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There is a seismic shift in the media landscape all over the world. The adoption of digital technology has increased fluidity in media roles like never before and it is becoming normal for media practitioners to transit from one core divide of the media to another.
Recently, seasoned journalist, Lolade Nwanze, left her role as the head of operations, Digital, at The Guardian newspaper to a Public Relations Manager role at VFD Group.
While Lolade’s move may have been fueled by an urge for adventure in Public Relations, her move is no doubt part of a growing shift of Nigerian journalists taking on marketing roles than vice versa.
“We (Nigerian journalists) are literally an endangered species for different reasons” Lolade said when asked if Nigerian journalists carry an enviable burden.
“For economic reasons, and even for security. You know, you look at the political climate of the country and think about it again and again like, is it really worth it? Is the danger of this profession worth it?” she added.
Despite these challenges, journalism is an important asset in the country and journalists are critical to nation building. Hence, the need to solve the inadequacies in the profession.
For this week’s profile interview, Lolade Nwanze dissected Nigerian journalism and the role of Public Relations in fixing the country in this chat with NewsWireNGR’s Oladele Owodina.
This is an audio interview that has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
- Tell us about your background, and how growing up was like for you?
We grew up in Lagos, and my parents were mixed. My mum is from Delta and my father is from Lagos. My mum speaks Yoruba better than my dad probably because she was born and raised here in Lagos. But they used to go home to Delta very often.
So growing up was just interesting because we had parents from both sides and to a very large extent I didn’t even notice that there was anything special about the fact that my parents were from different parts of the country. I think it’s when you grow up that you learn something like racism, tribalism and all of that. It’s like getting to America or getting to the west and finding out that you’re Black even though you’ve been Black all your life.
I really didn’t realise how unusual or how much of a statement politically even that period was at the time because we just grew up having fun with both parents. I would say that my maternal cousins were a lot more fun than my paternal cousins. So I think to a very large extent I always told myself that Delta people are just fun and non-Yorubas are more fun than Yoruba people. We were very close to my maternal cousins, and every summer holiday, which is like the long holidays, everyone gathers in what used to be like my eldest aunt’s house which was like my mum’s family house. So those cousins that I had all stayed in different parts of Nigeria. My mum was the one who married a Yoruba man. So a lot of all those other cousins actually had parents, who were not Yorubas. So I have cousins from Benin, from Anambra, from Owerri in Imo state. Each time we came together for long holidays or for Christmas, we would all just be speaking Pidgin English in the house because that was just the common language. You couldn’t just start speaking Yoruba and there was just no point speaking formal English, so we just spoke pidgin. And every December we used to have loads and loads of banger. My aunty would charter and share to all of us, all the cousins, we were a lot. We share according to age then we would go from streets to streets to do banger wars. So growing up was just interesting.
- What were your aspirations as a child?
There are conversations I remember from childhood but career was not one of those, the thing I know very well about my childhood is me and my sister saying that by 23, I’m going to get married. I’m going to get married at 23, have 4 children. My parents had 4 children at that time. At max 25, I would have gotten married and had my kids.
I do know that I wanted to go to science class. I also knew that I liked to read novels. It was a bit complicated because I learnt that it was the art students that used to read novels with a subject called Literature. They read a lot of these story books. Meanwhile, I knew it was the brilliant kids that went to science class. So now actually going to science class was a dream. I would have preferred novels and I just kind of like the news time though. I enjoyed watching the news. We used to have news time in my house where everybody sat together at family time because literally everybody listens to the NTA news at 9pm. I just used to find them really intelligent, like how they know these things.
And then I found out about writing. I loved reading and naturally it made me want to write but I knew that I was not somebody for fiction, I’m not somebody that would just sit down and make up things and just write the story. Something really needed to happen for me to have something to write. It was later I learned that it is the very foundation of journalism. Because in journalism they tell you if there is no event, there is no news. So that’s why journalists go out to source news. Back in those days before social media, they pay you to go into the field for you to get stories and then you come back to the newsroom to now write the stories. So literally something needed to happen for you to have the story you know. It was later I found out that was what I had all along.
- You used to be a full-time journalist, why did you switch to public relations?
I spent 5 years in journalism school under the academic cover Mass Communication. And if you go to Nigerian institute of journalism, where I went to study, you would realise the only thing you learn there is journalism and you learn all the facets. So for me I learnt those facets that we have in Mass Communication at the NIJ.
