ENCOMIUM CEO, KUNLE BAKARE IDENTIFIES THE BIGGEST MISTAKES MADE BY JOURNALISTS

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Mr. Kunle Bakare, aka K.B, is the Chief Executive Officer of Encomiums Ventures Limited, publishers of Encomium Weekly, Encomium Special and E-Lifestyle. A native of Odogbolu in Ogun State, the father of two (Gbeke and Mofe) is married to Desola and read Mass Communication at the University of Lagos. Unarguably one of Nigeria’s best reporters, he had worked for Prime People, Vintage People, Classique, Crown Prince and Fame before berthing at Encomium. Respected and regarded in his sector, the dresser and thinker had an insightful session with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on Friday, March 8, 2013, at his office in Ogba, Ikeja, Lagos. Check out the details…

What makes a good reporter?

A good reporter must be perpetually hungry for news. So, if you are perpetually hungry for news and you know what news is, especially as it applies to your journal, your radio station or your TV station, then you have started well. If you have nose for news, then you have to know the procedure for gathering news. Like I always tell people, there’s nothing in this world that does not have procedure. And the procedure must be well stated and clearly understood. Once you know the procedure, for example, all the 5Ws and H must be answered. That is, who, what, when, where, why and how. All the 5Ws must be answered when you are pursuing any story. Then, you must also go behind the story. Like we learnt from John Fashanu – though it’s not an original-there are three sides to every story. There is my side, the opposing side and the truth.  You must constantly put that at the back of your mind, and know that sometimes even if you speak to all the parties, you might not get the truth. Because sometimes all the parties might not tell you the truth. Apart from that, you must know why you are a reporter: what’s the purpose? Why are you a reporter, what are you trying to achieve? If the development of mankind, so to speak, is the objective, then you have started well.

A good reporter, apart from having the nose to gather what the readers would like to read and also what you should bring to the attention of the readers, must be able to write well. You cannot go far if you can’t write well. You must be able to write exceedingly well. And now, apart from even knowing how to write exceedingly well, you must know how to present a story. You must capture the reader’s attention from the very first word, from the very first sentence, because people are distracted these days. They have many things occupying their minds. So the story must be catchy from the beginning. Also, the presentation must be so simple in such a way that anybody looking at the story can have a general view. Like I always say, if you read Hello! Magazine, sometimes you don’t even have to read the stories. Once you read the captions of the story, the caption on the photographs, you get an idea of what the story is about. So, if you now want to read the story, you will be eager, because they’ve presented all the facts in the story to you. Then, there’s something a gentleman said – I think it was in Esquire magazine. The man was writing a piece to recommend what makes a reporter to succeed, and he said that a reporter must work harder than the competition; he must dress the part because nobody wants to talk to a tramp. What that statement is saying is that a reporter must constantly be on top of his game and be on top of stories in such a way that he wants to excel and out-do the competition. Secondly, he has to understand how to dress very well, because once you dress very well, you open the door to many places – and a lot of people will want to talk to you. So, once you understand that, you are almost there. There are other elements that make a reporter successful and they are very, very numerous. You must be sociable, you must be willing to attend events at the shortest notice, you must make friends; you must have contacts. Many things!

What makes a good editor?

A good editor must be a good team leader; you must be respected as the leader of the team. And how can you be respected? If your reporters know you know the job very well and you can do the job as well as they can do it, if not even better, you will garner their respect. Once you garner their respect, they will listen to you. Apart from that, you must be able to out-think them. You must be able to tell them what is happening, what readers want to know, what the news is, what the story is, what people want to read. You must be able to give them ideas; you must be able to explain the ideas. For example, a story breaks. Let’s imagine that Goldie dies – what are the things that people want to read about Goldie. You must be able to tell your reporters what to look out for, the kind of angles to pursue, so that the person does a wonderful job. Especially because there’s a lot of competition from blogs and the internet now. So, as anything is happening, the news is breaking. Everybody is aware. Also, you must be able to know common mistakes of writing. So that when you are reading scripts, you won’t be caught pants down, so to speak. There are common mistakes that everybody knows, and you have to be on top of those mistakes so that you can correct people’s scripts easily. Then, you must be very hard working. When I say hard working, you must be ready to work almost 24-7 everyday, because at the shortest notice, news break and you have to be in the office. You are like the gate keeper, so you are constantly available. The work will not permit you to be very sociable, but you are sociable. You must be able to sit in one place for a long time, read scripts, plan things, and tell people how to present things.

