John Ajayi, Publisher/Chief Executive, Marketing Edge Magazine, brands, marketing and advertising magazine, started his journalism with The News and Temple, then moved to ThisDay, where he was privileged to introduce a column on advertising and marketing, which was a brand new genre of journalism at the time.
Ajayi, in this chat with Daily Independent speaks on his early days in journalism, the challenges his organisation encounters, and the vibes needed by the new generation of journalists to succeed in the profession.
How he conquered fear of the unknown to start up Marketing Edge Magazine
The reluctance to leave their comfort zone has made many unable to leave their employers to create a niche for themselves. They have become too attached to it and they are scared stiff to leave because they work in an already established firm where salary, promotions and every other prerequisite for working are guaranteed.
When one has climbed to a certain peak in a particular media firm, he gets scared to leave, not knowing what the future holds for him; they see it as a dangerous gamble.
His Driving Force
It is all about passion; the determination and willingness to excel has been my driving force so far. The passion I have for the profession is so infectious. My interest in the beat spurred me to take up specialised courses and seminars to upgrade myself in the marketing and advertising industry, after which I became fully subsumed in the beat.
I have always had the passion to excel and succeed in the profession because if you are passion-driven, you achieve excellence in any trade or profession you indulge in, and excellence brings result. It is not necessarily about your effort only.
Result is the distinguishing factor of every productive process; it determines whether a desirable end goal has been achieved. If you are involved in a productive endeavor, failure to hit the right target, proves you are just not there, because you cannot trade excuses for results, neither can you trade results for excuses.
Hurdles encountered so far
Like in every other profession, there has been, and there always would be challenges, but the ability to overcome challenges is a product of creative thinking; when you think well, you achieve better performances.
As a very good brand in the marketing and publishing business, some of the hurdles we encounter include coping with the challenge of the readers. It has not been all fun but it has not been all hell either. It has not given us all the bucks, but it certainly has given us all the fame.
Brand owners see us as valued partners because we promote the brand idea. Within the past 12 years, we have constantly promoted the brand idea while also expanding the frontiers of advertising and marketing knowledge, and this has been quite interesting.
There also abounds the challenge of circulation. Advertising is basically subscriber driven, but when you have subscribers, after a duration of about two to three years, they become reluctant to renew their subscription.
Another constraint has to do with the narrowness of the market. Even when we try to expand it, we find it difficult to do so, because if we do, we would lose focus. As a marketing brand, we deploy all the strategies we know in the marketing industry but still discover it is a largely narrow market, because it is for trained and special audience (marketing audience).
Some of them appreciate it, but the truth still remains that they are also apathetic when it comes to reading, because their reading culture is quite low.
These obstacles notwithstanding, we are confident of the fact that we have a high rating in the market, reason being that we are agenda setters. Stakeholders in the marketing and advertising sector look up to us even for consultancy. They ask for our intervention on critical issues, based on the reality that we have a major role to play as a major stakeholder in the industry.
Comparison between journalists of old and the present day
Looking back to when people like us were still on the field, we were young, and therefore embarked on investigative journalism. The attitude of the new string of journalists and their competency level truly saddens me.
The fact that we were fortunate to have been offered employment opportunities in journalism after graduating, spurred us to embark on investigative journalism. We were happy and equally thankful to be referred to as a journalist.
Reportage of exclusive stories used to be a competitive feat amongst us (reporters). The day you bring in an exclusive story, you walk into the newsroom with prestige and swagger that is envious and admirable. And you break exclusive news only when you are passionate about your job as a journalist.
Industries used to send their representatives to our office to get copies of our paper because of the compass we created with our daily exclusive stories. We were not regularly remunerated, that notwithstanding, we still did the job with excitement and fun.
What we see today is less percentage of practitioners who still perform in that old mode of journalism. Some rely solely on press releases, and except a few credible papers, we hardly see exclusives in the pages of newspapers these days. A great number of journalists today are layed back; they do not even have sufficient idea about their respective beats.
The old maxim that a journalist should know a little about something and something about everything is tragically missing. Most young journalists do not even read papers, and they lack knowledge in every other beat outside their designated beat.
As a journalist, you should be an intellectual powerhouse on any topic or sector. This makes you a total journalist.
The language of today’s journalist is not only incompetent and chaotic but idiotic; this is something one cannot really fathom.
I honestly see no excuse for this lackadaisical attitude among them, given the fact that we are in the age of unlimited access to the internet, when one has cause to be more profound.
The internet offers its users the necessary platform to conduct and embark on research at the snap of their fingers.
To what he attributes this decadence
I think the problem is largely caused by the management system of media organisations. They are key hindrances to the development of a very robust journalism in the country. A journalist that has not been paid for some time may not possess the vibe, fire, appetite and passion for the job.
The backdrop can also be traced to the curriculum of our higher institutions of learning which is highly questionable.
Furthermore, majority of the students lack sufficient appetite for learning. Their value orientation is perverted and this cuts across all trades and professions.
After graduating, they do not look for a chance to practice their profession in a manner that will benefit their employers, and the community at large. They simply go in search of a job as a means to earn a living. Because that is all they are interested in, they do not put in their effort and utmost best.
There are three basic lines that are key and critical in journalism: headline, byline and deadline. Every good journalist must be cautious of these lines. You should strive to have regular bylines in every edition of your paper, be it daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly.
Regular, fantastic bylines, and relevant headlines, are proactive processes of branding for a vibrant journalist which give him/her a chance to build his/her own brand name, or brand equity. By so doing, consciously or not, you gain top of the mind awareness as the reading audience constantly read quality and exclusive headlines with your byline, based on its rich content and delivery.
Holistically, you would be building your own brand image before an audience you are yet to meet. This is one fact very few journalists realise and appreciate.
What he would change in the media profession given a chance
Speaking to media owners, as a loyal activist, and a member of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), I would say that the issue of delayed salary payment which spans months is unpalatable, tragic and sad. With this action, as an employer, you would not get the best out of the organisation, the individual journalists working with you and the society.
This exposes journalists to temptation and the tendency to corrupt, and be corrupted, which goes against the ethics of journalism.
I encourage media organisation owners to endeavour to remunerate their employees adequately.
To my colleagues, I would say that young journalists should de-emphasize and (possibly) totally abolish every tendency of corruption because it reduces your brand element and equity status.
Place more emphasis on developmental journalism instead of involving in the regular rat race virtually everyone is pursuing, which do not exceed the surface.
Devote full attention to issues that promote
development, take insightful look at the critical aspects of life and the economy, and promote issue based development journalism. This is the only way the society can move forward and professionals can begin to see themselves as valued partners within the value chain.
Setting an agenda for the new NUJ President, Waheed Odusile
Odusile has to take journalism to the next level and an enviable height.
One of his campaign promises which I hold dearly is his promise to rid the profession of quarks, because so many dubious characters have bastardised the profession. At social events where journalists are not required, these fraudsters and impostors register their presence, simply to harass unsuspecting people by flashing fake identity cards. These miscreants need to be flushed out of the system.
The new NUJ President must do a general overhauling of the NUJ itself, because the union requires an urgent surgical operation. Speaking as an active member of the union, I would say that a lot of things have gone fundamentally wrong in the system.
The constitution itself has to be reviewed because it confers some omnipotent powers on its executives such that it makes their operations unquestionable. This is why it is an association of practitioners who call themselves watchdogs of the society, when they cannot watch over their individual activities, thereby conflicting rules within the constitution.