Ifedayo Ogunyemi has been a source of inspiration and motivation which reignites my faith in budding journalists and future generations going by his remarkable and exemplary ways he carried himself as a journalist of repute. Ifedayo is a Senior Reporter with the Nigerian Tribune newspaper.
Fate has at numerous occasions brought us together: from our journalism practice in Ogun State, fellowship with fact-checking organisation, Dubawa; intensive training on digital rights by Paradigm Initiative in Abuja, and to both of us becoming fellows of different programmes organised by the Solutions Journalism Network (SJN).
For this reason, I don’t have the moral justification to decline when he invited me to be a guest speaker at the workshop for journalism educators/lecturers in Oyo State, Nigeria.
The workshop with the theme “Integrating Solutions Journalism into Nigeria Media Education” aims to intimate journalism educators and lecturers about the concept of Solutions Journalism such that it is incorporated as part of courseworks, assignments and projects in a way that offers journalism students more avenues to make an impact and drive accountability with journalism.
Ordinarily, my engagements evidently would not allow me accept the invitation but I did otherwise by sacrificing my comfort to be part of the event organised by Campus Solutions and I-79 Media Consults as part of Ifedayo’s project as a SJN LEDE fellow.
Despite informing me several weeks to date of the event (26/11/2022), I find it difficult to prepare my PowerPoint presentation until late on Friday (25/11/2022) when I put aside all I was doing to begin work on it.
Unfortunately, the scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) popularly called petrol disrupted my plans and made it practically impossible for me to power the generating set at home. And to make it worse, service of Ibadan Electricity Distribution Company (IBEDC) was epileptic.
So, I decided to pass the night at the office in order to prepare my slides for the workshop since there was a relatively stable power supply there.
I am really glad that the sacrifice was not in vain. Though I was a facilitator and attended numerous training sessions in Nigeria and abroad on Solutions Journalism, I learnt a lot from my participation in the workshop.
Show, Don’t Tell
Of particular interest to me was the impact Ifedayo had made and milestones reached in the implementation of the Campus Solutions project – over 30 campus journalists from 12 tertiary institutions in Nigeria and Ghana benefiting from SoJo training. At least 12 solutions stories were published with 11 indexed in the Solutions Story Tracker of SJN.
The Campus Solutions is building an army of student journalists who will graduate with exceptional skills of impacting the society. To make this sustainable, the team is setting up SoJo units on campuses. I-79 Media Consults with its Campus Solutions project has also started a newsletter (Campus Echoes) to share resources, tools, opportunities, and share successes and experience as they unfold.
To cap it all, Ifedayo also exemplified the principle of “show, don’t tell” by publishing Solutions Journalism stories. Worthy of mention was his story on how Nigeria could learn from South Korea on how to address the challenge of inadequate bed spaces during COVID-19 pandemic. This story influenced the Nigerian Government to adopt the South Korea model to address challenges associated with inadequate bed spaces in hospitals.
What resonated with this project going by the experience of the co-founder of SJN, David Bornstein was how his solutions journalism report in New York focused on children. I recalled that I reported to the participants at the 2022 Solutions Journalism Summit in the US, after a breakout session including both of us, that any project that genuinely focuses on children and the youths (just like that of David and Ifedayo) will scale and be sustainable. I think that is why the network of SJN is growing in leaps and bounds. I can attest to the quality of partnership with journalism schools, media organisations and institutions going by the diverse and array of participants at the Summit at Utah in May this year and the adoption of its principles in newsrooms across the world.
Two of the 15 Campus Solutions Ambassadors – Olanshile Ogunrinu of the University of Ibadan (U.I) and Gbagedesin Adeyanju of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) – shared their experiences detailing how the Campus Solutions project ignited their passion for value addition. This is indeed how to show the principles and ideals of solutions journalism.
The close to a decade formation of SJN has given birth to a network of media practitioners, educators and students. It was great meeting Bayo Wahab, the news editor of Pulse, whose passion and zeal influenced his decision to replicate the project at the news platform and the Lagos State University (LASU). And indeed, Olatunji Olusoji, a lecturer from the Polytechnic Ibadan gave the assurance to take the golden lessons to the institution and facilitate the uptake of SoJo in the campus newsroom.
Gaps Solutions Journalism Exposed
Solutions Journalism is a rigorous, evidenced-based reporting on responses to social problems. It uses the four elements of responses, evidence, insights and limitations to achieve this.
The training undertaken by Ifedayo Ogunyemi and the Executive Director of Media Career Development Network, Lekan Otufidunrin during the workshop used the above definition and key elements to expose the gaps in the traditional way of reporting which focus only on problems. This prepared the ground for me to facilitate my session and made it easy for me, the task of showing the journalism educators how to integrate SoJo into the curriculum.
