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“Be Ready To Pay The Price Required For Journalism” – Lekan Otufodunrin

Lekan Otufodunrin is the Executive Director of Media Career Development Network. The award-winning journalist has worked in various media organisations including The Nation where he was the Sunday Editor, The Punch Newspapers where he was the Group News Editor, City Editor and Group Political Editor among many others.

In this interview, he speaks candidly about how he has handled challenges in the profession of journalism, how he established Media Career Development Network and more.

[Campus Reporter]: What Is The Greatest Thing That Journalism Has Done For You?

[Lekan Otufodunrin]: I think journalism has taken me around the world…It has allowed me to network widely and become a real global citizen.

[C.R.]: What Do You Like The Most About Being A Journalist?

[L.O.]: What I like most is that it allows me to be the voice of the voiceless and be able to hold the government accountable. I cherish the opportunity to be able to inspire people through my writing and provide the information they can use.

[C.R.]: What Don’t You Like About Being A Journalist?

[L.O.]: I do not like that most media houses are not able to meet their obligations to staff. Management is poor and career development is not prioritised. This is a result of a combination of many things. The economy has complicated the state of the media like other sectors. However, the media is poorly managed and undercapitalised.

[C.R.]: Having Done A Lot Of Stories In Your Career, Which Of Them Do You Have Fond Memories Of And Why?

[L.O.]: My most memorable story has to do with a story we published when I was Sunday Editor at the Nation. And the story was about a Nigerian who died and nobody could trace his family and so he was buried without informing his family in the UK. But a young lady was doing a new report about people who died without any family members knowing and just buried interstate (they call it) now did a documentary and the documentary was written in a UK paper that reports in our office. So I was reading the story just about a programme that happened in the UK on television about people who died without family members knowing, only to find a Nigerian name among the people, I wasn’t expecting to find it. And when I found it, I got curious, I saw the Nigerian name and they said the family was from Nigerian and couldn’t trace them and we published that story talking about that Nigerian among others, emphasizing the Nigerian name aspect. We published the story in our paper. Lo and behold! The family who has been looking for the guy and had lost contact with the guy realized that the guy has died and they call our office and I sent one of my staff, we went to meet them and they gave us a photograph and it was on a front paper. It was a story of reuniting that family even though the young man had died. The process of doing the story just leads me to the power of the media.

[C.R.]: Share With Us An Unforgettable Mistake You Made In Your Career And How The Mistake Was Amended

[L.O.]: My most unforgettable error in the job is so easy to recollect and it was very early in my years when I was State Correspondent for Punch Newspaper in Abeokuta Ogun State.

What happened was that we went to cover an assignment. The military Governor then was addressing a graduation ceremony but we were not inside, we were outside hearing him and all of a sudden, we didn’t hear him again. Unknown to us, what happened was that the governor actually collapsed while speaking but he was quickly resuscitated and he was asked to sit and relax, and that was a big story, “A governor collapse while giving a speech.” But we didn’t witness it because we were outside but we got the information and we wanted to go and report but the Commissioner for Information came and pleaded with us not to publish the story. This was an event that was open and even witnessed by graduates and their families. Though that time, it was not the internet age, there was no mobile phone, nobody was taking pictures. So when we went out, some of my colleagues (I was the youngest among them, I was about 2years in the profession), so many colleagues prevail on me not to publish the story, and for whatever reason, I agreed. Unknown to me, someone inside the ceremony who was working in the Punch was graduating and the sports editor was there also. So he returned to Lagos, he exactly told the editor that there was a big story and the man said “Don’t worry, Lekan will send it” and I did not send the story. So he had to sit down and write the story. The next day, I saw a copy of the Punch and I saw “Governor Collapse” and I almost collapsed myself because it was a story I didn’t write and for the first time, I think one of the very few times in my career, I got a query and I almost lost my job. It’s an unforgettable story.

[C.R.]: What Keeps You Going Despite The Difficulties Of Journalism?

[L.O.]: Journalism is what I studied and love to practice. Like any profession, there are mixed experiences and I understand that some of the unpleasant situations are either part of the hazards of the profession or circumstances beyond the control of those who should do something about it. I also feel fulfilled by the impact of the work I have done over the years and the large benefits to society beyond personal comforts

[C.R.]: How Have You Been Able To Manage Your Private Life And Your Profession Since We Have A 24-hour News Cycle?

[L.O.]: Initially, I was not conscious of the need for a balance but as I grew on the job, married and had children, I managed to ensure my personal needs are taken care of.

The work has been very consuming but always reminded me that there must be more to my life than the job. I take time off when possible and attend to other non-work issues.

[C.R.]: How Have You Been Able To Survive Threats?

[L.O.]: I have not had such issues except when I was a correspondent in Abeokuta for The Punch, in the early years in the profession, but the NUJ and other colleagues backed me up. I was also once arrested when I was News Editor for a report by one of my staff and detained for a week. It was traumatic but I coped knowing it is part of the hazards of the profession.

[C.R.]: How Do You Come Up With The Idea To Establish Media Career Development Network?

[L.O.]: The idea of a media career dates back to about 1997 when I started reading newsletters of media training organisations and the experiences of journalists who have travelled for foreign fellowships. Eventually, I got a three months fellowship for the Advanced Journalism programme at Thomson Foundation in Cardiff UK. I like the kind of continuous training they provided for journalists which we didn’t have in Nigeria.

I wanted to bridge the missing training gaps in Nigerian media and that’s what I have been doing on the side for years. Now I am doing it full time having participated in some other programmes locally and abroad.

[C.R.]: Lastly, Sir, What Is Your Advice For Young Journalists, Thriving To Have Landmarks In The Profession Of Journalism?

[L.O.]: I will like to start with what I heard somewhere recently at a programme, it says that if you are going to be a Journalist, you must love Journalism, you must be passionate about it, you must be interested in reading widely, and you must be prepared for the rigours that are involved. Like any other job, it has its intensive nature. The important thing to note is that Journalism is a job that gives you a lot of satisfaction at the end of the day, you have done something that you are very proud of but be ready for the hard work. Be ready to write, and rewrite and rewrite. 

Be ready to do the legwork that involves not just armchair Journalism, depending on where you are on the job, but if you are going to excel, you must do report that will have an impact and you must do things that people will read and know that yes, this person has done really hard work, and you must be prepared to land the ropes because sometimes, you know, some people just want to start and become a star, it doesn’t happen that way, there are processes, you must follow, you may move very fast but notwithstanding, you must land the ropes, and you must master it and you must know the best practices and put it in efforts that are required for you to come to that level. More importantly, Journalism is a job that you must love and be ready to pay the price that is required.

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