Mr. Seye Kehinde is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of City People magazine. Equally into events, the Ogun State born journalist laid bare to YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, the strategies he adopted to make his journal No. 1 in its sector. He also spoke on how to counter the threat posed by the social media, how to distinguish one’s self in journalism and more. Much more. The interview which held at his group’s corporate headquarters in Gbagada, Lagos, on Thursday, September 12, 2013, is full of nuggets. Enjoy…
A good journalist must be rounded. And when I say rounded, you must live the profession as it were. You must reflect the profession. It’s beyond just saying you are a journalist. You must be a reporter, you must be an all-rounder, you must be on your toes all the time, 24/7.
What makes a good editor?
A good editor is somebody who can add value to the business of reporting. From the point at which you send somebody out to go and do a report, to the point at which the person submits the report and to the third point at which the final script comes out, it’s the editor’s job all the way. So, a good editor must be able to read a story, know the kind of story he’s looking forward to and then be able to add value to that script when he gets it.
What makes a good publisher?
A good publisher is…I don’t want to say a journalist who is in business. Because you can be a publisher and not be a journalist. But a good publisher would be somebody who can run a media enterprise profitably. Basically, that’s it. Profitably, meaning you must be able to hire the best reporters, hire the best professionals to run and deliver on your investment.
The truth is that most of us don’t take what we do seriously. If we do, you will find out that like I said at the beginning, you must be an all-rounder; you must be able not only to deliver on the professional side, you must also be able to deliver on the business side. But for too long, many professionals didn’t pay attention to the business side of it. So, to that extent, they could only start off, but they’ve been unable to sustain the business side of it and of course, if you cannot do the business side of it well, you may not be able to succeed. I describe it as a long-distance race. I mean, there’s a difference between a long-distance race and 100 metres. 100 metres, you can do. But long-distance race, you must be able to do it in style and in such a way that as you go along, you just take things in your stride and you know that you are in for the long haul. So, it’s because they don’t pay attention to the nuts and bolts of the business.
What is the costliest mistake that any journalist can make?
Getting it wrong! Getting the information or the story that you want to publish wrong. Because even if you’ve built your reputation over let’s say the last 40 years, if you get it wrong, if you get a story wrong and it is really wrong, it can make nonsense of your entire professional career.
The answer to that would also be because we do not pay a lot of attention to the business side of it. The business side of it is the most difficult thing, because most of us are not trained as business people. Yes, you can write, yes, you may have been groomed by the best professionals in terms of reporting and all of that, but if you do not pay attention to the business side of it, you may just find out that you may be a very good reporter, you may be a very good professional, but you just won’t be able to take the business to the next level.
What do you like most about being a journalist?
I like the fact that you start with nothing and you end up with a very beautiful story. It excites me a great deal. I get excited when one minute, you are agonizing – oh, you don’t have anything; what are you going to do this week and by the time you go to bed, you have some leads that you are working on and by the end of the week, you’ve turned out a story from nothing. That for me is a thrill, and it thrills me. I get my kicks from that.
What don’t you like about being a journalist?
What I don’t like is the sitting down aspect of it. It’s very tedious. The administrative part. The part that makes you sit down all through the day trying to do the administrative aspect of the business; because it can be very boring, it can be very laborious, it can be very tedious and all that. But of course, if you are a publisher or an editor or a business person who has investment in the media, you must be able to add it all up. Because everything is part of the final product that you get.
It has made me understand my society. That is the biggest. I get so excited when I’m somewhere and people are talking about celebrities, they are talking about people in government and I just smile. Because some of these people you probably knew them before they got into government, some of these people you’ve met their predecessors, so you know the kind of platform they are operating from and a lot of things that people get excited about as ordinary Nigerians, you seem to have seen through that and so, you have a good grasp of your society, you have a good grasp of the environment you live in and there’s really nothing that comes as a big surprise anymore.
What has journalism not done for you?
