I call him the gentle giant of online journalism. Yes, Mr. Dotun Oladipo, managing editor and chief executive officer of Premium Eagle Media Limited, owners of the popular media company, The Eagle Online, is big by stature and above all, in his sector. Interestingly, he has continued to retain his humility, humanity, accessibility, affability and above all, this uncanny willingness to always want to share whatever he knows with others. Another unmistakable thing about him is the fact that he delights in carrying his colleagues along.
A former president of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers (GOCOP), he began his journalism career with the legendary Newswatch magazine, serving under the iconic trio of Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese and Yakubu Mohammed. From there, he joined the widely read Punch Newspapers. Then, Nigerian Tribune, Nigerian Compass, The Sun and now The Eagle Online, where he’s leading from the front.
Married to Taiwo and blessed with three children, the mass communication graduate of Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, Abeokuta, Ogun State, held back nothing when the publisher/editor-in-chief of YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine, AZUH ARINZE, engaged him for over an hour on Thursday, October 13, 2022.
Do sit back, relax and enjoy their conversation…
What lured Dotun Oladipo into journalism?
In secondary school, I had wanted to, one, be a fighter pilot by joining the Nigerian Air Force. Later I changed my mind and wanted to become a lawyer. The first year that I did JAMB, I had a very good score, but I didn’t have complete papers in my West African Senior School Certificate Examination. So, the following year, when my papers were complete, I had changed my mind, and that was how I ended up studying mass communication and I must say that I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve had tutelage under the very best in Nigerian journalism. I actually started my career with Newswatch magazine when it was Newswatch with our ogas (bosses) – Ray Ekpu, Dan Agbese, Yakubu Mohammed and Soji Akinrinade. We also had those who went away from Newswatch and founded another magazine. The likes of Onome Osifo Whiskey, Dele Omotunde, Dare Babarinsa; very strong and active journalism. I tried at some point, especially when I knew that I was going to go into online journalism, to attend training outside the country. There was a period, every year, I was always in Europe, listening to the very best, in terms of teachings and the rest and all of these helped in forming me, because when I started journalism, I actually started little and then grew, went to cover politics, got into a bit of business and after about six years, full time with Newswatch magazine, I joined The Punch as an investigative reporter and I think I did well. Because I still have fond memories of those days. Even when I meet those I worked with, like Azu Ishiekewene, who was my editor for a very long time. I actually started with him in the Saturday desk of The Punch and when he moved as the daily editor, I also moved with him. At some point, I was the politics editor of The Punch. I later joined the editorial board and then left for The Tribune where I was the editor of the Saturday title. From there, I moved to The Nigerian Compass where I started as the editorial page editor and then became the editor of the Sunday title. I also had a little stint with The Sun where I went to repackage the online edition of the newspaper, and I think we succeeded to an extent. Generally, I think that in my over 25 years in journalism, I’ve done well.
Having been around for over 25 years, what would you say has kept you glued to journalism? Why are you still interested in journalism? Why have you not moved on?
I think I’m just passionate about the job, because along the line, I’ve had offers of political appointments that I turned down. Maybe I could have done a little bit of business, but I don’t find joy in that. I just like the adrenaline pumping aspect of journalism, where you are on your toes trying to get the very best for your medium; where you are making sure that you are the first to break the news, where you are making sure that every sentence in your story, you can account for it, if called upon to do so. Because as we know, there are ethics. The profession is an ethical one. You cannot afford to slip and when you slip, it must be a genuine slip, not one that you do knowingly. Journalism doesn’t even give room for you to slip, because you must be on top of your game. If you do it once, you do it twice, you are going to lose your audience, you are going to lose the confidence people have built in you as a person and then your medium. It’s a tough business. So, you must be sure. It’s not a situation of I’m sorry today, I’m sorry tomorrow. The facts that you are dishing out, they must be very correct at every point. And like we always say, it is better for you to leave out completely than for you to commit any error. So, I like the excitement that I get when I do journalism than any other thing.