So you have Print, you have Broadcast; you have Public relations and you have Advertising. Those were the four legs on which mass communication stood. Recall that this was before new media came. So I don’t know if they now have new media or if it’s still the other four. But these were the prongs. And for me my life has been an interesting one. I found out that I had done each of all of them at one point or the other in my career. PR is just the last one I come into now. So I have always been between media and communications. So I picked up a course in print by signing up at the traditional newspaper house. I did that, I went from there to doing audiovisual production, we were producing ads for telecommunication companies, I remember there was one particular one we did that still stands out for me, if you remember the Saka ad?
- Yes. I don port o.
We shot that advert. The production company I was working for then shot that ad very well. So I did production for like 3 years. We were shooting ads; we were shooting content for TV. We were producing reality shows.
This is the way my life is, so I did my first newspaper house for like 6-7 years but I moved from there into production where I did advertising that of course included me drawing up storyboards, copies and trying to shoot ads and all of that. It involved shooting reality shows, shooting content for TV and producing movies. So that was my favourite option then.
So I’ve done TV, I produced a music show called Da New Livebeats with Cally Ikpe and I think it still runs. It was a music show on most channels in Nigeria. It was in all of the NTA stations, we were like on 25 stations in the country. Now I have done that also. So I did a presentation course at FRCN so I did a stint also in radio as part of the prerequisite for graduating. So in a way, I had been around. I’ve done all of the other legs. Now the final most recent one I did, through all of that also, I saw the direction, I saw how things were changing in the world. I knew new media was not going to come and go. It had come to stay. So I began to take steps in that direction. So not long ago I was working, I became Editorial Manager at the digital agency managing the Guardian Nigerian account and about a year later, I became Head of The Guardian digital newsroom which was my last full time job in the media.
At that point in time I was the only female running a newsroom in Nigeria. So I had this job up until I left there in March, just before lockdown you know. So I mean I had done all of that and the only thing that looked like I hadn’t done until now was PR which is what I am now doing. So my life has just been an interesting one because.I had touched on everything like every single face of media you could think of. Me doing public relations right now is just me touching that last phase that I haven’t and trust me, same way I move around, I’m not going to be here forever.
So I am currently Public Relations and Corporate Communications manager at VFD Group.
- We have seen more moves from journalism to different forms of marketing roles, than from marketing to journalism, do you think journalists in Nigeria carry an unenviable burden?
I mean we are literally an endangered species for different reasons. For economic reasons, and even for security. You know, look at the political climate of the country and you just need to think about it again and again like, is it really worth it? Is the danger of this profession worth it? So you need to think about that and then the economic reason of course.
Being a journalist in Nigeria is not exactly the most profitable job that you could ever do.
So you need to think about paying your bills and meeting your obligations. Some people know how to keep it moving by still doing private practice, we call it PP. They do one that to a very large extent doesn’t impact on their day jobs so they are able to just juggle things like that together and really don’t mind. Not a lot of people are able to do that. And then there are the ones that really don’t do it just because the kind of pp opportunities that they have would affect their credibility as a journalist.
So most times, you’re not that, so naturally you see people move away from journalism for those reasons.
- How can journalism be rescued?
Journalism needs to become more attractive. Look at press freedom in the country, it’s terrible. The current climate of the country is not one that’s very encouraging to be a journalist and yesterday (interview was recorded on June 13th) was just June 12 and you saw for example that Arise TV reporter. He wasn’t at the war-front do you get but look at the situation around him, what kind of training will you really get as a journalist in a newsroom that would prepare you for situations like that?
A lot of newspaper houses, a lot of traditional media houses that exist right now are literally hanging in the balance like they are surviving, they can barely make ends meet.
For us to make it better, work has to be done on the inside and the outside
The internal environment first means that people need to get the journalism profession on its own to become more attractive. Part of making it more attractive is for you to let it be competitive.
When I was saying I was going to study journalism, I was going to journalism school, my closest cousin, Patrick, told me not on his life. Like, do you know what you’re saying, have you seen journalists before?
And truly, I had not seen journalists before. I think he was telling me that they were poor people, church rats. You don’t see all those people when they come for events, he continued. You see them begging, sitting along office corridors looking for who to give them something.
The pen needs to be better. The reason the standard is the way it is right now is because the employers themselves are not on certain standards. You don’t pay so you don’t get to insist. Is it when you’re owing me for 5 months and you are paying me peanuts that you are now trying to tell me that oh this is how you do it?