What makes a good publisher?

There’s one underlining fact about a publisher – the person must understand the business. Everything has a business undertone. Like I was telling some people yesterday, there are many things happening and you have to decide, which one do you want to cover and at what cost? So, a publisher must know the economics of publishing. A long time ago when we were in Classique, I learnt from the late May Ellen Ezekiel that there’s an optimum copies of the magazine that you can print. Anything you print beyond that, you are just wasting money. So, you have to know the cost of the magazine. For example, let’s imagine your optimum is half a million copies. By the time you cross that half a million copies, any copy you do additional would erode into your profit and there’s no point. I mean, we are in business to make money. So, you have to understand the rudiments and the elements of the business to know what counts. At the end of the day, what counts is to constantly be on the streets at a profitable margin. There is no point having a popular magazine that nobody is reading. People can talk about something, but it might not be selling. So, the most important thing for a publisher is the business angle of the publication. Once you know the business angle and you can sustain it, then it’s good. But also, I always advice people, you must be in business for the long run. If you are in business for the long run, then you don’t take short cuts; you don’t publish falsehood. Because at the end of the day, it’s gonna catch up with you. People buy integrity. The most important thing that a journalist is selling or a media house is integrity. You say something and it’s the truth; it can be cross-checked, it can be tested. But if you say something today and tomorrow they find out it’s not true, because you are gonna make a little gain, in the long run, you are going to lose money. So, you must have that altruistic objective of publishing the truth, of constantly serving your readers the truth. That is the standard.

 

What makes a good story?

There are many angles that make a good story. Like the definition of news in Encomium – it has elements. It means that the story must be about a high class celebrity, it must be exclusive to a large extent, it must appeal to a lot of people and it must be a very momentous story. For example, let’s imagine a Pastor David Oyedepo – if he does something that he normally does; let’s say Oyedepo builds another university that cost N5 billion. It’s in his character, so to speak. But if he builds a university for example in the United Kingdom costing a higher amount of money or where people are going to go for free or all the students are on scholarship, then it’s different. The perspective is different. There are many elements. It’s not all the time you get all the elements in a story. I mean, there are weeks those elements are not satisfied, but you still have to do the magazine. So, there are many elements that determine what a good story is.

What makes a good magazine?

The underlining factor is that a magazine improves the lives of its readers. You might have a lot of stories, scoops, exclusives, but at the end of the day, what’s in it for a reader? Is it just to read about scoops, no! Like they say now, every product must dispense solution. There are solutions that people are craving in their lives – private and public lives. In all areas of their lives. So, a journal must provide solutions to some of those things. If you pick a journal from abroad, for example, you will see a lot of solutions about everyday issues. So, it’s beyond just writing about celebrities. The most important thing for soft sell journals will be to write stories about celebrities, and they say the reason a lot of people are interested in celebrities is because they can see something to talk about when people are together. But beyond all those, there must be something else. For example, I work in an office, what’s the best way to ask for a raise from my boss? Those are some of the things that a journal must have. It’s beyond breaking stories.

 

What is the costliest mistake that most journalists make?