What makes a good journalist? What are the qualities or attributes of a good journalist?
One may not be able to do it in one sentence, but a good journalist is the one that can get the story that the people want to read without leaving out any facts and then being able to present it in a readable format. What do I mean? Having been around for this long, we can categorize journalists into groups: those with the capacity to source for the news and write it. There are also some who have the capacity to source for the news, but they can’t write it. They are the ones that have a copy editor who will say come, even if it is in your indigenous language, brief me; what is this story about? And the man will put down the story for him. And then, there are some people in the profession, they don’t have the capacity to look for the facts, the news, but they can put it down when someone brings the facts. The way they write, you are compelled to read. So, it’s a mixture. You must be able to get the news and you must be able to get it into a written form and in a way that people can digest it. That’s why I said it’s a combination of a whole lot of things. The ability to even have the nose for news. These days, we are challenged in journalism by the fact that the mode of news is changing. People are looking for different things now as news. So, you must be that person who must be able to adapt. The workforce is thinning out because of technology, finance and the economy. You can no longer say, “I’m strictly a sports writer, please don’t involve me in anything that has to do with politics”. That divide has been broken. In the past, you could be on the politics desk and just be writing only politics. But you must be able to move around now. If you’re unable to, then you are not yet there.
What mistakes have you seen some journalists make repeatedly?
What I see people doing now is not fact-checking, not being sure of what they are putting out there, especially those who are online. And once they do it and they find out that oh, this is wrong, they quickly bring it down. That isn’t journalism. You must be able to ascertain your facts, you must be able to cross all the T’s and dot the I’s. Everything must be complete before you put it out. But we now see a lot of people who just want to push things out for sensationalism, for blackmail. So, we are at a point where there’s a need to sanitize the system. It’s not done anywhere that you push out wrong news and because you are online, you pull it down, or even in the print, you issue a corrigendum, you want to apologize. It’s not enough, so you must be careful. In the last few years, we’ve had this discussion and I’ve sadly come to a point where I believe that we are no longer producing very competent journalists, which has led me to this feeling that journalism is dying gradually in Nigeria. Because these days, it is still the old names that you keep hearing. People who have already made their names. Where are the new ones, the new generation? And that is my fear for journalism; that at some point, we may not be able to sustain the tradition of investigative journalism that we’ve had in this country.
What do you normally look out for in a good story? What are those things that make a good story?
Experience counts a lot in some of these things, because sometimes you get a story, it’s looking balanced, it’s looking like it’s good to go. But thank God for Google and some other search devices. It’s now easier to quickly run through it and say no, no, no; from experience, this can’t be true. Even if this person has put it this way and it looks and sounds believable, experience still counts. In journalism, you look out for the 5W’s and H: the why, the when, the where, the who, the what and the how. Even as an editor, there are some stories that you still have to ask yourself questions before publishing. In the last two to three months, some news agencies have put out some untrue stories. The news agencies, from the way we grew up in the industry, are supposed to be infallible, they are not supposed to falter at any point, because they have layers of checks and all that. But in the last two months or so, two stories, completely out of tune with what should be put out, came from them. The first call I got was from one of the sound minds in journalism, Simon Kolawole, concerning the stories. He said, “Did you see this story?” I said, “Yes, I saw it” and in the next few minutes, the agencies were apologizing. Unbelievable! All the ingredients were there, but from experience, you will know that this can’t be true. So, it sometimes goes beyond the five W’s and H. You must be able to ask yourself at every point and from experience, is this possible?
What kind of interviews usually arrest your attention? What kind of interview do you see and say, oh, I want to read this or I love this interview?
