Otufodunrin: One year outside the newsroom, what I have learnt

Lekan Otufodunrin
Lekan Otufodunrin while speaking at the 2017 Ogun State Campus Journalism Summit organised by Press Club MAPOLY

In December 2018, Lekan Otufodunrin resigned from The Nation Newspapers as Managing Editor, Online and Special Publications to become Executive Director of Media Career Development Network. One year after his exit from daily news operations, Otufodunrin shares lessons learnt and offers advice for journalists planning to move on from their present job.

Don’t leave unless you have to

Don’t leave except you are convinced you have to leave. Don’t leave because some people are leaving, but what you need to know is that sooner or later you have to leave.

You will either get tired of doing the same routine or the company will not find you useful or relevant to remain in the company.

The General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor E.A Adeboye says there is a difference between someone who jumps down and someone who is pushed. Make your choice. I jumped when I realised I had to.

There is life outside the newsroom

After many years of being a journalist, earning regular salaries, if you work in the few that pay regularly or enjoy some benefits and privileges, there is the temptation to think you can’t survive outside the newsroom.

I thought as much, but the truth is that you can. There is more to life than being a regular journalist.

The comfort of the newsroom is good as long as it should, but when you really have to move on, don’t hesitate.

There will be some deprivations, but you will survive and be surprised what else you have the capacity to do than being only a reporter or editor all your life.

With the disruption in the media landscape, there are new ideas to think about how to be a media professional. You can start your own media company or any other thing you want to do with your life.

Plan your exit

The first time I left the newsroom in 1999 while working with The Punch, I didn’t plan my exit as well as I should have. I soon found myself broke and unable to remain steadfast with the vision I had and eventually returned.

My December 2018 exit was planned. The time was ripe. Two of my four children had graduated from the university, one was in the final year and the one we call late extra was already in senior secondary. So, no more financial pressure as before.

I had also become well known and getting paid for what I wanted to do fulltime when I leave. I rented the office I moved to one year ahead and bought all the furniture and gadgets I will need months before my three months resignation notice expired. I registered the organisation with the Corporate Affairs Commission before my exit.

I had an unfinished house I was building which I started giving more attention. Almost completed now, but paying my yearly rent is still not a problem.

Lekan Otufodunrin
Lekan Otufodunrin

You don’t resign and start thinking of how you will pay children fees, house rent, how much you can earn or how to buy some official expensive gadgets you are used to. Plans can fail due to some unforeseen circumstances, but you are better off when you plan and things work out for you.

Be sure what you really want to do

You don’t leave a well-paid job or even the one you are enduring on impulse except is some circumstances you can’t cope with.

For years I had experimented with being a media career trainer and mentor along with my job as a journalist. My dream, especially after 30 years of newsroom work was to run a media career development centre, so I was not persuaded about running a general news website of my own like many other ‘retired’ journalists despite my experience as Online Editor.

When convenient, I offer consultancy support on the running of media platforms and even write paid and unpaid content, but my major focus is media career development which I give most of my time to and have become well known for.

It’s good to be known for one major thing so that when there is a need for an expert in that area you will be the go-to person. Search for media career Nigeria on goggle and you will find my name and website www.mediacareerng.org top or among the first three results.

Don’t walk away

No matter what the circumstance of your exit, don’t walk away without adhering to the terms of your employment. As Yorubas say, you may still need to say good morning where you said goodnight.

I gave the required three months’ notice as a management staff and was properly sent forth. Special thanks to the Chairman of the Editorial Board, Sam Omatseye who sponsored the event. The management was gracious to allow me to continue writing my weekly column which gives me the visibility I need for my work.

Some organisations and individuals still ask me to get things published in The Nation and I have been obliged by all the staff I have contacted. The first paid training I led after my exit from The Nation was at The Nation!

How well you work for others will determine how you work for yourself

What I have learnt and mastered in the newsroom have been helpful for me in running my own organisation. I have been able to update our media career website promptly, generate story ideas and work on copies as late as required.

There are days I work late in the office along with some other colleagues who share our office and we have to remind ourselves there is no editor waiting to collect our copies.

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I remember listening to a sermon by a well-known Bishop online late in the night and he made a newsworthy statement about hate speech. I took notes, quickly wrote the story and uploaded on a website I get paid generously for my report. A reader wondered about the speed with which the story was written because the sermon was still on. Once a reporter, always a reporter.

