19 November 2013

A STROLL WITH JENNIFER EHIDIAMEN (For International Journalists' Remembrance Day)

“I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is an immediate short-term weapon.” ~Tom Stoppard

From the village town crier reporting at the market square to the foreign correspondent on cable TV, we are grateful to all the men and women who invest their time, resources, and even put their lives on the line to keep us all informed on a day-to-day basis. Journalism has evolved over the years, and the evolution of technology has facilitated this process a great deal. Right now we have a wide range of information sources to choose from and we can even share our own views with people from around the world in real time.

My guest, Jennifer, is a tech savvy Nigerian Journalist keen about using the new media as a tool to disseminate information. She’s presently serving as a senior reporter and media trainer at Global Press Institute, and she’s a 2013 new media fellow at the International Reporting project at John Hopkins University SAIS.

We talked about her flare for journalism; the evolution of Global journalism down the years; other youth leadership and entrepreneurial ventures she’s involved in; and so much more. For International Journalist’s Remembrance Day 2013, here is my stroll with Jennifer Ehidiamen;

Ebenezar: Hello Jennifer, thank you for having this stroll with me.

Jennifer: Thanks Ebenezar, for reaching out. You are doing a brilliant job on here. Very inspiring!

Ebenezar: Thank you very much. Technology has really shaped and re-shaped the world we live in, there's no doubt about that. But do you think technology has had a positive effect on journalism?

Jennifer: Yes, yes, and yes! Technology has had a positive effect on journalism. The advent of technology is transforming the profession as well as the process involved in the work. Technology has brought about and is still bringing innovations to journalism. It has changed the way we tell our stories- from the newsroom where story ideas are shaped and assigned to the field-work of news reporting to the editing and then the publishing phase- every of these areas and many more are being refined every day. You see, in the past for example, only a certain set of people could tell the African story. But technology is changing that. Africans can now take ownership and tell the African story. This includes bringing to light all the innovations and progress that normally would be ignored for the hunger stricken images and pitiful editorials. Technology in journalism is an empowering tool.

(Image Credit: Berkley Graduate School of Journalism)
Journalism has gotten easier, most will say. But it is way more technical now. As a cub reporter venturing out into the field, you know that being a writer or a good researcher is not enough. You need to know how to operate the different tools that you'll need on the job- such as digital camera, digital audio recorder/camera, computers, and of course the online skill-set needed for research, networking and dissemination. Another positive effect of technology on journalism is how it has transformed the way the media now engage its target audience. Audience participation is now more active than ever before. And news custodians know not to condescend to their audience. Tech-age has made it easy for readers and listeners to fact-check whatever information they receive with just a click of their fingers. In addition, news consumers are now also to produce their own content, as citizen journalism. With a click on mobile phone, anyone can capture an image of an event and report it on their social media. Technology has brought speed to the profession. The process of news production and dissemination is way faster than it used to be. The list of the positive effect tech has on this noble profession is long. We cannot exhaust it all right here. But of course, lets not give all the accolades to technology; it has also had its negative effect on journalism. Some media organizations are folding up or cutting down in size as a result of their inability or need to match the trend.

Ebenezar: Okay, just like you said, Journalism is evolving. And there's a new—informal—form of journalism we can notice called; citizen journalism. The Arab uprising showed us how effective this form of journalism can be, but some critics feel it'd have a negative effect on the journalism profession. What do you think about this?

Jennifer: Citizen Journalism is one of the beautiful effects technology brought along to the journalism profession. Citizen journalism can be evaluated from different aspects. As I mentioned earlier, the advent of technology has moved audience from the position of just being news consumers to news producers. This means, they are able to generate their own news content and report it on different online medium or websites. No longer do people wait for the media to break the news. Once anyone gets hold of information, what they do is broadcast it. 

(Image Credit: Kennybluecommunications)
Ebenezar: Very true...