I look out for the personalities involved and then the topic of discussion. Because, like I said, things are moving now in a way that readers are the ones determining what we, publishers, do. In those days, the editor was the king. Now, the reader is the king, because if you don’t give the reader what he wants, he’s going to go elsewhere to look for that. It’s, however, easier for you now to see what your readers are reading, especially if you are online. You can say, okay, this is the trend. For instance, the story between yesterday and today was about Rico, the ex-BB Naija housemate who had also been featuring in Tinsel, that died. If you decide today, even as topical as it is, that ASUU is calling off its strike and you start writing about the history of ASUU strike and the rest, it won’t work. But if anyone had had an interview with Rico, maybe yesterday, of course, that would be the interview for today, because that’s what everybody wants to read. So, it’s all about the reader being the king now. We may have as editors and publishers all the ideas, all the revenues and all the rest, but what are we serving our readers, what do our readers want to read? It’s a big deal now and that’s why we must be able to situate our own interest and area of competence with what the readers want.
How easy was it for you to move from print to online journalism?
Well, it was a bit easy for me and the reason is this: from the time I left The Punch for Saturday Tribune, I had started paying attention to what was going online, because I knew at that point that the next movement would be online. So, I started making contributions in terms of suggestions and ideas to the online team. I did that in Tribune, I did that when I was in Nigerian Compass, and that was why the publisher of The Sun, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, specifically requested for me to reorganize the online edition of The Sun. And what was I doing? I was just following the trend. What was happening? How many hard copies of this newspaper are we selling, what is happening online, are people paying attention to the news online, do they want breaking news, how do they like it served, what are the trends online, who are those that are determining those trends online? So, I started this soul searching a long time ago; this was as far as 2006, 2007, when I also started contributing to some foreign newspapers and radio stations and I was following them online. So, at the point that, that transition was going to occur; was when I suddenly disengaged from Nigerian Compass, I took my time. Six months! I did nothing other than that. I’ll tell my wife to go and look for trouble online. I started what looked like an online newspaper on Facebook, and I was following the trend: are people reading, what are they reading, what caliber of people are reading, what are they paying attention to? And then six months later, I decided, despite the fact that I had offers that I should come and edit this newspaper or come and work somewhere, that I was going to stay online. I wasn’t going to do print again.
Why exactly did you decide to quit paid employment and be on your own?
I found it more interesting. I’ve always worked for people, I’ve always had orders passed down, I’ve also always passed orders down. But this time, I was going to decide what was going to happen. We are still having this conversation, especially with those who are in print now; who still believe that the order of the day is for editors to determine for readers what they should be reading. For those of us who are online, you can see the results of what you are doing immediately at the back end. You can see what your readers are reading, so you can serve the menu more and the way they want it. For instance, in one of the newspapers where I worked towards the end of my exit from the print, when I wanted to join, I said, “See, if you say this newspaper is not doing as well as you want, give me a few weeks to study what could be wrong.” I took about three months and I came to implement what I felt were the ideas that would work. I was told after my exit, that it worked indeed. So, if I can apply that to someone else’s, why can’t I do it better with mine? And that was the whole thing. I felt I could do this, so why can’t I settle in and do it for myself, where nobody is censoring the idea, nobody is feeling that you are using your ideas to make or to get undue advantage, where you are seeing the effects of the efforts you are putting into the work, where you know that you are going to gain some joy from what you are doing? For me, it was just the need to move on. Fine, along the line, you’ll know that you must make money to sustain your ideas. See, the journalism we do now is online. It’s not about you running from office to office to go and beg for advert and sponsorship. It is about those you’re going to meet feeling compelled to come to you because of what you have to offer. Before, as a hard copy man, you’ll write proposals, you’ll do editorials, collaborations and all of those. But now, those who want to put their money into your business want you to show them what you can do, they want to see how well you are doing, who are those that are reading you. If they put the adverts, if they collaborate with you, what value will they be getting? Not because you are shoving something in their faces like hard copy newspapers. We’ve gone past that, and that’s why you’ll also see that those who are still doing the hard copy, along with the online version, are concentrating more on the online version because it’s the new money maker.
The online journey so far, how would you describe it?
