Published On: Tue, Oct 17th, 2017

Nigerian media needs to be more entrepreneurial, says UK multimedia expert

Dan Mason is a British media consultant and trainer, who has spent the last nine years training journalists around the globe on digital

Dan Mason, managing consultant, Dan Mason Media

communication and social media. The Leicester-born managing consultant of Dan Mason Media, who recently clocked 60, was managing editor, Newsquest, London, former editor, Birmingham Post and Coventry Newspapers all in the United Kingdom. In this interview with FELIX OLOYEDE, the chief trainer for Airtel ChangeYourStory training programme in Nigeria proffers solutions to some of the challenges confronting the country’s media and stresses that all mainstream media should go mobile. Excerpt:

What was your growing up like?

I grew up in the middle of England. I’ve always loved being a scientist. I am still at my happiest when I am on my

own, walking on the mountains. At school, I was not a great scientist. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I ended doing drama in the university. My first degree was in drama. I have always loved music. I am a musician. I was a professional musician after I left university for a year or so. I fell into journalism by accident. And I wished somebody took me to a newsroom when I was 13 or 14 years old, there would never have been any doubt what I wanted to do. So, I became a journalist by accident and it has been an absolute pleasure to call myself a journalist since then.

You recently celebrated your 60th birthday. What have been the lessons you have learnt in the last 60 years?

I don’t feel like I have started yet. There is still so much to do. When some people say if you could go back what would you change? And generally, I say I will change everything, just to see what happens. The beliefs I had when I was younger have helped me in my career. I am a great believer in hard work and a great believer in being nice to people.

I have run many newsrooms with journalists ranging from just a couple to over 500. What I found is that my core beliefs have always sailed through. When I started operations, I had two rules. Those rules are that we work hard and we should be nice to each other. I have never had reasons to change those two simple rules. I apply them to myself. I have been lucky to be editor of daily newspapers and news operations and a senior manager.

So, it has been a great passion of mine that I get opportunity to be. I didn’t get any training when I started journalism. Everything I did I had to pay for myself.  So, when I became an editor, one of the first things I did was to tell junior reporters that just joined us was, if you want my chair, you can have it. It is my job to help you get there; it is your job to help me do mine now.

So, I always put a lot of efforts into training. I guess that is why I have been fascinated by new technology that can help people. A lot of technologies that have been introduce into the media industry over the years have been done to reduce cost, not in order to improve the product or give opportunities to journalists and other in the industry to connect with their communities. I loved that technology has moved in the direction of real people. It has brought communities together with things like social media or via telephone.

I am not surprise in the slightest that the conventional media has found it difficult to adapt to these changes, because in the past it had respect and has been very arrogant towards the audience. I love it that we are no longer regarded as having a monopoly in communication. Everybody who has a mobile phone or Facebook account has the power to communicate. I love it that we have to readjust and as professional communicators to getting out in the middle of our communities, helping people to connect, communicate, not just trying to give them our views of events.

I love it that we serve our communities more than ever before. This is why I think a lot of my training now is so successful and why I spend a lot of time not only working with journalists, but with government, NGOs and citizen groups around the world, helping to use their power for positive effect.

Your first time of coming to Nigeria was 2011. What do you think has change since then?

The first time I came to Nigeria was six years ago on a project working with journalists in Lagos and Abuja for a week training. Even then I was focusing on online side of journalism; it was really in its infancy level. Mobile phone was not considered a journalist’s work tool in those days. In those days, I made so many great Nigerian friends that it was an honour for me to leave Nigeria the first time with the title Otunba, something I am very proud of. Many people know me as Otunba.

Coming back in 2015 really reaffirmed my belief that Nigerian journalists like many journalists all over the world have a tough time. They are nice people, hardworking and opened. It is my duty to tell them they have the right to think more of themselves than they do. So is my encounter in other parts of the world. They look elsewhere for examples, thinking they are lagging behind.  Here, you have all the passion, spirit and innovation.

It is a great pleasure to meet with them now and seeing some of the seeds I planted six years ago really begging to blossom now. There is no journalist in Nigeria who does not have a smartphone, who does not believe that social media is important, without an understanding of how people communicate and making a difference in their communities that is what journalism is all about.

What are the things you have discovered relating with Nigerian journalists?

I have been full time trainer and media consultant for nine years. I have worked in almost 30 countries. I have worked in countries that have very little freedom of the media. There are very difficult challenges facing us all. But there are things that set Nigeria apart. It is very hard to bring Nigerian journalists together without an incredible amount of noise in the room, without there being an astonishing amount of energy, without there being passion and what you will call discussion but I will call shouting at each other.  In terms of training, it is a very amazing challenging environment, the one that makes you feel so alive and privileged to be part of it.

Nigerian journalists are incredibly grateful that people have taken the trouble to give something to help them. People cannot easily go out of their ways to help others in so many countries. It is my privilege to be here to be part of helping people to develop their skills and understanding. More importantly, helping them discover their confidence. I always say I am not here to teach you anything, I am here to help you learn. I like helping people learn, because with a lot of technologies developing, it means we are all beginners. We all start again right now.