So it’s right from the newsroom first of all. Number 2, trainings need to be a standard component of a journalism job. I’m a peer trainer and I work as a resource person for different journalism workshops. I still had one last month organized by the United Nations. So I facilitated that training that was around reporting sexual and gender based violence or violence against women and girls
When corporate organizations want to organize trainings for journalists, I go and speak to them. See, you can see very well that the people who come for these training sessions would not do anything with it. All those things you are saying, you are just saying them, like you’re just talking. It’s very clear that you’re just talking because survival is foremost on their mind. Also, when they come for these training, most of them are working while at that training. In essence, the company tells you to go on the training but you’re still working. So how do you actually listen to what’s being said, talk less of applying it? The editor knows you’re at this training. Or you’re an editor yourself and you tell the editor what’s going on and he says, we need to produce now. So training is not prioritised.
So also on the outside, how do we make these things better? This country needs to show more regard for journalists. See the country itself is so tense, politically it is charged. We need to do better. The 20-year-old guy that recorded the video of that government official that was seen with a gun during the EndSARS protest is dead now. So police picked him up, so 5 days later they found his body.
A 20-year-old guy that was trying to do journalism. If we are in a war zone, let us know that we are in a war zone. That’s why it’s not all journalists that go to cover wars. There is a special training that they go through before you’re released to go work in a war zone.
So if Nigeria is a war zone, let us know that we are in a war zone.
- So what is the standard of PR in Nigeria compared to other developed countries like the US and do you think the role of Public Relations in Nigeria is still misunderstood?
So what I’ve understood is at the end of the day, public relations like every other thing would need to be contextualised within the region of practice. So we would do PR in Nigeria based on the Nigerian situation, Americans would do it based on the American context. So we would always need to contextualise things, that’s standard.
So apart from localising our PR the way that we are compared to others, we are behind for a number of reasons depending who you speak to and then what industry you’re speaking about.
Some people still think PR is just important when it’s a crisis. Like ohh, something has happened, we need to manage the situation, so it’s for situation management.
Pr has become a little more predictable in such that when you’re exposed to.a PR activity, you can tell that this is PR and naturally when I know this is PR, it’ll affect the way I respond to it.
- PR is about building relationships between different parties. What gaps in Nigeria can a good PR fix? Imagine Nigeria as your client
You can’t give me a PR contract from Nigeria now and I will accept it because we have myriads of challenges. I do say what makes PR work the easiest is when you’re actually doing your job.
In the sense that if Nigeria was running well, if elected officials were doing the things for which they were elected, if everybody were doing their minimum parts, then it would be easier to do PR because I would have credibility. It is not that every activity that I do is obviously PR. That totally discredits me
As a matter of fact, it’ll begin to be an attack on my person like oh really, so you can actually with your eyes open and in complete control of your senses and say this positive thing about this obviously negative situation. So at the end of the day, you even lose credibility for doing that.
I mean look at it today now. People are still calling out the name of those who did PR for this administration in 2015 even though that election is passed.
So really, I wouldn’t take a job that would leave a stench on me. It’s easier when you work with people of integrity, people that know their job, and do their job.
Look at the US, the US has a lot of flaws yes but those flaws apart from the recent disaster of the president that they had are small because of the kind of the institution they have and the system they run. Because of the kind of efficiency that exists in those systems. There are a zillion good things going on and so you can PR your way out of it. You see how big they are on media. Everybody watches SVU and others. What are those things you think they are watching? That’s PR! You watch it and you’ll be like I need to go join the police. I’m telling you that’s how they present them. There is this one that is on DSTV, and They are just showing me this is why we use dogs in our police . That was the entire message for that series
- And when you watch them, you understand the reason better?
Exactly. I’m telling you. So that is PR actually. What of the intelligence movies you watch? Even people that have never been to America know of all those things.
So it’s easier when you’re actually doing the job. When the good far outweighs the occasional lapses. You don’t need to put the billboards everywhere to say this is what Sanwo-Olu has been doing in the last 2 years. Don’t make billboards to show.me actually. So yeah, I mean this is the Nigerian situation. I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s where we are.
- There has been increasing cause for secession in the country, different groups are saying we are marginalised and want a bigger piece of the pie. How do you think good PR can solve this?
It’s not a PR problem.
- It’s a performance problem too?
Conversations need to happen. It’s clear that Nigeria as it is right now is like when you buy one bundle of data for a month but your internet. Your network is saying you have a bundle, but it is not working. So someone needs to go to the backend and look at the back factors that could be contributing to your experience. So that needs to happen, it means there needs to be conversations with different sets of people. Conversations need to be held with small groups of people, those conversations need to happen like that in pockets around the country before you can now have a national conversation.