It’s been fun, but also taxing. It’s been fun, but it requires a lot of work. It requires you to be on top of your game. It requires you to have more time to sit and work, especially in these days when you don’t have too many competent hands coming in to be trained and to do the job. A lot of people are coming into journalism these days, but the question they first ask is how do we make money? You and I know, from our beginning till date, that it is not about how do you make money, it is about how do you make your name, because without a name in the profession, you are not going anywhere. You must be known for one, two, three, four, five stories; you must be known for something unique. So, it’s a bit tough now for those who are editors or who are publishers online because they do a lot of the job. Not for want of wanting to spend money, but for want of very competent hands. We have fairly good hands here, but that journey has taken over eleven years to get there. We may not be able to pay them all the money like some of the print newspapers would do, but you also know that there’s this joy that you feel when you are the one who’s breaking the news, when you are the one who is getting an exclusive and people are rushing to read you. So, it’s coming to that level where you are also getting some good hands. But as we speak, the publisher still has a lot of work to do so that that newspaper can be at the top; not just in terms of turning out stories, but in terms of quality editing, language, which a lot of people are looking out for now.
Why are some journalists still reluctant to embrace online journalism?
It’s something I’ve also asked myself a couple of times. Since I started, what I’ve done is to encourage the people who are leaving print to get online. A lot of them, until they come in, they don’t see the prospects. I’ve had a couple of people who I’ve encouraged to come into online publishing. But the first question they ask is who is going to guarantee them that their next meal can come from this online publication? Nobody will guarantee you that. It is the hard work that you put into it that will guarantee you that. There’s a story that I always share. I was doing my thing, less than six months after we started. My office then was in my home, inside my house and I got a call, specifically from one of the banks – United Bank for Africa. I didn’t know anyone there, I wasn’t covering business, I had never really done any major story on business since I left Newswatch magazine. And then somebody called me and said, “You guys are doing well”. I said, “Who’s this and how did you find out that we are doing well?” “We are seeing you everywhere, take this advert for six months”. I didn’t go out for the six months, but we were consistent with what we were doing and that was how they knew about us. Unfortunately a lot of people still have this feeling that print is the only thing. A lot of chief executives are looking for stories online and they are reading. We can gauge that from the responses that we are getting. So, until people see that the online business is serious business, we won’t move in that regard. I still said it last week at the annual general conference of the Guild of Corporate Online Publishers: we are still too few as professional online publishers. That’s why you have a lot of charlatans trying to take over the space. Until we fully occupy it, we won’t know that there are opportunities, and you will recollect that I also mentioned this – one of the greatest backers of online publishers is Google. Those who are running the Nigerian office told us in very clear terms that they have money to spend online, but they don’t have where to spend it. That there are a lot of advertising opportunities, but they want quality news websites to push in those adverts. How many of them do we really have? What we have these days are majorly people who will setup online newspapers and will be moving from office to office to say give me adverts and then when you go to that publication, you look at it, maybe the latest story on it was three or four days ago. Some one week! So, things have changed from the time we started journalism. That’s not the way it runs now. You must give value for somebody to add value to you.
What makes an online journalism website interesting? What constitutes a good website in journalism?
You can have a different focus, you can decide to focus on business, you can decide to focus on politics, it could be sports, it could be general interest, but there are some factors, some things that must be present for you to be taken seriously. Number one is the quality of your stories, number two the quality of your website; how easily navigable is it, how easily can you navigate it? Is it compliant for both mobile and desktop devices? You must also ensure that you are up to date in terms of your theme, because nobody wants to come to a website that isn’t pleasing to look at. It’s not just for you to set up a website in 2022 and by 2024, 2026, it is still the same look. Nothing new.
We must change our theme, our look every six months or one year.
How often should a website post stories?
24/7! As often as you can. Someone once asked me: if I post six stories in a day, is that enough? I said it’s okay. But let me tell you, in The Eagle Online, we post between 80 and 120 stories a day. Weekends, we can do between 60 and 80, that’s Friday, Saturday. But Sunday to Monday, you can’t find anything less than 80 to 120 stories on our website.
How often should one post videos?