We make a lot of mistakes, like other human beings. But I think a lot of people are not supposed to be journalists. People don’t know what they want. So, that, I will say, is a very costly mistake. People don’t know the reason they are doing something, people don’t have genuine, altruistic reason for being journalists. Some people are journalists because they want to blackmail people and make a lot of money; some people are journalists because it’s easy to be a journalist and when public servants are in trouble, they can make a lot of money; people want to be famous so that they can rub shoulders with A-list celebrities. But those are the wrong reasons. You must be a journalist because you believe you can write well, you know what news is and you believe you can provide what readers want. Apart from that, we make many other mistakes. Mistakes such as wanting to be celebrities. I consider that a mistake. I think a journalist should not aspire to be a celebrity. Once you think you are a celebrity, and then you miss the point. It means that you are no longer capable of performing your duties for the benefit of your readers.

Why do we have too many journalists who are unsuccessful?

Have you done a study? (General laughter) I will say that like in everything in life, only a few people are successful. Because people don’t take the correct route. For example, they said that only 3 percent of any population know what they want to do every day; they are the only ones that write it down. Only 3 percent! Meanwhile, all other people, the 97 percent, are just going about; they don’t know what they want to do in the next 2 hours. They are just wandering about. So, I might say that, that is why human beings fail. It’s not peculiar to journalists. It’s life. And like I always tell people, if you step out of this office and you ask people where you are going, they might tell you I’m going to Badagry. Why are you going to Badagry? They might not be able to explain. People are just wandering about. I think Nigerians are becoming too restless, they can’t stay in one job, and they don’t like being employed. They prefer to have a lot of time on their hand, just wandering about! Earlier today, I came to the conclusion that maybe this is not the right country for me to be in. There are a lot of people who just do things and you wonder whether they are well. I was watching a programme on television, it’s about people who run companies; they call them the Undercover Boss. The programme is about bosses who disguise and go into maybe some branches of their companies to find out how they can improve the companies. One said that a lot people don’t realise what an asset it is to have a job. To have a job is an asset. Apart from psychological and spiritual, it provides your economic needs. So, why don’t you be serious about that thing? I just found out that a lot of people just prefer to loaf around. That’s why you see that anywhere there’s a new development in terms of buildings, you will see people open shops. Come there one year later, almost all the shops are closed. People start a business not knowing why. They will say because Alhaja is selling water, let me open a shop and sell water, without knowing the intricacies of the business. People just go into things for the fad of it. Even abroad where people are more serious, half of the businesses fail in the first year. Half! When they start ten businesses, five of them will fail. Now imagine here where people are not serious. It means that probably 9 ½ fail. I have friends; let’s say in the last 15 years, they’ve moved from more than six different endeavours, six different professions. They will say they want to be a printer, from being a printer, they will say they want to be …different things. I’ve been a journalist all my life. Yes! Yorubas say that tori ba pe nile, o lati di re. It means that once you hold on to something and you are serious about it, you will improve it, you will get better at it. You can’t be jumping all over the place and get better. You have to be focused. People are not focused. They just wander about. And I think one of the greatest disadvantages in our country and also in Africa is that people can run to others to assist them, and that’s one of the things that make them think that life is easy.

 

What is the best way for a journalist to attain success and sustain it?

It’s like how you attain success in any endeavour. You are hard working, you work smart, you are serious, you stay on your job, you are hungry. You are perpetually hungry; you don’t get swollen-headed. I tell people, if you are a pilot, no matter how many times you’ve flown, every time you get into the cockpit, there are procedures you follow, even if you have the most experience. And if you go on leave, for example, for a number of days, you have to be retrained. So, that’s the same approach we should bring to everything. You must approach everything as if you are a learner, as if you don’t know much. You will be surprised what insights other people have. Nobody knows it all. But the moment somebody achieves small success, they think that’s everything. People that have helped them, they become pompous, so to speak, and arrogant. And doors are shut in their faces. Then, they don’t treat their staffers well. They get complacent. There are many elements. Nobody has the magic wand to success. We all are eligible for success when we do certain things. Even when you do those things, sometimes your karma might say you are not gonna be successful, maybe because of things you did in your previous life or the things you’ve done now. So, success is dependent on many factors. Apart from being very hard working, working smart, being in a profession that you love and doing all the right things, your karma must also be taken into cognizance, because that accounts for a lot. But even then, it is said about karma, that sometimes you can influence your karma. If you are good, a lot of bad things that are supposed to happen to you will be minimized.