Jennifer: We have seen situations where photos and videos of social injustice are shared through different social networks. Most of these are not done by the professional journalists. I think it is a good thing that people are able to do this. We have seen cases where media organization kills a story because it does not favor the publishers or money-bags associated with them. Citizen journalists do not necessary concern themselves with such politics. They are usually not influenced by the "he who pays the piper dictates the tune" syndrome. This is a good thing. But the perceived negative effect citizen journalism has on the profession is that these citizen journalists do not go through the professional process required for news reporting. Most contents are published without thorough vetting. Most citizen journalists do not fact-check; they do not do thorough investigation before disseminating their information. They are more concerned about getting the words out and getting website hits for increased ranking, oblivious of the implication of such action. No doubt, some populace has been misled by such reports. The authentic and objective nature of the professional journalists and journalism will remain the winning edge it has over citizen journalism. The later can complement, but it can never take over the journalism field. People still want to read thoroughly investigative reports and its likes and trust the mainstream/traditional media to provide these.

Ebenezar: In many parts of the world, the press is still restricted in the kind of information they give out, and in 2011 you spoke at a World Press Freedom day event in Washington D.C. Do you think 'total press freedom' in something very essential in journalism? Or we could use some censorship here and there...

Jennifer: Yeah, in 2011 when I was given the opportunity to speak at the World Press Freedom day in Washington D.C., I met with a couple of older journalists from other countries. One of the discussions that still come to mind is one I had with a female journalist from Burma. She told me of how expensive it was to get basic communications tools that ought to make journalism work easier. She also mentioned how difficult it was for her to report news in her country. The work there was wrapped in fear. You report at your own risk. She goes about her business everyday but with the fear that one day she might be picked up and arrested for, maybe, just being a journalist. 

Ebenezar: Wow, now that’s deep.

Jennifer: Yeah, Practicing the profession is not easy in many countries, especially the countries that are still struggling with modern democracy. In Nigeria for instance, not everyone celebrate journalists. Walk into any organization and introduce yourself as a journalist, you will see how expressions will change. No one wants to talk to you or give you information about the issue you are reporting on. There is this preconceived fear that journalism represents trouble. The more the journalists are kept under-thumb the better it will be for everyone, some people think. But this is not accurate. In reality, the more freedom journalists have, the better it will be for everyone.

Jennifer speaking in Washington during a World Press Freedom Day event
That is why when President Goodluck Jonathan passed the Freedom of Information Bill into law in 2011 many journalists jubilated. But the truth is that law is not restricted to journalism profession alone. It actually extends to citizens who are concerned about how the system is run by elected officials. It gives you the right to access information held by government leaders. So in a nutshell, total press freedom is very essential for journalism to thrive. This leaves the responsibility to the gatekeepers, which is journalists themselves, to self-censorship. Press Freedom does not stop at the right to access information and freedom from government influence. It also includes freedom from influences of funders and advertisers. Sometimes, news produced by reporters are so much vetted by managing editors that by the time it hits the newsstand, the story has been modified to suit a particular set of people in the society or to spite opposition parties of the media funders. So Press Freedom is exploring total freedom from all forms of influences and limitations that affect the journalism profession, holistically. 

Ebenezar: Still talking journalism, reporting in dangerous war-stricken regions has claimed the lives of many journalists. Can anything be done to increase protection for journalists in these regions?

Jennifer: The other day, I was planning to work on a documentary story on health in one of the states in Nigeria. But then, I got a link to a story about a journalist who was killed by unknown mob just a few days before. I was told that the people in the state were not pro-journalists at all. So I was advised against pursuing the story. Violence against journalists exists in both war-stricken zone and none war-stricken regions. And it is not going away. But something can be done to increase protection for journalists everywhere. This includes provision of proper orientation for journalists to first think safety while carrying out their everyday work. There is no use playing heroism in a situation where the risk of attack is at its peak. One of the reporting tips GPI—one of the mediums I report for—provide is for us reporters to always evaluate the safety risk involved with every story one is pursuing. No editor or publisher in his/her right senses will push a journalist into a high risk zone just because they want a scoop. 