You should establish a channel on YouTube for that. It brings you money once you are able to monetize it. Now, if every story can go with a video, do it. The world loves that. People watch videos, especially when they are attached to your stories. Just as The New York Times is doing now. So, post as many as you can. And photographs too.
When is the best time to post stories online?
That depends on your audience. Like I told you, we study, we look at the backend and we take a decision. For instance, we’ve seen that 90 percent of our audience is from Lagos. So, we’ve asked ourselves the question: when does Lagos wake up? Lagos wakes up at 5am. But when Lagos wakes up at 5am, does it start reading stories at 5am? No! Lagos prepares for work and to go and face traffic. So, when are Lagosians mainly in traffic? From 6:30am to about 8am. So, we cash in on that. When also are they in traffic later in the day? From about 4pm to 8/9pm. That’s the busy period. So, you cash in on that too. You have to know your audience. We know we get traffic from the US, we get from the UK, we get from Germany, we get from France, we get from Canada. When are those people awake? If you need to post stories that have to do with the US and Canada, you have to be looking at about 12/1pm in Nigeria when they will be waking up there. And then in the evening when they are returning home. You must be strategic, and extremely so.
From experience, what kind of stories do people enjoy reading most?
These days, what I have seen is that Nigerians are taking it easy; they are taking it very easy. So, they are looking for stories that are exciting, not stories that are pathetic. I’ve seen that it’s good to report the big ones. This person stole N110 billion! But I’m telling you that Nigerians would rather watch a Tobi Amusan dance Buga after winning her medal than read that story. So, it’s not all the time that you assume, even as an editor, “I’ve killed it!” Because you have a document that is showing massive fraud. In fact, it appears to me that Nigerians have become despondent about those things. They rather want things that will lift their spirits. They will rather do the Buga challenge, they will rather dance to Davido or even watch his uncle (Ademola Adeleke) dance in churches. I’m telling you. It’s what we are seeing and what is really happening. So, we must live with our reality. But some people will say as a serious business, how do you now attract the MDs of banks? Who told you the MDs of banks are not reading those things? Who also told you that they were not the ones reading Dauda the sexy guy those days? Who told you they are not the ones following the Mr & Mrs cartoon in The Vanguard newspaper? So, we need to be careful with our conclusions. Like I said, the fact is staring us in the face. You can see it from your videos, from your views. The views are there. Even those doing the hard copy now, all they need to do is to contact those who are online. The stories we ran yesterday, which ones did well? And like I said, if I were to still be an editor of the hard copy newspaper, if I want to use a story tomorrow, I will just put a teaser around 5pm online and then call for the result. When you see the result, you’ll know what to lead your paper with, you’ll know what people are reading. Teasers! Just throw them there; three, four, five stories and then your front page is complete for the following day.
Any journalist who wants to survive in the current journalism terrain, what would be your advice to the person?
Be current, know what the trends are, don’t delude yourself by saying that the realities that are staring you in the face aren’t journalism. In those days, there used to be very clear divides – these ones are the core serious newspapers and those they called junk magazines. That division is so thin these days that if you don’t look well, you won’t even notice. In fact , I don’t see it existing again. The newspaper I told you that I joined last. I told them to give me a few weeks to study what was happening and I discovered that the weekend newspaper was running political stories as lead on Saturday. So, what did we do? We just divided the newspaper into two. If you want your politics, the front page, you will see it there. If you want the page 3 girl or the Nollywood actresses who are doing different abracadabra, you’ll find it also on the front page. So, we shared it into two. I know it’s difficult because the dailies want to appear very serious-minded. But like the question I asked: who told you that the bank MD does not want to read a sizzling sex story on a Monday morning? Instead of having headaches after his 10am meeting, he grabs such papers, goes to one corner, sits down and after reading, will say wow, I enjoyed this! But we live with the illusion of wanting to appear serious. In fact, somebody says to me all the time, “This life is a joke.” So, you must understand your audience and be able to position yourself in a way that your survival is guaranteed. We are no longer in those days where some papers were categorized as junk. People are reading them now and they are smiling to bank. So, we need to know what works for us? And what works for your audience. We’re about 200 million in this country. Let us even say only 20 million can read. The number of online newspapers that we have can’t serve them, because people read more online now. In fact, everybody has his own niche that he wants to be met. So, you must, for survival, know what your audience wants. You will still do your normal stories like President Buhari has said; National Assembly has passed… But at the same time, 10 ways to keep your lover satisfied in bed will not harm all those other stories. Rather it brings people to your site to see those other stories, because a lot more people are interested in the soft stories than the hard ones.