It is great to have the experience of being able to relate with people, to understand other people where technology is concerned, where storytelling is concerned. It is changing. We’ve all got the opportunity to make a difference, starting right now. And that is what AirtelChangeYourStory has been all about.

What is the difference between journalism when you started and now?

When I started journalism, I and other journalists was very small clog in very large wheels. Now, we are the largest clog in the machine that is ourselves and our career and brand. Managing our brand is the key to success, as professional communicators working as journalists or freelance journalists working with mainstream media, social media marketers, NGOs or corporate communications online and being able to move around and make use of this fascinating opportunity as journalists to make a difference to those we serve.

The core principle has not changed. Good journalism is about using the power we have to make a positive impact to the community we serve. That has not change, but the opportunity has broadened. There are those who will be behind. It is against them. They like to be a small clog in the large machine. For those of us that can take on the challenge of managing their career, it is a fantastic time.

The world would always need professional communicators. And in this age that everybody is a communicator, professional communicators would be more trusted than ever. Those that can stand at the centre of their communities and connect the web of the communication, they are the ones they are going to trust and it is that trust they would convert into money. It is a different business model from yesterday; it is one that would work in the future.

Finance is a major challenge for journalism in Nigeria. What do you think Nigerian media can do to overcome this funding challenge?

Generating revenue in mainstream media organizations, it is a huge challenge. I have managed media organizations myself. I can see it firsthand. I respect the tremendous efforts media owners are putting into changing things; there is a massive challenge, because it is difficult to reduce costs enough to transfer your operations to the new media, because the money is not there yet. Mainstream media face a massive challenge.  Those who will are finding ways around it.

The way around it is that you either retrench to what you do best but in a smaller scale. And stick for the time being. Or you have to pull all your efforts at embracing the new media and changing the way you and your team think into having more entrepreneurial way of thinking, so that nobody thinks he is a small clog in that large machine.  Mainstream media that are succeeding have been open to new ideas. They have small team of people who are focused on innovations. In your newspaper, I read an article I have never read elsewhere about an organization that is working with Airtel to insert advertising in mobile space when you are calling somebody, where you have the ring back tone. It is an astonishing simple idea.

Now, we are all knocking our heads against the brick walls, because we can’t see the answer. Sometimes, the answer is so blindly obvious that none of us can see it. The big ideas to win are the simplest. My message to the mainstream media, is that they should make their decisions and go one way or the other; don’t just try to keep a 14-boat campus, because it won’t work. You have to change your thinking. You have to be mobile first. You have to be online first. You have to be open to new ideas.  You have to be obsessed by mobile, because that is the future.

Dan Mason, managing consultant, Dan Mason Media

Lack of training is one of the major challenges journalists in Nigeria face. How do you think they can get around this?

I said earlier that I didn’t get any training when I started. My peers and taking the pieces of people I respected in other media were the fundamental way I learnt. Now, there is a place for formal learning, there is a place for formal standards of journalism. But right now, the media is changing so quickly. The thing like long-term formal learning is almost outdate. The greatest power in managing our own career and developing the skills we need lies in us. We are all learners.

And what modern communication has done is that it has given us the opportunity to tap into some of the best learning, some of the professionals, some of the greatest examples all over the world. We can all go to YouTube and learn how to edit videos or audios. We can all look online for the best examples long-form investigative journalism from anywhere in the world. I put the emphasis on anyone of us learning ourselves. What helps is when you have a guide. That is where people like me come in, not as an all-knowing trainer, who can teach you the right ways to do things, but can help inspire you to go further with your own learning. To give the confidence to believe you can be the best.

Nigerian presidency recently promulgated a law on hate speech and we have seen how US President Donald Trump has been attacking the media. Can the media survive this?

The media can absolutely survive this. It is not about the media, it is about communication. People will always find their voice in one form or the other. I come from a culture in an area that is said to be having one of the highest journalism standards in the UK. While I am proud of some of the things we have achieved with the so called free media, I am also ashamed of what we have been through which is one of the greatest scandals I have ever seen in journalism, which is the phone hacking scandals, which led to national newspapers closing down.

So, I am advocate for free journalism, but I am a stronger advocate for responsible journalism. There are rules all over the world governing journalism. Some of these rules are more stringent than the other. There are some regimes that are incredibly oppressive when it comes to allowing people have a voice. It is left to our journalists to do the best we can to be responsible. Journalists may want to react to any small curve on the freedom to do whatever they like, what are journalists do to demonstrate that they are using the power they have to positively affect their communities.

And that may mean working hand in hand with government, NGOs, citizens, trying to change their communities for the better. There is nothing wrong with journalists working in collaboration with others. It does not destroy your integrity. It is about being responsible, believing that you can make a difference and showing that government should be given credit where it is due into giving power to responsible journalists help develop a flourishing civil society.

That is what we should be fighting for. I have never liked journalists who think they are leading by being the first to criticize. That is the easy part of journalism. Those who face the brick bats by placing their necks on the blocks as citizens and journalists, those are the ones who have my respect.


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