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Seun Onigbinde: Journalism of press releases and brown envelopes

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Seun Onigbinde: Journalism of press releases and brown envelopes

by Seun Onigbinde

Any time we request the presence of journalists at a BudgIT event, my colleagues quickly asks me of the after-event payment, which I am always reluctant to give.  The journalists wait for the press release and also the envelope. They complain in loud tones that the funds are not enough to go round and their standard fee has been discounted. We mostly offered the per-diem of N5,000 that was given to all participants.

At a point, I had to ask Bosun Tijani, co-founder of Co-Creation Hub and he voiced the inappropriateness of the entire approach. I recollect that in the inaugural press event for BudgIT in 2011, we did not give honorarium. Despite having journalists from the prime media stations, only Champion Newspapers wrote our story.

Recently, when the same colleague asked me if we were not going to give journalists some funds to motivate them in publishing our story regarding  a new trade advisory product, here was my response in a private email: “This lame approach of gratification does not sit well with me. I am not interested.”

I am not interested in this lame journalism where the only thing that ticks time is press release and the payout. Femi Owolabi, in his piece on The Scoop, pointed out that this is the tradition and I will request to know if journalism itself is not a profession. Must we be all gratified in a way to do our jobs or is the journalism cut from another dimension that is atypical to other professions? Is a journalist hired to attend an event or is he/she curiously seeking pieces that educate, inform and deepen the trust of  its publishing platform with the public? This sense of ‘anyhowness’ does not sit well with me.

As a Knight Fellow with the International Center for Journalism (ICFJ) and having seen the amazing work of journalists across the globe,  I wonder why those here are not seeking to explore beyond the convenient. I have my heroes too in Nigeria and I am excited to see more as I work on a health journalism innovation project. I just grieve over the sense of gratification that consumes the young journos. Nothing cuts of decency nor raises new levels of curiosity, it is a survivalist approach of not aiming for excellence but redressing press releases. I have helped few journalists in reworking their stories, lacing it with data, using beautiful graphics to highlight the stories and I can count three of them who have won respected awards.  A mediocre mind will still think this is not the way.

In the tragic case of the Synagogue Church, where over 100 lives were lost in a building collapse, journalists receive N50,000 and with a mortgaged conscience, ask of “what should he write?”. One can hear a loud laughter in the room, they know what to do as usual – pick up loose pieces without hunt for facts. Nothing investigative from an untypical angle that sheds light on the issue.

If we encourage this troubling  sense of gratification, how do we raise the levers of objectivity, lift bars of excellence, intensify curiosity and build a truly informed society? I am not unmindful of the poor conditions of journalists but having lived through such relative experience, I have persevered to raise the bar higher. Do these “Synagogue bunch” of Nigerian journalists  think that way?

I am looking for journalists learning new trends, applying it to their fields, interacting with their world-class colleagues and bringing good stories in the public sphere. I am interested in those who see present platforms as opportunities to dignify themselves and reach new heights. We can revel in long pieces but that N50,000 is a bribe and for Nicholas Ibekwe to reject such scale of tragedy, he must be respected. For Femi Owolabi to use previous encounters to discount the ignominy exhibited by the journalists does not impress me at all. Every work has be done with a sense of duty and honour with the belief that inherent in it lies the value but when the short-termism reigns, mediocrity becomes the bane.

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Thinker|Writer|Engineer|Art&Culture Critic|Father|Lover|Socio-Political Commentator|Deacon|Believes that a life without beans&dodo is a miserable existence.

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