To avoid overworking yourself, you need to know what schedule works well for you. I work from home, especially in the mornings, for as long as I want and decide when to go to the office or not.

I still need to know how to take long breaks from thinking about story and project ideas. My wife says not much has changed about my being on the computer even when I no longer have my former Managing Director calling me about a missing story on The Nation’s website.

New opportunities will come

Apart from your original plans, new opportunities will come which can earn you some income.

One day, I got a message on Twitter from Opera News hub about wanting to discuss a proposal with me.

It turned out to be a request to be an ‘influencer writer’ on their platform for what I consider a very generous fee by Nigerian standard. Minimum of six reports, maximum of 16 in a month. Word limit of about 500 and less for breaking story.

In my years in the newsroom, I have written multiple of the word count for much less payment. Trust me I write the maximum number with some extra.

When I got my first payment for this minor side hustle, I wondered why it took Opera this long to come up with this offer.

Be open to new opportunities and ideas, but as I warned earlier, ensure you give enough time to your major focus or ensure that the new opportunities are related to what you are known for.

Promote your work online

When you stop working for the big organisation you do now, you will need other platforms to get noticed for what you will be doing. My maximum facebook number of friends, over 28,000 followers on my verified Twitter account and other platforms have worked well for me.

I’m glad that introducing myself as Lekan Otufodunrin of Media Career Development Network and not The Nation is able to open many doors for me. While it lasted, I enjoyed The Nation’s privilege, but now it’s time to get known for my own organisation.

The earlier you start building the following that can sustain you when you leave your popular newsroom, the better.

Become a thought leader

One of the advantages of being an experienced journalist is that you know a lot about some beats you might have covered or issues you are interested in.

Instead of keeping the knowledge to yourself and expecting people to know what you know, you have to position yourself as a thought leader in your focus area and share your informed thoughts regularly.

I write so much on media issues generally and know that it has earned me some benefits, including being reckoned with even by LinkedIn the global professional platform that regularly refers media professionals to me to mentor.

Your old network will work for you

The relationships I had on the job over the years have been of great advantage to me. The organisations and individuals I had good professional relationships with have been willing to support me.

They recalled how I helped them and are willing to reciprocate. They respect me for the work I’m doing now and still find me relevant now that I am no longer the editor they used to seek favours from.

I have been invited to speak at some training and engaged for media support services based on recommendations of some former colleagues who must have been following what I do; for which I am very grateful.

Find problems to solve

It’s not all the time that you will be approached for the task you specialise in. Sometimes you have to find problems to solve to draw attention to your work. I noticed that a Nigerian media network was the only one without a website link on a global platform it was recently listed. I called the Nigerian contact person and work is on to fix the problem.

I also noted that no lecturer was assigned for a course in an institution I teach part-time, I offered to take the course and got two extra classes to teach with additional payment.

Get additional training

Notwithstanding one’s years of experience, there is always something new to learn or add to what you know. My daughter got me to pay N35,000 (she paid N20,000) for an online content production mentoring course for which I’m very grateful.

Writing is not my problem. I can churn out as many copies as possible, but how do I present them and get more people to pay me for what I know? I now know why young people with less than a quarter of my media experience get paid for their content thanks to the training.

Manage your resources and invest

When you no longer earn regular salaries you need to learn to manage your resources and invest wisely. Until I reminded some people I used to give money to support them that I no longer have as much extra money like I used to, they never stopped asking me for assistance.

Still be willing to give those in need but know your limit before you spend more than you can afford.

There are things I used to buy that I don’t again. They are now luxuries considering how much I now have. I don’t mind giving myself a good treat sometimes, but more than ever before I am very mindful of what I spend on.

Also, remember to have long and short time investments. If you don’t invest, chances are that you will spend what you should save.

Support for Young journalists pays

There is the saying that one should be kind to people you meet on your way up because you may need them on your way down. Being out of the newsroom is not going down literally, but the former young journalists I trained and supported in one way or the other have been very supportive of my work.

They are quick to alert me of relevant opportunities and recommend me to organisations that have offered me good training contracts. newsroom

I got on an international media organisation’s trainers list on the recommendation of some of my former younger colleagues last year and since then I have facilitated many training and projects for journalists across the country.

With God, all things are possible

The Bible says, except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it. I testify that God has indeed been faithful to me in the out-going year.

There are many opportunities that have come my way that are simply divine. What I have done is to do what is humanly possible and trust God to grant me favours. To God be all the glory.

Source: Media Career Development Network