Dr. Seye Kehinde, right now in Nigeria, publishes the longest – surviving celebrity journal – City People. Born on April 21, 1965, he’s been at it for 25 years.
An indigene of Iperu in Ogun State, he read History, Political Science and International Relations at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State.
Igniting the fire of his journalism career in 1984, he has since then traversed Sunday Tribune, Newswatch, The Herald, Insider Confidential, This Week, African Concord, African Guardian, The News, Tempo and now City People.
Dogged and diligent, resourceful and innovative, YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE got him to share how he has been able to sustain his brand for 25 years and other issues. Enjoy…
What would you say has kept City People going in the last 25 years; considering the fact that the media terrain is so difficult. Most people get into that business and in just one month, two months, some are not able to sustain it, but you have done this now for 25 years. What is the secret?
I think the secret is the grace of God. Nothing more to add. I can’t say I have a strategy that has worked. At the same time, it is also, I guess, the passion that I have for the profession and for the business. You need a bit of passion. You have to be passionate about this media job because it is very tasking, very rigorous and it takes a lot of your time and it eats you up. I mean, you just find out that, day in, day out, you are there pounding away. I guess it is the passion and the fact that for some of us, we have been at it for quite a while. I have been at it since 1984. And somehow, it has been difficult to detach yourself from it and you just keep going, and you just keep fine-tuning the strategies as you go on, and then you keep at it.
25 years ago when you embarked on this journey, who gave you the greatest support?
Ah! The greatest support I would say came from God. Don’t mind me, I am sounding a bit spiritual now. But there is a spiritual side to City People. Yes, I may have some basic principles that I follow, but then the most important thing is grace and God’s blessing and the fact that it was like what I will call a deal that I have with God. Even at the time I took off, the terrain was very rough. I mean, there was no money, I couldn’t raise funds the conventional way of raising funds, but somehow I did the abracadabra and everything fell into place, and City People got given birth to.
So, I would say that is it. I don’t want to attribute it to a human being or to anybody or to myself or anything, no! I think it is just the grace of God. It is a vision God gave me, and I ran with it, and then everything fell into place, yeah!
I appreciate the fact that you have laid everything at the doorstep of the Almighty God, but I still want to believe that there must have been maybe one individual, you know, who stood by you, who gave you some form of support other than God. I need to know that one person…
You know the truth of the matter? When we started off in November 1996, I started saying to myself, what else can I do to raise money? Because, initially, I got the impression that I would have people throwing in funds and all of that, and of course, they actually promised. Many people actually promised that, “Oh, don’t worry. We will support you. You are a good guy, it is a good project and everything”. But in November 1996 when I now started going round and knocking on doors, what they all kept telling me was that the National Budget had not been read, that we had to wait and I was like budget! This wasn’t part of the discussion. At that point, I didn’t argue with anybody. I just went back to the drawing board and said, okay, fine, what else can I do? Let me walk backward and then see how to go about it. So, that is why it is difficult for me to say it is Mr. A or Mr. B. I now had to rely on my personal funding, I had to rely on selling off a few personal assets I had, to raise money.
So, that has been my story and I just give God the glory because, at the end of the day, I didn’t want to quarrel with anybody, I didn’t want to say oh, you failed me when it was time. I just felt it was a lesson God was teaching me and then took the whole experience in good faith and I continued my journey.
What has been the greatest hurdle that you have had to face and surmount in the last 25 years?
Funding. In this business, you are the publisher, you are the sales chief, you are everything. I mean, you have to look for funds to keep going and at the end of the day, it is between you and your God and all that, and then you have to find a solution to that. So, that has been the biggest in the last 25 years. It’s been funding, it’s funding, cash.
What would you say have been the greatest lessons that you have learnt about business, and about journalism in the last 25 years?
