‘There is need for more community newspapers in Nigeria’
It is at the vanguard of grassroots development and also brings issues of local communities to national attention, especially with the deft deployment of the pervasive influence of the internet, and its social media offshoots.
And as Olowosago aptly put it in a chat with The Guardian at his office last week, “It is only a foolish government that will not use community journalism as its own propaganda, because community newspapers are very close to the grassroots. And due to the fact that news is proximity, community dwellers have no choice than to read your paper.
Put their photographs there and they will buy your paper. The national newspapers cannot perform these functions because they cannot come to the grassroots.
“For instance, my job is to highlight the sufferings of the downtrodden and promote the government vis-a-vis the community on what they are lacking and who and who are the community champions. We also liaise the communities with the state.”
On how he ventured into community journalism, Olowosago noted, “I always tell reporters that if I had not travelled abroad, I wouldn’t know what is community newspaper. I went to London College of Journalism and I stayed in North London. When I was there, I was curious.
Aside from the national dailies there was this newspaper that was purely for the community and I said to myself, ‘if I get back home and have the money, I will set up something like that in Ikorodu Division.’
“In 1980, Concord newspaper was founded and I applied. I worked under late Dele Giwa as Sub-Editor.
Dele Alake, Mike Awoyinfa, Dimgba Igwe and Sunny Ojeagbase were all together at National Concord. We believe that if you are hardworking, prayerful, objective, you will excel.
Dele Giwa was very intelligent. He has his style of writing with impeccable English. He was a writer to the core. I was later promoted production editor. After five years at Concord, I then said to myself, ‘let me try this community newspaper.’
Then I had N40,000 in my account. I then wrote a letter of resignation to MKO Abiola and Doyin Abiola and they said, ‘you want to leave a paid job to unknown?’
“So, I started the production in 1985, which was on my birthday. The office was a two-bedroom flat in my father’s hose at Ikorodu. We started with 20 pages, and today we have more than 100 pages, all colour. I was getting advert gradually until where I am today.
So it’s a success story in community journalism. When I started, I never knew it would be like this and since I graduated in 1977, I have never done anything besides journalism all my life.”
While sharing his secrets of success, Olowosago attributed it to hard work, prayer, and objectivity, noting, “The secret of my success is also due to my drive, and aggressiveness to succeed. I can’t imagine the number of awards that I have received. I have been very lucky to have good members of staff and they have been loyal. I started with two or three part time reporters.
“Former Military Administrator of Lagos, Buba Marwa, also influenced my career at a time.
Others are governors Fashola, Tinubu, and Ambode. I never knew Marwa before, but he used to read my papers and one day he called me at Alausa Secretariat mosque and said I have met many journalists, but I have not met you and he asked what he could do for me and I told him the only thing he could do for me in the area of adverts, and he instantly phoned the commissioner for information and I got eighty pages of advert. I also got another contract worth N5 million.
I also told him some local governments were owing me and up till then they had not paid and he called the permanent secretary and told them to pay me immediately. That was December 4, 1998.”
On challenges he faces as a community newspaperman, he said, is that every newspaper needs consistent adverts to survive, noting, “Newspaper is a very complex business. If you don’t get adverts, you can’t sustain it.
If you are running a newspaper and you don’t have adverts, then you will run down. When we started there were 12 community newspapers in Ikorodu alone.
All of them today are no more. Because they didn’t know the nitty-gritty of community newspapering, and because they didn’t get adverts. So I am the only authentic community newspaper in Ikorodu Division and Nigeria.
“We don’t have problem with readership. Readership will be about 10,000 in a month and we don’t have unsold copies. We also have subscription. We don’t pretend to be national newspaper.
It is the standard that we started with that we are still maintaining. At times I step on toes, but later we still reconcile.”
On his advice to young people, who want to practice community journalism, Olowosago said, “I have given so many lectures on community journalism.
With four or eight pages one can start. With the IT revolution, you can take it to a printer and they will print for you. And cost of production is not expensive.
The moment you get a full-page advert, it covers the cost of 4 or 8 pages. And if the paper is regular on the newsstand, you are in business.
“The challenge with some people is the journey of the unknown but you do it steadily. I am the patron of Lagos State Community Journalists and practitioners. I am a local champion here. Seventy percent of our stories are for Ikorodu Division. If you don’t have advertisement then you are not in business.”
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