No serious journalist ever retires. I don’t see myself as a reporter in retirement. The curiosity to know, to find out, the inborn feeling of nosing around, sniffing for news, would live with me until I die.
I therefore still keep probing and finding out. If I get information, I still today behave as if I am still in the newsroom trying to find out what happened, what is going on, what is the situation, why did it happen? All the rudiments of journalism and the feelings of being a reporter are still very much in me. I don’t ever see myself being able to relax and feel that I am out of the news business. My wife was telling me the other day that she thought I had promised her that I was now going to lead a normal life of sleeping at a reasonable time and waking up when everybody is waking up. That she is still surprised that I have not been able to. I have been asking myself: why? The answer is this Age of Internet. I am up waiting to see and read tomorrow’s papers as they go to bed and as they come out on the Internet. That is what keeps me awake. And it is the reporter’s curiosity, the reporter in my blood that wants to be up-to-date every second that keeps me awake.
A reporter is that man who has it in his blood and develops a reportorial character that must be part of him. A reporter is a man (or woman) who is very, very impatient, always on the run, always in a hurry, always curious, and always wanting to know. I can go on defining the attributes and those elements that make a good reporter but the critical thing is that you must have it in your blood. And it must come naturally but you need to nurture it, to develop it.
A reporter is one who is trusted by those he comes in contact with in terms of gathering news. A reporter is somebody who can impress his contact and make that contact to believe that he can repose reasonable confidence in the person. And that reporter would not betray the confidence. That must be part of your character. And contacts are things you develop over the years, you nurture them as you grow. It’s like a log you put on fire. It doesn’t burn fast. It goes on gradually.
I used to have a tiny address book. Very tiny that I can easily slip it into the smallest of my pockets. It contained the telephone numbers of whoever is significant in Nigeria. People I meet. When you meet somebody and you see the potential of the person as a source of information, you must keep their contacts. And over the years, as you grow, you grow with these contacts. And you must also impress them, to let them know that you would also deny yourself that famous headline when you think that you may even hurt your source of information. A reporter is also unfortunately somebody who can even do self-censorship. In the sense that you must know what to keep away at a particular time, what to use from what a contact has given you, and in the process impress on the contact on your ability to measure, weigh consequences, weigh situations and determine what to release and what not to release. And maybe at the appropriate time you then release some of those things that you are keeping away.
But then, a reporter is someone who is constantly in agony with his contacts in that you would have a good story which you know would make the year for you, but you deny yourself that joy because they can scatter and destroy your sources of information. These are some of the things you need to do as a good reporter to develop a good network of contacts.
A reporter is not a columnist who is there to catch the imagination of the reader, who is there to impress the reader in his use of elegant words and choice of language. For a reporter, the most vital, unassailable ingredient is that he must organise his facts. You have to be factual. Straight to the point. In the course of being straight to the point, you may not be elegant, you may not be profound, but then you are reporting.
A reporter must be foxy. You have to be feral, like an animal after a prey. In observing an event over time, you are like a detective trying to unravel some kind of crime. You have to be patient when pursuing a particular story. When you talk of exclusive story, it means serious investigation, patience, ability to wait until you are able to get a very important clue to that information that you are pursuing. And that good reporter is one who has the patience to deny himself of all good things of life. It may be for a whole week that you are running after a particular story. You must learn not to give up until you get to that breaking point of going through the tunnel and then seeing a little bit of light to show you that important information that you have been pursuing.
That is why I said that for me, a reporter must be foxy. I didn’t even know that Nick Tomalin had used the language “rat-like cunning” to describe a reporter. You have to be foxy and patient like a lion. The lion would lie low, quietly and suddenly would pounce on an animal. You watch and sniff like a lion. Sniffing, waiting and then when you see the big story, you pounce on it, grab it and devour it like a lion will devour a prey. Like a lion, a reporter is patient, highly calculating and then when he gets the prey, he would go, carrying all its full weight with the speed of a sprinter to catch it.
The transition from analogue to digital has destroyed a lot of values. This has not only to do with journalism alone. Years back, it used to be a thing of joy to see the bookshelves in the home and some books that your father, grandfather and great grandfather had read and bequeathed. Books by very famous writers, evergreen writers that you pass on from one generation to another. That culture has already gone. And that has also affected journalism in that it has turned a lot of people to be too lazy. A reporter must be very hard working. There are so many tools and sources of information that should make reporters of today better reporters, but that determination, that ability, that joy of being a reporter is not there anymore. It may be because people are now too materialistic. Reporters of those days didn’t think much about their own comfort. Many reporters die not rich, if not wretched. In the course of pursuing reportorial life, you do not want to compromise your integrity, your professionalism. Those are the factors that are there today, that is not making good reporters out of modern day journalists.
(Culled from the bestseller ‘50 World Editors—Conversations with Journalism Masters.’ By Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe. Get your copy from Glendora or call Gloria (08033445125)