value is placed on the journalists that do the work and risk their lives every day. Media organisations should be open to and create solid collaborations with global media players and develop projects that are fundable and will make impacts in the lives of people and communities at large; this is even what I say to journalists too – always go for projects that will create positives impacts – in doing that, you are always paving way to improve your own livelihood.

What would be your advice to today’s journalists?

Be disciplined – go for impactful stories and take up space in the media global space – there are a lot of opportunities waiting to be taken. They need to un-learn and re-learn so that they do not do this journalism in hunger rather they should be hungry to make impact and follow the money.

How do you de-stress or strike a work-life balance?

I am honestly an indoor person, work does really take me around a lot– what I try to do is explore different restaurants and cuisines. However, I prefer staying in my house and watching movies with my family.

What pushes or motivates you as a journalist?

Impact – knowing that my work is helping to improve the lives of people and communities and also that my skill is leading to the progress of my organization, the journalism sector and also leading to my own career growth.

Have you ever felt like you were not treated as equal in this profession?

Yes, surely in the early days; but now, I strive to speak up anytime I feel marginalised.