I will say the biggest lesson is to be passionate about what you do. You yourself won’t be able to explain how you have been able to do it and all of that because, for me, I had what I would call a pact. At the beginning stage, when I was starting off, I prayed to God that if this project succeeds, I would also put everything I have into it in terms of playing my own part. Anytime I look back and see that the fact that God has fulfilled His own part, and then the fear that I would fail to fulfill my own part has kept me going. I just realized that I just could not keep looking for excuses here and there, I just have to hit the ground running, I have to continue running, and running and then continue to sustain the business.
With the benefit of hindsight, and considering the fact that currently, you’re the only regular celebrity journal publisher that we have around, where would you say the other publishers got it wrong? Where did they miss the point?
Well, I won’t say they got it wrong. I think it has to do with individual decisions. You cannot really speak for everybody. Because it’s not as if those of us who are still in business, that we are enjoying it like that. It’s not as if it’s a profitable business. I won’t lie to you. It’s not profitable at all. It is tough. And I’ve also spoken even to those in the daily newspaper business. And they’re also saying the same thing that it’s difficult breaking even. It’s difficult running the business profitably and all of that. In some cases, some will tell you that it’s just the grace of God that is still keeping them going. So, I won’t say that anybody got it wrong. And I won’t blame anybody who chooses to go do something more profitable. Because if you want to tell somebody not to leave a particular business, you have to be sure that the person is enjoying it. But when you run a business where it is not profitable, you put in money and you’re not covering your cost, it will be difficult to convince people in that business to stay back. Stay back to do what? So, that’s why I said it’s a function of individual decisions. If selling or going into buying and selling would give you the money you need, why not? And then you may just write articles once in a while. If it is opening a shop that will give you the money that you need, and you are actually getting that money from opening the shop, why would you want to sit down in journalism and be writing stories?
And of course, you know that it is the same story, same complaint everywhere. I think it is more of being realistic with what the situation is. Because when you look at it, you know what I am saying. You have to run after newspaper agents to collect your money, advertisers, you have to go and prostrate to collect the money, they will tell you, “Oh, you have to wait for thirty days before…” Of course, within that thirty days, you have to publish four times. So, where are you going to get the money from? And even when it is time for them to pay the money, the money is not paid. What else do you do? You have to buy paper, you have to pay the printer on a weekly basis. Like, my great brother and friend, Bashorun Dele Momodu keeps saying, it is a big kalokalo business. I mean, you spend the money and you are not sure you would recover your funds. He said it is the greatest kalokalo business. So, you ask yourself, you have to be convinced, you have to – if not, you might end up selling everything you have to be able to sustain the business.
So, that is why a lot of my colleagues have become very creative. They are doing it and they are making good money from it. So, I don’t think I want to blame anybody, it is a decision whether you want to stay or you want to go do something more profitable.
Why do you think that most publishers moved online very late and allowed non-professionals to take over that sector; to dominate that sector?
You know the truth of the matter? We are all guilty of that. Guilty as charged! I guess it is because we did not, like what you said, latch on to the wind that was blowing at that time. Somehow, we felt oh! We will survive it. We somehow felt oh, the print will continue forever, nothing would happen. We didn’t see what some people saw early enough, and by the time we all began to react to it individually and collectively, I mean, it was almost too late. But I guess some people also said it was never too late. The day you realize where you are is your morning, and then you take it from there and begin to build and build and then hope for the best. But the truth of the matter is we underrated the problem, underrated the challenge that was coming our way and we felt oh, we will survive it and all of that! And that was the mistake we all made.
So, what is the way out now?
The way out is for everybody to go in the direction of online publishing. It is a phase that is with us. We are in it now. Everybody, whether you are in the print journalism or broadcast or whatever, social media are the key components of the job we do now. And even in our own case, we had to integrate social media with the print edition. So, everything that you find in the print, you read online. They both complement each other. The print itself cannot stand on its own without having the support of social media to give it that push and give it that publicity and attention that is needed right now.
So, that is the way to go about it. We must take it seriously and as you said, we must also try and dominate that scene because we are professionals and we are trained to do that. So, why shy away from a phase that is real and that which we have now. I guess, yeah, it has come to stay. Very soon we are going to even move from that point to another level. So, if you miss this stage at which we are now, you are likely to miss out completely and be unable to catch up with the rate at which change is coming up.