What do you like most about being a journalist?

I like the fact that a lot of times news break and as the news is breaking, there’s this rush of adrenalin as in oh, this news is breaking, what am I going to do about it, what is the best way to present it? Like lately, we found out that Dr. Tunde Soleye and Chief (Mrs.) Nike Oshinowo started living apart. A lot of people suspected that there was something wrong with their marriage. So, we now said okay, what’s the best way to present this story so that we are ahead of competition, so to speak? We now went to work, highlighted a lot of things, chronicled the relationship, from the beginning till now, tried to speak to the two parties and even got the statement of the parties acknowledging that actually they’ve broken up. So, it is the process of the news breaking that gives me the greatest joy – when a news is breaking and I know that this is a piece of information that a lot of people are interested in and what is the best way to make use of it. Apart from that, I am a bit fulfilled that a lot of people can meet some of their economic needs from a company that we run. It’s almost like a calling for you to be given the opportunity to provide employment for people and every month, they look forward to receiving whatever is due to them. And what is due to them they use it in improving their lives and the lives of their families. That is why all the time, we try, no matter the difficulty, to make sure that the salaries are paid. Because people have obligations, people have needs they are gonna meet. So, even at the point of me suffering, I will rather be suffering while salaries are paid.

 

What is that thing that doesn’t fascinate you about being a journalist?

It’s the fact that I think journalists are too intelligent to be poor. It’s difficult for the profession to meet your economic needs. If you are applying the same energy to operating a petrol station, you will be richer. It’s very disheartening that a lot of times you cannot meet your economic needs. There are many factors responsible – maybe the illiteracy level; a lot of people don’t read in this part of the world; the economic power. For example, in the U.K that I’m very familiar with, I will see someone buy a journal and after 2 hours, the person throws it away. It means that the money is so negligible that it’s not a factor. I mean, I’ve been at airports, people buy magazines, as soon as their plane is announced, they drop the magazines and I wonder. It means they have a lot of money and the money they spend on a magazine is just a fraction. It’s not a lot, it’s something that they can forego.

 

Which of the stories written by you do you still have fond memories of and why?

Ah! There are too many stories (Laughing).

Just tell us one…

That’s difficult to talk about, but I will say that when I was a younger journalist, the story of Bianca and Ojukwu – their romance. Breaking that story was gratifying, because I went to Ngwo (in Enugu State) to meet with Bianca’s family and even one of the sisters had a bet with me that the story wasn’t true. A lot of the people we spoke to cast doubt on the story and as good journalists; we waited a while until we were convinced. So, that’s a story I remember fondly. But more than anything, what I remember a lot is my encounter with Mr. Akintola Williams. I was a journalist then at Classique magazine and I think Lady Oyinkan Abayomi died, and I went for the funeral at Ikoyi Cemetery (Lagos), and something just told me to approach Mr. Akintola Williams for interview. I greeted him and said I would like to find out your relationship with Lady Oyinkan Abayomi. He told me a very interesting story – that Lady Oyinkan Abayomi was formerly married to an Abayomi who was shot in court, before he met the new Abayomi that eventually married her. And I found his warmth very welcoming. Sometimes when you meet people who are pioneers, their simplicity is astounding. So, I learnt a lot of things from him. And I also remember once when we first started the special edition and we sent some copies to him, telling him we wanted an interview. He gave me a call and he was so full of prayers. Great men are very simple. I meet a lot of people and I’ve found out that the greatest among them are the simplest, without any airs around them and very humble. Meanwhile, the people that are new in town and maybe ran into a lot of money are the crudest. The celebrities we have now were not the ones we had before and you also need to learn that no matter how famous you are, no matter how popular you are, no matter how celebrated you are, it’s just for a short time. We went to London for MOBO Award, that’s Music Of Black Origin and some young musicians were being decorated. They were invited from Nigeria. I was invited also, and we went. Do you know that these guys were so pompous that all the time we were going anywhere; they were the last to come down. They were constantly sleeping with women. And I was telling Kenny Ogungbe and co – that these people, I don’t like what they are doing; don’t they know that there were stars before them; that we’ve been opportuned to meet with a lot of stars who even had international acclaim. Today, these musicians I’m talking about are begging for relevance. But at that time they were the raves of the moment. They were abusing their position and fame. Fame is fleeting; it’s not forever. If you treat people well, even when they realise that the fame is gone, they will still respect you. But if you’ve abused the position, nobody will have your time. These same musicians, we were doing an award, we put them in a hotel room, they did not come down to perform. Today, they are begging for relevance, and sometimes when you’ve lost it, it’s difficult to come back.