We have a lot of professional journalists who are struggling to make it online. Why do you think this is so?
I think what they just need to do will be to follow the rules. There are some written ones and there are unwritten ones. You must be aware that it is only the dead that cannot learn. So, you must go for training and retraining. Even if you can’t afford it, sit with somebody who is better than you. I still do so, I call people, I attend training. The whole of the week when we had our conference, I was on about ten online trainings by Google. So, you must be looking for those opportunities to see what are the latest advancements in what you are doing. And then some don’t even know that having an old theme on your website will not attract Google adverts. It won’t, because the adverts they are bringing will conflict with the theme that you have. It won’t fit in. So, there are a whole lot of things that you must follow, and you won’t need to struggle. I’ve said it to our people before and I’m still saying it: sharing knowledge does not take anything away from you, rather it adds more value to you, because in the process of talking to someone who does not know what I know, I’m going to learn something from that person. If I don’t learn what I should do to make my business better, I’m likely going to learn what I shouldn’t do to make my business better. When you interact with colleagues, you must take something away, whether you are the one imparting the knowledge or the knowledge is being imparted to you.
What stands your website out? What distinguishes The Eagle Online from all the other websites?
What do we do? Specifically, we are a publishing outfit like any other one. But what we try to do is to ensure that all our stories are right. A couple of people have sent me stories that I’ve sent to the editor as the publisher and the editor told me I won’t publish. At that point, you know that even you as a publisher must have checks and balances, you don’t believe that you know it all and you damage your product. Check with people, ensure that what you are giving to people is the right perspective. Your editor can say to you, “Publisher, I disagree with you”. Don’t say I’m the publisher, I must have my way. I’ve been saved from embarrassments, at least two, three, four five times by my editor who will say, “No, I disagree with you on this”. If somebody says yes to you 95 percent of the time and says no for five percent of the time, then you should listen to that person. So, we try as much as possible to ensure that we check on ourselves. Before sending a story I feel isn’t just a straight story, I check. Even if it is a reporter who sent it directly to me, I say editor, what do you think, check this for me. I have given an instruction, don’t say I’m the publisher, if something isn’t good enough; even if it’s from me, turn it down. So, we try as much as possible to ensure that we don’t publish what can put us in a bad light. In fact, there are some stories you will feel are right, but at the end of the day, experience from different people will count. Like the one I told you about one of my ogas, Simon Kolawole, calling me to say, “Did you see this story?” and I said, “I saw it, but this is what we did”. We also ignored it, because experience counts. So, you check and be sure, so that at the end of the day, you can be a reference point. And one of the things I’ve always said is that at any point in time in my sector, we must be part, always, of the top ten. In fact, my position is, you must always be part of the top five at the level we are competing.
How does one fall into that category or how does one ensure that in your field, you are among the top five or among the top ten?
Do all of those things I’ve spoken about: good website, good stories, ensuring that your stories are out there in terms of social media, always publishing stories that are true, looking for stories that gel with your readers. Your readers should be looking forward to reading an entertainment story from your site, like the recent Rico Swavey story. Imagine that they are looking for it seriously and then you are now telling the story of how ASUU went on strike on February 14th, 2022. It’s not as if you are telling them that they have called off this strike, like breaking news. Nobody will take you seriously. You must be able to identify your niche and you must be able to identify at the same time what readers want per time.
