Guest Columnist

Azu’s talisman for media adventurers, By Louis Odion, FNGE

Azu Ishiekwene
Azu Ishiekwene

“So, what do I get for my labour and when?”

That was often the next question by the hitherto “public-spirited” contributor who, after getting published twice or thrice, had apparently started to bask in sudden “fame.” S/he would become less shy.

As the manager of a start-up national newspaper some 16 years ago, such solicitation — legitimate, no doubt — from many a stringer was never easy for me to consider. It simply meant further tightening the fiscal noose around our slender exchequer amid fiercely competing costs.

The operating climate hardly left you an option. However formidable your editorial faculty, there was always some external contributor who wanted to add that “extra something.” They sometimes bring illumination in uncharted waters. Let us face it: other than those pushing special “interest”, it would take exceptional altruism — if not material comfort — for a good many others to readily agree to invest ample time and energy to write for free for long.

If compensating such a category outside the normal staff was financially tough 16 years ago, one can only imagine tougher choices current media managers now have to make under a far more asphyxiating operating condition today.

Circulation figures are crashing, while production costs are mounting stratospherically. Added to the troubling mix is the sheer “outlawry” of the new media, which seems to normalise intellectual theft, whereby stories are brazenly lifted by “e-rats” from the established traditional media without the minimum courtesy of attribution.

It is why Azu’s soon-to-be-unveiled offering entitled,Writing for Media and Monetising It, is, in my view, a game-changer for the media industry. The book outlines a sustainable win-win balance for platform-owners and content providers.

The plight of creators in the music industry is different. Thanks to music streaming platforms like Spotify, for example, Nigerian musicians of diverse genres shared N25 billion royalties in 2023 alone. This is apart from revenues from other platforms like YouTube music, Apple Music, Amazon Music, among others. A significant shift from the recent past, when musical creators virtually slaved for pirates at Alaba market, Lagos.

But as things now stand, media veterans can only recall with nostalgia the relative “boom” enjoyed before the crunch came. As an intern in Concord Press in the early 90s, I made steady income from contributions to its three titles weekly. That created an extra incentive to be prolific. But such opportunities have dried up today as most media houses struggle to pay staff salaries. Stringers are largely on their own.

Azu’s book, arguably the most audacious effort yet to bridge the gap between editorial business and editorial independence, is the fruit of almost forty years of hands-on experience and practice. The multiple-award-winning columnist is giving away practical secrets, curated in a 259-page tome, not just on how to ascend career zenith, but also secure financial success for anyone fascinated by the possibility of the written word.

What’s more? His nugget, with an enthralling foreword by Dapo Olorunyomi, is further garnished with success tips from other accomplished media professionals he had interviewed including Nigeria’s only Pulitzer Prize winner, Dele Olojede.

If someone offers to clothe you, it is axiomatic that you first evaluate the condition of the shirt on their back. Azu surely lives his words. Of course, he is perhaps not just the most syndicated columnist in Nigeria today but also the one with the most bylines in reputable media addresses across continents.

Those close enough to him will attest that he is, therefore, a mobile signage of the prosperity he preaches… (In order not to expose a dear friend unduly to the predatory proboscis of the tax-man, let us stop there.)

But suffice to note that Azu’s confident smile, that Kwale (Delta) swagger, is partly rooted in forex harvested from such affiliations offshore. As a buddy of more than thirty years, I should know.

I think Azu confesses this a little bit on page 89: “I have written articles for a fee, and also for free, for the Argentina-based Clarin magazine; Press 24 and Mail & Guardian in South Africa; The Ghana Chronicle; and also, for online platforms such as Daily Maverick in South Africa; and the Europe-based Indepth News, and more recently for Bird, a South African-based private-owned news agency, amongst others.”

To play in that elite league, you have to get a copy of  Writing for Media and Monetising It.

Azu’s prescription should, in fact, stir up a new consciousness in the larger literary community for just compensation for those engaged in the knowledge economy. Perhaps, I should share a personal story to illustrate this point.

At an event in the United States not too long ago, an acquaintance I was introduced to marveled, after a quick, on-the-spot online check on my past works and he found that there were over 197, 000 views of a piece entitled “Regulating Anambra’s Obituary Economy” on just alone.

“Men!” he exclaimed. “You must be earning fantastic bucks weekly from merely writing if such a mammoth number follow you on just one platform alone. I can see dozens of platforms publish you weekly and simultaneously too.”

That should happen where there is a strong culture of the media economy and reward.

However, I disappointed my acquaintance by reporting that writers don’t yet have the structure in Nigeria to help derive a just compensation for their creativity and sleepless nights; the sort of opportunity Spotify now creates for Nigerian musicians.

On the contrary, writers enthusiastically forward their works to platform-owners (traditional and new) to use for free as “public service.” Otherwise, widely read and syndicated weekly columnists in Nigeria like Segun Adeniyi, Lasisi Olagunju, Sam Omatseye, Reuben Abati, Simon Kolawole and Festus Adedayo would be multi-billionaires today.

But with Azu’s prescription, things are not likely to remain the same again.

*Louis Odion, a former  Edo Information commissioner and also presidential aide, is one of Nigeria’s most accomplished journalists


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