We are trying not to talk. We are trying to augment the situation which is not possible. Like you’re trying to, you can’t even legislate it. Is it not in the constitution of Nigeria that whatever is not negotiable, there is no secession.
Why are they still calls for secession? It tells you that legislating it is not enough. So really what we need to do is actually get to the root of the matter. Forget about trying to do PR in the press, you can’t PR yourself out of the press in this kind of situation, you can’t. Get down to the nitty gritty and tackle the issue. That’s what we should do.
- Public relations for Nigerian government over different years appears to be hiring online herds to bully criticism and just put up propaganda that they are exceptional even in the face of obvious lapses. Is this an awful way of doing PR?
See at the end, they would tell you it depends on the outcome. They’ll tell you the end justifies the means. Some other people including me right now would always say that the process is important. The process is as important as the outcome.
So your values are important, your values as an individual are very important. The values you anchor as an individual is very important. It is important everybody has their own principles because when you’re done whitewashing and telling obvious lies that even you yourself knows that it’s a lie, what happens to you when that particular thing is finished? You just move on to the next highest bidder?
What’s your Why? I tell people what’s your Why. Why are you doing this? Why are you even in this profession? People use all of these arguments like it’s one gig. You just do the gig and you move on, forgetting that every single job that you don’t the end of the day sums up your perception of a person. So if you’re happy with people perceiving you in a certain light and you’re not bothered, by all means go ahead and do it, you know what is good for you.
It is just unfortunate that people would always reference you as an example in the industry. It is just like they ascribe brown envelope to some journalist and be like ooh that guy, just give him a brown envelope that is because there are people trying to put a cost on everything they do. Even when it’s not beneficial for them, they will still tell you to give me something. Or they’ll call you and tell you I have this story, if you want me to kill it, this is the amount. You don’t want to kill it, you want me to put your own side of the story, this is also the amount. You want me to come to that place to cover, this is the amount . So literally, they are commercialising the profession, the only thing is the transaction. So I mean at the end of the day it’s just like I tell you, money is not good or evil. Money would always take on the colour of the person handling it.
So PR itself is not bad. It would take on the color of whoever it is. Journalism in itself is not a good or bad profession, it would take on itself, journalism has a lot of virtues yes but at the end of the day, it’s humans that would practice it. So like every other thing also. It depends on the individual.
Some people might say I’m saying all these from a privileged point of view, it’s because I’m not hungry, that’s why I can talk this way. That if I was hungry, my perspective would be different and it’s very true. I mean it’s true because I would be seeing things differently.
- Going a bit personal for this last question, what’s your biggest win in life?
This is tricky.
- Multiple wins over the years and now you have to choose one. You get a bonus to mention another
Two works for me. I’ll say that the first one for me was finding God how I did back in the University. It totally changed the trajectory of my life. So that was like my biggest win ever.
I feel that not a lot of people get that opportunity. I was born into a Christian home, and grew up Christian Omo I was in choir, Sunday school, all of that but then it didn’t get personal for me until I went to the University and found God the way I did. It was almost like God was introduced to me in a language that I totally connected with.
It totally changed the trajectory of my life. My perspective on life changed a lot from there and I can tell you 100 percent that it became the foundation of where I am today. Not my Relationship with God, yes my Relationship with God but more importantly, the mindshift that came with it.
- That’s one, finding God.
The second one for me was the choice of husband that I made. I guess people define marriage differently and people approach their marriage differently but my own definition of marriage is the kind marriage that takes two to work. And so it was very important for me that I found someone that was as keen as devoted to making the marriage work because if you’re in a marriage with someone that feels like your union is negotiable, and you are there thinking that your union is not negotiable; Oyo you’re already on your own because really if both of you have the same mindset, then you would put all hands of deck.
Every decision that you make you’ll make sure that it is for the two of you. So I will say that’s my second biggest win because when you get married .. for crying out loud, I still have decades ahead of me and then I have a vow with somebody that I want to do those decades with him. It only makes sense that you should make sure that person, that decision has to make sense or else, the rest of your years would not make sense. You’ll be patching it.
So I’ll say those are my two biggest wins because when you make the right decisions, even when you now have kids, the kind of family you would nurture and raise would be the kind of family that you wanted to raise. A family you dreamt about simply because you have both aligned on values.
So if you’re not going to get married, just disregard this my second win.
- It is your personal win, it is nobody’s business
Exactly. So he has literally touched every single part of my life. Every single part, career choices I’ve made, jobs that I’ve taken, kids we’ve had, the kind of my current financial situation, my current and future projection, my everything you can think of. That one decision that touches everything. So there are the two biggest wins for me