How long did it take The Eagle Online to break even? How long did it take you to stabilize and become one of the go-to websites?
Fortunately, when we started, there weren’t many of us, outside of the traditional media houses who were running online websites. It was after we started that some of those who are solid journalists became convinced that online publishing is viable. And what we did at that time was to ensure that since we were already in, we shouldn’t go below, because if it were to be now that we are coming in, it’s going to be a big fight to break into that top ten or top five, because we are a general news website. So, when we started, there were just a few of us. And the moment we got there, we tried to stay there. Every time, we retool, every time, we look at what people are saying, what we can do differently. So, we found a mix that helps us on a daily basis to be there. That’s what we’ve done.
Your website also does a lot of videos. When did it dawn on you to equally go into that aspect of journalism?
That was some years back, and it’s a major point for us now. We realized that there were some events that happened at some point and we were in the hall to break the news and about four, five, six, ten times, people reverted and said see, these stories would have been more believable if we had pictures or these stories would have been better with graphs and when we are seeing the visuals. So, I said okay, that’s fine. We kept that somewhere. Then, fortunately, WhatsApp came, different video editing apps came, we now have TikTok, we have Instagram where people post videos. And we are seeing very clearly that people are watching those videos. So, what it means for us is, if we have the story that we can back up with photographs and videos, we promote it in our headline to say we have the video that runs with this story and when you see such, people watch and then we now have our own YouTube channel, which is also doing well. People are daily on YouTube looking for videos. In fact, where we are going in terms of that is to even have a studio where we will be able to take people who want to record, and do it for them for a fee. We are very close to it. Because that’s where the next line of journalism is. It’s not just words. People want more. Fine, for the website also, you need to have your stories well captured in terms of words, but where you can even illustrate your stories with videos and put in less of the written words, it’s better, because people are watching and that is a bigger money spinner than even the written words. People are looking in that direction.
What makes a video go viral? What also makes a good video?
It’s relevance. You can’t afford not to be relevant with whatever you push out. In the last few days, some videos have trended and why did they happen? One was when Teni (a singer) received her national honour from the President (Muhammadu Buhari). There were reports that she did not honour the handshake from the President. People were looking for the video. So, the video spoke more than the written words, because she said when she was asked that she didn’t shake him because the honour was not from him, but her country. And then people wanted to verify: was it true that she didn’t shake the President? That video became a must, it became compulsory. There was also the story of a soldier who was said to have been caught stealing ammunition. Only a video could have illustrated that. Telling that story in terms of words alone won’t do it. It’s just like you are reporting a flood story and there are no photographs, there are no videos. People can’t really grab it. Look at the situation in Lokoja. How could anyone have fathomed that water would take over a whole State capital without videos and photographs? So, it’s gone beyond that and I’m sure you are aware of The New York Times? How it has gone, transforming from print to online and then, mostly videos. That’s where we are also going.
What are some of the mistakes that you’ve noticed with videos that journalists put out?
I think the major one, which we also made in our early days, was the fact that we get videos and we don’t add value to them. It’s just like in Nigeria, we get our crude, we don’t add value to it, we ship it out. Those who add value to it, re-sell it to us at a higher price. Even when you have news stories, you must add value to them. Like today, Nnamdi Kanu (IPOB leader) was discharged and acquitted. But you must be able to add context and value to that story if you want to stand out. I always tell people when they rush to say breaking news, breaking news… Breaking news is almost everywhere, but what people are looking for would be context. There was a critical question somebody asked: Will DSS honour this ruling? I’m sure that anybody who quickly adds that context, in the headline, not even in the body of the story, will have something to smile home about. Because you can’t just afford to take a story and serve it the same way everybody does. There must be a context. This man once jumped bail and this was how he was brought back. Will this happen? Will it not happen? Those are contexts that we must know and that will add value to the story. If you just write that Nnamdi Kanu has been released, I can read that in your headline and leave. So, it’s important that we understand the importance of context to everything that we are doing now in journalism.