So the first responsibility is for media organizations to ensure they provide comprehensive safety risk evaluation for reporters on the stories they pursue. Being cautious does not take out courage from the profession. Journalists must continue to watch-out for one another. This is a culture I really admire in the profession. Other stakeholders—from security officials to government leaders—must do all they can to provide adequate security for journalists as well. The society must learn to stop seeing journalists as terrorists and instead start seeing them as men and women doing all they can to ensure our society is free from all forms of oppression—socially, economically, politically, etc. The crucial role journalists play contributes positively to the development of every society. It is important that they are well protected and provided for. Having said all that, today's journalists must continue to carry on his/her duties with courage. Our voices must remain audacious, at all times.

Ebenezar: As a journalist you have experience that spans over a decade? You started as an undergraduate at NIJ and presently you're a 2013 fellow of the International Reporting Project John Hopkins University. What has drawn you so much to this career? Is it something you've dreamt of since childhood?

Jennifer: Oh wow! I am not sure my experience in Journalism is up to a decade yet, unless you want to add my experience reporting at the Press Club of my secondary school (smiles). 

Ebenezar: (haha) Of course we can include that

Jennifer: But thanks for the kind words. I am certainly excited about growing in the profession. As a child I have always enjoyed writing. I also used to watch the network news with keen interest, dreaming of the day I would be like of the newscasters. But along the line in my senior year, I became obsessed with the idea of studying Law at the University. I guess it was as a result of peer influence and lack of information. But as destiny would have it, I ended up studying Mass Communication at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism in Lagos. Although I had the goal to focus on radio broadcasting because I was told I have a terrific voice, I ended up in Print class during my graduating year. One thing I ensured I did was to have a basic knowledge about the different media while focusing on my strength in print journalism. So I can function in all the different mediums—as a presenter, a copy writer, a reporter, a blogger, a photojournalist, video editor, a researcher on public communication, etc. By the grace of God, I have been able to practice and work with different organizations to garner experience. The New Media Fellowship award by International Reporting Project at John Hopkins University is an opportunity to report more on development and health in Nigeria. It is basically giving me an opportunity to spread out my net without worrying about the financial implications that often limits in-depth feature reporting. 

Jenny, Laura, and John Pilgrim(host, BBC Radio UK)
I am really drawn to journalism and public communications because I believe when people have access to accurate information, they are able to function well in the society. So our role is to search out this information and bring it to the light. In addition, by telling stories of everyday people, beyond political reports, we are giving them a voice and bridging the yawning gap between them and policy makers. Sometimes, people are so angry at the government mostly because they are oblivious of what exactly is going on. The excitement in the work includes connecting the people to the government and other stakeholders, and vice versa. We communicate to the people what the government and these stakeholders are saying while in return telling them what the people are saying. In the process we keep both parties in check to ensure our society keeps thriving. But the work of the journalist goes beyond that. It transcends mere story telling. It remoulds our societies and shapes lives and the economy through timely and accurate news dissemination.

Ebenezar: You're not just a journalist, you're also an entrepreneur at clickweavers.com. What do you do there?

Jennifer: Well, the beauty about journalism is that you learn different things on the job. Business entrepreneurship is definitely one I am learning on the job. Click Weavers Communications Ltd is a registered public communications firm based in Nigeria. We provide consultancy services on publishing, photography, broadcast production, new media research etc. We are currently open for business.

Jennifer's LEAP AFRICA Award 
Ebenezar: Okay? As an award winning youth leader, you get to hear all the complaints about the choked job markets, unavailability of opportunities for youths, and the likes. What are some proactive steps you think youths can take to succeed in midst of these challenges?

Jennifer: The labour market looks choked. Jobs are unavailable. This is a big challenge for this generation. But I also think there are opportunities here. Young people just need to learn to see the silver linings in the dark cloud. Lately, one thing I have been telling young people is for them to position themselves well before graduation. Many in school should not wait until they graduate before they start looking for how to start out in the labour force. We hear employers complain that graduates don't have the skill-set they need. This is because for so long we have focused on the theory aspect of learning and abandoned the experiential learning. 