What journalism has not done for me is that it hasn’t given me the kind of time I would like to have to do other things. It’s all consuming. Even though I run a weekly, you still find yourself running all through the period. And you now realize that you probably don’t have all the time that you think you have in the world to do other things. For me, that’s the most painful thing. Then, secondly, I could also talk in terms of money; because there are times I ask myself, had I put in this number of hours and all that into other professions, is this the kind of returns I will get from it and all that? Most times that strays into my thoughts and I say to myself, well, maybe you shouldn’t complain. Because we all know that if you really want to make money, this is not the business to go into. There are other more lucrative or profitable businesses that you could go into. But then, I think those are the two major areas. In fact, I don’t have enough time to do a lot of things and money is also hard to come by here.
I think basically the fact that we have brought a bit of seriousness into what we do. At the time we came in, the general perception was that soft sell was not a serious business. It was not even a business; it was not a serious thing for you to do. I mean, it was like why would you do soft sell? People saw it as an unserious thing. I think one or two people called it junk, people called it all sorts of name. I mean, people generally perceived it to be an unserious thing and all of that. So, we came from the perspective that okay, fine, if you say that it is not a serious thing, we can actually turn it into a serious business. Because I think we actually brought a bit of seriousness. Because I say to myself, and tell people, at times when people ask me that question: Do you think that all of us will go to school, have degrees and then come together and begin to work on what I would perceive to be a stupid project or a stupid business? No! There must be some seriousness to it that would make a lot of people who have kids, who are married, who are professionals in their own right come together to produce a product. So, that for me was it. In fact, most times we tend to remind ourselves that we should soften the thing up, because we always look at how we can make it appeal more to the people. And I am so happy that a lot of the so-called serious papers and all of that have also softened up. All the major daily papers that you will say oh, these are very, very serious, highbrow and all that, they’ve all softened up and they all do what we do in the soft sell now.
At the moment, City People is Nigeria’s oldest soft sell journal. What would you say has sustained it?
I think passion, I think passion. When I went into it in 1996 November, I said to myself that this was going to be a long-distance race and to that extent you must plan in such a way that we would know that we are in for a long haul. So, it’s not as if you are doing it with a view to maybe using it as a stepping stone to other businesses or stepping stone to other things and all that. For me, it’s a business and it’s a business that I plan to do for a long time. So, to that extent, one invested so much time, so much energy, so much passion and even resources to making it a solid brand that will continue to regenerate and continue to reproduce itself and all of that. So, I guess that is also part of it. The vision behind it is that it’s a long term thing.
Oh, it feels fulfilling. Yeah, it feels fulfilling, it feels satisfying. I mean, one is happy that at least you are putting in efforts and you can get the results. You can also see the results and all of that. And of course, the most important aspect of it is that it is very challenging. Challenging in the sense that you will know that having reached this point, you just have to keep going.
Why do you think that City People sells more than the other journals?
I guess because of the fact that we, as part of our business model, do more than journalism. We do more than reporting. We are actively involved in events. We use the brand as a platform to doing other things that would bring attention to the product. I realized a long time ago that journalism has since moved from just being the business of publishing and reporting and all of that. You need to also give back to the society, you need to also engage the society and what that means is that you must be relevant to your environment and your market. To that extent, we try to engage our readers, we try to engage those we call our markets and all that. So, to that extent, you will find out that we do a whole lot of things that even people say oh, you guys are doing too many things and all that. But then, it is part of the business. It’s also a business strategy that of course if you engage people, you would probably reach out to more readers than just letting them pick your copy based on stories alone.
President Goodluck Jonathan…
Because I think that there’s still a lot that he needs to tell us about both himself and his style and I believe that – it’s my personal opinion – he hasn’t been drilled enough to bring out the real him. Let me put it that way. Of course, people have interviewed him before and all that, but then there’s always this thing about if you handle a person like that, there are a lot of mysteries. For example, I will like to ask him some silly questions; let me put it that way. There are those who perceive him to be slow, there are those who perceive him to be naïve. In fact, the thing that will excite me about him is to be able to put two or three questions that Nigerians like to ask him and getting him to respond to that.
One of the greatest threats to journalism now is the social media. How has it affected City People?
