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Gatekeeping in the newsroom, experience of The Guardian, 33 years on

By Gbenga Salau
11 July 2016   |   6:29 am
The 33 years of the paper has seen it pass through some transformation, with each editor bringing to bear his personal philosophy to rub on the overall philosophy and what The Guardian stands for as an organisation.
The late Andy Akporogo, the founding Publisher of The Guardian, the late Alex Ibru, Kingsley Osadolor, Emeka Izeze and Debo Adesina

The late Andy Akporogo, the founding Publisher of The Guardian, the late Alex Ibru, Kingsley Osadolor, Emeka Izeze and Debo Adesina

As the head of newsroom operations, the editor is responsible for the overall content of the newspaper, as he or she makes sure everything runs to plan. The final say on what appears in the paper belongs to the editor, so he or she is the overall gatekeeper. And one noticeable heritage The Guardian has brought to bear on journalism practice in Nigeria is the low turnover of editors. In the last 33 years of its existence, and before the appointment, two weeks ago, of Mr. Abraham Ogbodo as the new editor, only five great journalists had edited The Guardian.

When The Guardian started in 1983, hitting the market as a weekly on Sunday, February 27, and went daily five months after (July 4), the editor that signed the Sunday paper, Mr Lade Bonuola., known then as Associate Editor, also signed the daily paper, including the Saturday title.

The 33 years of the paper has seen it pass through some transformation, with each editor bringing to bear his personal philosophy to rub on the overall philosophy and what The Guardian stands for as an organisation.

In the formative years, when Bonuola was the associate editor, The Guardian reported every aspect of the economy and society. But by the time Mr. Femi Kusa was leaving as editor in 1992, the paper was more systematic about the reportage of segments of the economy and society, compared to when he took over in 1988 from Bonuola.

So, unlike under Bonuola when readers did not look forward to a day to specifically read about issues like environment, business, arts, education and health, when Kusa left, what he left for the editor that took over from him, Mr. Emeka Izeze, was a paper that was highly compartmentalized along thematic areas, with each day discussing different issues.

Under Kusa, readers could look out for articles on property, housing, media watch and Junior Guardian on Mondays. On Tuesday, issues about vacancies and education was the specifics while on Wednesday, it was Moneywatch, the law and woman’s eye. For Thursday, the thematic area was just health while Friday had Weekend Guide, which comprised food and drinks, stage and screen, Friday worship, consumer watch, shopping and then video, disc and satellite. Saturday and Sunday titles were not left out of these issues around compartmentalization. Kusa also introduced the daily Focus page, which discussed topical issues in a more in-depth form, away from the brevity of news.

The era of Kusa gave The Guardian its current profile as a publication, not ruling out the earlier niche areas of The Guardian, when it started out, which was about providing detailed background to stories. And the successive editors consolidated on this.

So, when Izeze took over from Kusa in 1992, he also built on the template of the Kusa era. By the time Izeze passed the baton to Mr. Debo Adesina in April 1999, as editor, he had added the daily Metro page as well as up the ante of Arts pages that now appeared daily in the paper. This was besides increasing the pagination to 48 pages.

Apart from building on what he was given in terms of increasing the pagination and more room to ventilate for each of the sections within the publication, Adesina also introduced Heroes of School Sports as well as adjusting politics section to Policy and Politics. By the time he left as editor, The Guardian’s pagination had increased on the average to 64 pages.

Mr. Martins Oloja took over on October 2, 2012 and by the time he left in January 2016 as the editor, The Guardian had Greater Lagos, Panorama and geo-political zone pages in addition to other sections introduced by successive editors. Oloja also introduced special publication, which engaged national and international issues including personalities. This led to the publication of special report on the death of Nelson Mandela; Wole Soyinka at 80; centenary anniversary of Nigeria among other special publications. After Oloja was elevated to the editorial board, Mr. Jewel Dafinone had a brief stint as acting editor of the paper. And within the months he was on duty, he introduced the Sports Legend column.

The new editor of The Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo is just two weeks on duty. It is expected that he would refresh the brand and inject new ideas into it, which would build on what he met by strengthening it in terms of content and aesthetics.

A newspaper sub-agent, Mr. Nkwaoma Edeonyia, who spoke on his expectation of The Guardian brand said from his experience, as a reader and vendor, he expects the new editor to make a radical or progressive change on two fronts – content and distribution cum circulation.

On content, he said the focus should not be fully tilted in favour of the elites alone, adding that stories about the masses and the downtrodden should be given some prominence in the paper. On the issue of circulation, Edeonyia said many vendors are not happy with the supply format of the paper. He noted that newspaper agents are not comfortable with the terms and conditions of distributing the paper that tend to hurt them, as it makes The Guardian unprofitable for them to distribute.

President of Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), Mr. David Okeme, advised the editor to keep The Guardian tradition, saying it is such a very strong brand that is clearly differentiated in the market space.

According to him, “If I am to describe The Guardian, I will describe it as more tilted towards the intellectuals. Therefore, one of the things that he (editor) needs to do urgently is how to make it pro-business. With that, he can put some new life and energy to the paper. For me, it is the right paper to read, because reading it not just gives you the news but also develops you intellectually in such a way that you develop your mind and thought.

“Generally, within the consumer space, we say it is a very serious paper because you need to engage it with all the seriousness that is required. Second is that, it is clearly differentiated in terms of thematic areas and the paper is known for this. So, what he needs now is a whole refresh and in the process of doing this, he must strengthen the paper’s support for business.”