 

What is the most troublesome story that you have done?

I think it was a story about Dr. Onagoruwa. A very close friend of mine told me a story that was wrong about him and we published it and I was very upset. I remember I didn’t go to the office for maybe like two days, and it was Dele Momodu that called me, that you know what; I should forget it. That it was one of those things. And that is to say that no matter how trust worthy your source is, always cross-check your story. Because sometimes people make assumptions, people just assume because this and this is that and I happen to be there, this is the story. What I’ve learnt as a journalist is that the truth is difficult to uncover. So, when people make judgments, I just look and laugh. Maybe it’s because they are not journalists. They are quick to jump to conclusions. People will be saying all sorts of things and when I sit them down, this thing you are saying, were you there? No, I wasn’t there. Somebody told me. Who told you? This person told me. By the time you cross-check it, it might be ten miles away from the fact. So, now, I’ve learnt that no matter the source of any story, no matter how trust worthy, always cross-check. Even if it is a story between husband and wife, the husband will tell the story to suit his own position, the wife will tell the story to suit her. So, you must constantly check. The truth is very difficult to uncover.

Is that the best way to avoid litigations?

Yeah! Ensure that you speak to all the parties and don’t be biased, don’t be quick to make judgement, don’t be malicious. I was taught something a long time ago by our godfather, that’s Mr. Muyiwa Adetiba. I was told by a friend of Richard Mofe Damijo that he was dating May Ellen Ezekiel. So, I wanted to write the story. I cross-checked from all of them. But the way I was writing the story was almost malicious and my boss sat me down – that what is the fact I want to pass across? I said I want to tell the world that May Ellen Ezekiel is dating a younger person – and the person is Richard Mofe Damijo. He said tell your story, don’t be involved, and don’t be malicious. It won’t remove anything from the story. Just state your facts and leave it. And from that day, I think this will be maybe 1989 or 1990, I learnt a lot from it. Before, it was a if you were an opponent, like an adversary, you take sides and make judgement – this guy is a gigolo, he wants to make money from this woman…It’s not your business. Just state the facts.

 

When a reporter has a story that is true and he reaches out to the party concerned and he denies it, what should the reporter do?

You write the story from the perspective of the people denying the story. For example, if you say Mr. Bakare is a thief and you know that I have stolen N10 million, you know where I kept the money and you speak to me and I say no, I am not a thief. You should say ‘Mr. Bakare has denied being a thief. He told me in an interview on so, so date that contrary to what people are saying, he’s not this and that’. You write the story from the perspective of the man who is claiming whatever it is. If you now have facts from other sources, documented facts, that they found N10 million in Mr. Bakare’s account that he could not account for and he was invited by police and police are in the process of charging him, you now put all those facts in the story. It does not remove the fact that Mr. Bakare has been found with one N10 million that he cannot account for, even though he’s claiming that he’s not a thief. The readers can tell.

What is the best way to out-play the competition in one’s line of business?