Young people need to take up the challenge and match-up their classroom learning with hands-on experience through volunteering and internship placements. For some, these will translate into job opportunities, for others, it will involve into business venture. It works. I have seen it work in the lives of many. Young people should make sacrifices and give of their time by volunteering to gain the experience that can shape them into becoming more competent. You can make it because there is a place for everyone. I like how some say it, two planes flying purposely in the cloud can never collide. The sky is big enough for them and others. So it is for young people. When you know your God-given purpose and you sharpen your skills to meet the demands of our time, you will definitely find your place to fly high in life.

Ebenezar: Wow, those are very wise words I must say, great. You've also published two collections of poetry. Do you plan publishing any more soon?

Jennifer: "In days to come" and "Preserve my saltiness" are my two collections of poetry, published in 2004 and 2011 respectively. My third book "Half a Loaf and a Bakery" is not a collection of poetry. It is a book that focuses on education and entrepreneurship. It is not a regular book as it tells the stories of different young leaders who are leading by example. It will be available on Okada Books and local bookstores in a few weeks (December 2013) so please watch out for it. I am excited! My business partner, 'Funso Bukoye, co-authored the book.

Ebenezar: That’s awesome, I’m sure we’d all be looking forward to that. In your list of life goals or dreams, which goals/dreams are the top 3?

Jennifer: I don't have a list of life goals or dreams. 

Ebenezar: Ooops, my mistake (haha)

Jennifer: (haha) But I do have a purpose. My purpose in life is not defined by a list of goals I check off or uncheck. That system does not work for me. I take life one day at a time and trust God for inspiration and guide to tackle projects that are bigger than my frame. But for every phase of life, I do set goals to ensure I stay on track and not derail. For example, while in the university, I had a goal to graduate with an excellent result. And worked my butts out and prayed hard like hard-work did not matter. And yes, I achieved that. As at 2011, I did not have a goal to venture into business, but business evolved as a result of different events and inspiration that kept pointing towards that direction. 

Ebenezar: Finally, you seem to not detach God and your christian faith from all you do; on your blog; in your books; you always talk about God, why is this so?

Jennifer: Thank you for not stereotyping this as being religious. You see, many mistake this culture as someone being religious. But it is not so. One of my purpose in life is to carry God's glory and bring pleasure to Him through my living. So I believe when I talk about God's goodness, mercy and grace, it brings Him pleasure. Everything I am and all that I have is made possible by God's grace. I believe that God exists. I believe in Christ Jesus, our savior. Many successful people I know in Nigeria and abroad have the God-factor. Maybe they are not just big-mouthed about it as I have become. The truth is, I don't mind screaming it on the rooftop that Jesus Christ, our redeemer, reigns! 

(Image Credit: freedom Church)
Ebenezar: Okay, what are we waiting for? Let’s find a rooftop and start screaming (haha)

Jennifer: (hahaha) I am not ashamed of it. I honestly would like many young people to tune their life frequency to connecting to God. A relationship with Him makes a whole lot of difference. I have had a taste of both world and have decided to stick to this frequency. My intention is not to appear sanctimonious. Trust me, I am not a perfect T. Far from it. I am a sinner delivered by mercy, love and sustained by God's grace. I have come to know that anyone who wants to go far in life must go with God!

Ebenezar: I strongly agree with you on that one I must say; very true words. Thank you so much once again for having this stroll with me Jen, I hope we get to do this again soon.

Jennifer: Thank you so much Ebenezar! Please keep up the good work.

For more about Jennifer(@disgeneration) you can visit her blog

Right now can we all just pause for one minute in honour of those journalists who have lost their lives in course of practicing their profession... May their Souls rest in peace, Amen.

Recently a couple of media titans in Britain were in court to testify over phone-hacking allegations leveled against them. I consider it a slap to the journalism profession—if those allegations are true—and I think it is totally wrong to invade people’s privacy in the name of trying to get information for a story. Stop it! It’s wrong.

Journalists around the world should pledge to uphold to the journalist creed; report only accurate and unbiased information for the good of the society. Happy Journalists Remembrance Day to all journalists around the world.

Till my next stroll; Jesus loves you

Ebenezar Wikina (@EbenezarWikina)
All Rights Reserved


1 comment:

  1. I agree so much with her line of thoughts, being a journalist and a social media enthusiast myself.