In fact, it is not just City People, it is affecting the entire soft sell sector. Because if you look back five years ago, six years ago, seven years ago, all the celebrity stories would break in the soft sell magazines. I mean, soft sell was the platform where you get to read a lot of breaking stories. But these days, that is not so. Even the celebrities themselves prefer to break their stories online. So, to that extent, the online thing has become a very, very, very big challenge to the soft sell and print media. And of course, even if you say that you disagree with that, what is happening globally shows that, that’s the direction. I mean, so many magazines have folded up; daily papers have had their revenue reduced and all that simply because of the effect of the social media. And even advertising is also shrinking. I mean, I’ve attended seminars where practitioners have come out to say this – that most advertising companies would first think of how to place their ads on the social media than for them to put them in print. And of course, you can reach out to a greater number of readers online than in the print. And so, that is why. Of course, that has also led to the reduction in sales and also reduction in advertising revenue. So, it’s a serious threat.
The way out is for all of us to move. When I say move, it doesn’t mean that we should abandon what we do. But we should also begin to engage the social media players. I mean, the emerging players of the social media. We shouldn’t leave it to them because I feel that most of those who play in that league are not professionals. Most of them are businesses that started out of passion or out of something they like doing and they’ve now turned it into business and if care is not taken, we will sit down, fold our arms and allow those that are not professionals seize the momentum from us and at the end of the day, it’s going to be very dangerous for us. So, I think what we need to do is for all of us to create new platforms on the social media and then find a way of engaging people at that level while at the same time we retain our hold on the print media.
What can be done about doing a story on Monday and even before the paper gets to all the news stands, those on the social media have lifted them, sometimes without giving the original owner any credit?
The best thing to do, and which is the policy I have adopted, is to shift…Well, not shift. Some people will still monitor those areas. But look for stories that you will not find online. I just believe that there are a lot of stories that can be broken by the soft sell that are not online; that they cannot do. Because you see, I also believe that we need to go back to the basics. We need to go back to the very basics of journalism and all that and if we do that, you will find out that the kind of stories we would be doing would not be the kind of stories that you don’t find online. They are stories that would need a kind of leg work, stories that would need a bit of confirmation here and there. Because a few years back, when the online people started, that was the way it was. They will lift stories from the soft sell and then put online. But after a while, I guess we allowed that slip from us and what we now find is the other way round. They will break the stories, we will now go and flesh it out and still run it a week after. So, I think basically we need to shift our attention to other areas.
I look at somebody who is restless, somebody who can just get out there on the street and go get me a story. That also used to be the way our seniors of those days used to do it. When you were looking for a job in any of the media houses, you were going to find the editor or whoever you were working with saying go to Oshodi for me, go and do this, go and do that. I mean, because reporting is basically journalism, so you are going to find that many of them are just being thrown into an assignment and say give me a report. Basically, they want to see how you can report and how you can write and all that. So, that is it for me.
What is the best way to treat a staff who is talented but not disciplined?
Well, I guess by monitoring the person or micro-managing the person. Because it is not just about signing on a reporter and saying oh, you have a reporter on board. You have to also manage and monitor the person to make sure that the person is on point, the person is actually doing what he/she is supposed to do and where he or she falls short of it, you step in again and you provide solution or advice along that line so you can help the person to achieve the target the person has.
What sin must a journalist not commit?
One, a journalist must not misinform, a journalist must not pass off other people’s job or other people’s articles as yours, a journalist must also not be in it for cash or for money. I mean, it goes beyond that. And then a journalist also must be passionate. You must not be seen to be in it because oh, you just want to; and for want of better things to do. If you are a journalist and you call yourself a journalist, you are worth your salt, you should not be found taking your job lightly and just looking at it as another means of income.
My dream for City People magazine is for us to continue to be relevant to our market, for us to be relevant to the celebrities who read us and for us to continue to meet their needs as it were because we are in business because of them. Once they tune off you, you will not be able to continue. So, because of that, I continue to look at what do they want, how can you reach out to them, how can you engage them and all of that? So, my dream is for us to be able to be relevant to their needs and taste, as we move along the line.
NB: First published November 2013
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