It’s to be more serious than them, it’s to work harder. I told you earlier that one journalist was asked for an advice by a younger reporter – how do I succeed in this business? He said, work harder than your competitor, dress the part, because nobody wants to talk to a tramp. There’s nothing more than that. Just work harder. If you work harder, it will be evident. People can tell. Our job is very easy. Like some people are fond of saying – it is the market place that determines a lot of things. If your product is better, it’s the market that determines it. If you work harder, it will be apparent even in the packaging. Spend extra hours, work smarter than the competition and always pursue the truth. Like I said, integrity is what you sell.

 

How do you feel each time the competition beats you to a story?

I don’t give them that chance (General laughter). It’s like we all go to war every week and instead of maybe polishing and oiling my gun, I’m sleeping. That means I will be killed. For example, I tell people, our job is intellectual. You must plan it. Once in a while, it’s human; you cannot break all the stories. Other people will break stories, but every week you must present a package that is interesting and exciting. So, there’s no room for them. I’m on top of it – as in ready to give it extra time, extra hours.

What is the greatest thing that journalism has done for you?

It’s given me fulfillment. I’ve been trying to change profession and I’ve thought about it for five years – I’ve thought about what I should do. I give this thing a lot of my time, I’m not getting a lot of money from it, and what else can I do? Journalism gives me fulfillment and fulfillment is not about money. It’s about joy. What do you derive joy doing? There are people that work for maybe 2 days in a week and they are very rich. Is that what I want? No. I don’t want to be rich. I want to be fulfilled.

 

What hasn’t journalism done for you?

It’s not a profession that gives you economic advantage. But what I enjoy most – a lot of people respect me. That’s enough. Money can’t buy it. A lot of people that don’t have any business even looking my way, they call me and talk to me. That’s enough for me. But there are too many things I can’t afford and when you think about it, you feel like crying.

 

Who is that person that you really, really want to interview but have not been able to?

It will be Dr. Mike Adenuga…

Any reason for that?

I think one of my fascinations is to discover how people succeed and I have interviewed a lot of rich and successful people and I think he’s about the only person that I will like to interview that I haven’t interviewed. But maybe because I’ve not tried harder. I would have also loved to interview Ojukwu to tell us why he went to war and whether he regretted going to war. He’s one of the principal actors in the war that has not written a book and I think that’s not fair. He should have told us why he went to war, because we just read different accounts. There are many questions. Even Gowon has not written a book and somebody was begging him this week to write a book.

 

What is your dream for Encomium?

To run it for a long time, to continue to be the source of employment to a lot of people, to be the source of enjoyment to a lot of readers and to satisfy readers’ yearnings. To be there, you know, like an institution. We say in Encomium that we do journals of records. We want to do publications that anybody who wants to write stories about Nigeria, who wants to know Nigeria’s history, will make us a reference; he will come here. To be constantly relevant, to advance the cause of many people, to make life more abundant, to present opportunities…

You’ve always loved to buy clothes, books and magazines. Have you added new hobbies to those ones?

No, no, no. I’ve curtailed my hobbies. For example, clothes – I made a promise that I won’t buy clothes for like two years. Now, all I buy are the essentials. It’s not nice to have an obsession. Like this week, I was tempted to buy a white agbada and I just talked to myself – you have more than 20 of that, what do you want to buy a new one for? Let me just keep those ones clean and well. A lot of times we don’t have reasons for our obsessions. But now I’m curtailing mine. Even books! Like I was telling somebody yesterday, when I went to Ikeja City Mall and I saw a book by Sefi Atta. I was almost tempted to buy it and I said no, I have more than 300 books I’ve not read, why should I buy a new one? So, why just acquire things? I have a lot of books. If I start reading them, if I don’t exaggerate, in five years, I will still be reading them, because I do other things. The only thing I can’t do without is if any John Grisham book comes, I always buy and that’s because he’s my favourite author.

 

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