Considering the fact that you have been able to sustain City People now for all of 25 years, what is the next stage? What is the next phase for City People? Where are you taking it next after 25 years?
We are currently strengthening our online platform. That is the next stage and then look at allied areas that we can invest in or those we can do business with. The industry is in a very fluid state today. You need to assess where you are, come up with where you are going, and then look at opportunities that abound. There are so many opportunities that abound that you can benefit from. So, as you are trying to strengthen your online platform and play along with other competitors, you must also look at the endless possibilities that are there. I mean, one of it is what we are doing now, I mean, Instagram Live chat. So many things that you can do. I also know that with the way life is going now, we are going to be seeing opportunities here and there and it is only the creative person, the creative mind that can see opportunities where others don’t see it. So, it is like you are playing a game and you are moving the game from a particular platform to another platform. So, you need to get used to it, you need to look at new strategies, new styles of playing those games and all. So, that is what it is. So, for us, we need to strengthen our online – we need to make our presence felt, online.
If a young person comes here now and says he or she wants to go into journalism, what would be your advice to the person?
I would advise the person to understand the terrain he or she is going into. Of course, I will tell the person that journalism is not being played now the way it was played years ago. Things are changing. And that, just like what I’ve just said to you, you must look for opportunities online. Look for opportunities that are unfolding. Even opportunities that would probably come in handy in the next few years. Like when I talk to young people and they tell me oh, they’re into photography, they’re into music, they’re into makeup, they’re into fashion, they’re into all those new areas that young people are going into. Anytime I interact with them, I ask them: “So, where do you think this industry would be in the next five years?” That has always been the question and each time I throw that question at them, they’re like, oh, okay. And I’m like no! It’s not just you playing in that field now. You have to understand that this game would change in the next five years. I can guarantee you that. And if you know that the game would change in the next five years and you can read correctly, why don’t you start preparing for the next five years? So, by the time your colleagues are still playing with what exists now, you are already adding value to what you’re doing and you’re moving fast. You’re moving ahead of them to go and meet them and all of that. So, for me, that’s it.
So, if anyone says I want to be a journalist today, I’d say don’t look at what exists now. Where do you think the journalism industry would be in the next five years? And if the person can correctly tell me or interpret or read opportunities available in the five years, then I know that person would be relevant in the next five years. For example, if you just say what you want to do is what other people are doing, then it means that you’re just on the bandwagon. But if you’re saying things like – this is what they are doing now, but this is what I want to do differently to make me stand out from the crowd, then I would know that that person has the potential, and all the person needs is a bit of fine-tuning and advice and mentoring and, of course, the sky would be the beginning, not even the limit for such a person.
I know that you have interviewed hundreds of people. Who is that person that you’d like to interview but still unable to; that one person that has remained elusive?
There are so many people. Like President Buhari. There are so many of them. He is someone I would like to interview.
Because, one, he’s the President of Nigeria. He’s the most important person in Nigeria today. He’s the number one person in this country. I want to know how his mind works. As a journalist, I want to understand the man. Because I don’t understand the man really. And I would like to. I know that you also have that mindset. That you want to sit him down and say why don’t you listen to people? Why don’t you do what people want? Why is it difficult to do A, B, C, D, E, F and all of that? And then he gives you answers and then you grill him and you bring out the best in him.
Another person I would also like to interview would be Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. Because he’s the most talked-about politician in Nigeria today. I also want to ask him a few probing questions that perhaps would help the viewers or the readers to understand him even better. And for me, that’s another part of journalism that excites me. The fact that you’re sitting with somebody, who you know that about a hundred million Nigerians or fifty million Nigerians would like to know certain things about the person. Why the person is the way the person is and you want to bring all of that out. So, that’s why I said there are a lot of them like that. People who are policy makers, entertainers, and all of that. I mean, you cannot have enough of them. You want to sit down and interview them and bring out the unknown part of them and also their views about life.