Update: This item was posted Aug. 2, 2009. Since that time, NeXT launched its daily edition, and celebrated its 500th week of publishing on Sunday. Congrats to all there. I’ve told the story below of Ruona and her dad dozens of times, and whenever I hit a rough spot with my U.S. papers, am reminded why so many of us got into journalism in the first place – to make a difference in society – and that no matter what your troubles, they could always be worse. [For a variety of other essays and collected writings and images of my work in Africa and elsewhere in the Third World, visit this link.]
[LAGOS, Nigeria] Conducting newsroom training can be an exhausting gig, especially in a foreign country. Sometimes two or three sessions per day (possibly very different topics), plus impromptu questions and challenges in between, can be tough enough. Add jet lag, and the challenges of driving and living and eating in the third world, and, well, the end of the week can’t come soon enough. (And one more week to go here, before I head on to Kenya.)
Thus I was particularly thankful for the following comments by a reporter for the NeXT newspaper, which has published here online since December, Sunday editions since January, and goes daily in a few weeks. It’s a new kind of newspaper that aims for ethical, fair, balanced and factual reporting (non-existent in this troubled country to date). Few of the reporters have had much formal training in journalism; few of the designers have received formal design or computer training. (Such is the challenge of a start-up newspaper in a place like this – you “build your own” staff, and – lucky for me – bring in outside help when needed.)
Reporter Ruona Agbroko spoke with me briefly after a training session on “visualising” the news, and segmenting information for print and online, and then sent me the following email later in the day:
It’s me, Ruona, from NeXT. We spoke this morning and you gave me your email. I checked out your website and blog.
I freelanced for 5 years before I ended up at NeXT. I nearly left journalism when my dad was assassinated for transparently practicing it, but thankfully, the lure of the newsroom proved more powerful. NeXT is a good place to be.
I must admit all I know about journalism has been from making contact with a few good people in the profession, exchanging ideas and asking questions. The folks at NeXT are somewhat deluded (through no fault of mine) that I am a “star reporter” but between you and me, everything I have ever written, I see after press and know it could have been better. Bet that doesn’t happen to you! (Blogger’s note: think again.)
That said, your ideas of “visualizing” a story before reporting it and during your planning toward deadlines was just what I needed.
My collection of articles for NeXT is available at ruonah.blogspot.com
I would love to talk more about my writing and studies in journalism if you have the time.
Senior Reporter NeXT
I’ve heard many complaints from news folks in recent years. Some legitimate, but many, I can say, seem to come from people who have lost a bit of perspective – perhaps clinging to journalistic, or economic, “glory days” that no longer exist, for any of us. In the States, we don’t worry about editors being assassinated. We take for granted opportunities for education in crafts we want to pursue, and true freedom of the press. We don’t think twice about having a reliable power supply to run our presses which is, alas, nonexistent at the moment for NeXT. (The new presses will have to roll with the power of very expensive backup generators. The topics of poor to nonexistent infrastructure, and corruption by those in charge of energy and just about everything in the country, are among the crusades of the newspaper here.)
So thanks Ruona and the entire staff at NeXT, who have done much to remind me that the challenges in my own business, and life, are not that dire by comparison, and that the same could be said of many of the “hardships” we face in the States, in newspaper-land or otherwise. I look forward to talking more with Ruona about her beat, and another week in Lagos, and Abuja, talking with journalists about how to make their writing, editing and design live up to the passion of their crusades.
* * *
I’ve been working for more than a year on the NEXT start-up alongside my good friend and colleague of many years, Mario Garcia. We (mostly) joke about how tough it can be to work in a locale like this, but one thing that keeps me going is his good humor and the many exclusive, invaluable lessons – in publishing, editing, thinking, and life – that he imparts over breakfast or dinner, or in the ride to and from the office each day. A highlight of our most recent visit was a stop at the home studio of NeXT Creative Director Victor Ehikhamenor, in Lagos.
Postscript: NeXT Multimedia, sadly, was an experiment put forth at a difficult time. A few years into its launch, the worldwide recession hit, and in a very fragile market, the absence of advertising – particularly from African powerhouses like banks and cel phone companies – means life or death. NeXT folded operations around 2011. Best wishes to the talented photographers, writers, artists and editors who committed to this enterprise and now are engaged in good work elsewhere.