They challenged the academic community in Nigeria to further conduct research on factors responsible for why more Nigerians are not interested in news or what we called “News Avoidance”? They want researchers to find out whether there is a correlation between constant exposure to problem-oriented stories and news avoidance. They are concerned and want a reversal of this if the findings accept the hypothesis of causal relationship between these variables. They strongly believe that solutions journalism can bring the audience back to the news.
Another research gap I also noted in the course of their presentations was the need to conduct content analysis of media messages to determine the dominant news value journalists and news media in Nigeria used. Are the factors that determine newsworthiness more of oddity, controversies, conflicts, bizarre and negativeness?
The principles of solutions journalism also exposed the inadequacies in the format of reporting in making the government accountable. The adoption of a solutions journalism model shows that the traditional approach to investigative journalism placed policy makers in much more difficult situations to address the problems exposed by this approach to reporting. Meanwhile, SoJo stories help government and policy makers to properly put the problems in context and place them in better positions to solve them.
The Journey of Integrating Solutions Journalism into Curriculum in Nigeria
I started the journey of integrating Solutions Journalism into Nigeria media education in 2021 when I got a grant to implement this project at Crescent University Abeokuta, Ogun State as a pioneer Africa fellow of SJN. Over six tertiary institutions and media educators in Ogun State were trained on how to navigate through the process. I have introduced SoJo modules in three journalism related courses and my students are working on a solutions journalism project – “Progress Report”.
And in 2022, Dr Rasheed Adebiyi of the department of mass communication, Fountain University Osogbo was selected as a fellow of SJN by Nigeria Health Watch (NHW) to further promote the ideals of SoJo in the tertiary institutions and media organisation in Osun State.
Ifedayo has now taken the baton of SoJo and raced to Oyo State with its impact noted in media organisations and campuses in the state. The assignment given to me by Ifedayo to share my SoJo experience in curriculum development gave me a sleepless night but it is a worthy contribution.
While facilitating the session, I reminded the journalism educators of the normative theories and factors that led to the addition of social responsibility and developmental media theories. I established an intersection between some mass communication theories and SoJo, arguing that the assumptions of these theories are close to the principles of SoJo.
I also highlighted the procedure of research and how these supported the principles of Solutions Journalism. I justified this by explaining that research starts with problem identification, gathering evidence (data) to find answers to the problems, noting limitations in the methodology adopted in gathering the data and drawing inferences or concluding and then offer recommendations. These four elements of SoJo – response to problems, provision of evidence, highlighting limitations of responses and insights noted from the interventions – are close to the research procedure.
I advocated a paradigm shift in the way journalism educators teach budding journalists the concept of news value. I also called for review of the definition of investigative journalism which only emphases exposing corruption, misdemeanor and social ills in the society. With reference to one of the focus of breakout sessions during the 2022 Solutions Journalism Summit in the US, I showed the beauty of using asset framing in building the character in SoJo and investigative stories.
The workshop also offered me the opportunity to preach the need to integrate SoJo into coursework beginning with the introducing modules into existing journalism related courses. The long term goal is to get the buy-in of all stakeholders to influence National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and National Universities Commission (NUC) to recognise SoJo as a stand-alone course as part of the minimum benchmarks for journalism and communication related courses.
I also shared the highlights of the benefits of SoJo to journalism educators and budding journalists as noted by Francine Huff, Director of Journalism School Partnership of SJN.
SoJo resonates with students frustrated and turned-off for constant exposure to negative news. It helps empower students to be engaged in the news gathering process. This also allows educators to develop students skills that help them qualify for internship and full time appointments. It also offers journalism schools the opportunity to help newsrooms improve coverage and raise the next generation of quality journalists. And help students to get story ideas from the communities who are trying to solve problems but often left out of the news (news desert).
While presenting his goodwill message, Chairman of the Oyo State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ademola Babalola lamented that the present crop of journalists do not have the opportunity of being taught SoJo. Babalola urged journalism educators to bring the principles of SoJo to the consciousness of their students, describing it as a means of providing solutions to world problems.
The experience of implementing SoJo projects in Nigeria in the last one year was not totally without hitches and road blocks. In the integration of SoJo in journalism courses, there are policy issues that need to be cleared to have an in-road, especially mounting a stand-alone Sojo course. Nigerian journalists exposed to SoJo training have repeatedly expressed concerns that the solutions-oriented stories might further worsen the revenue issue with media organisations. And when we provide evidence that adoption of the SoJo model in reporting improves revenue performance and productivity, they are quick to add that the editors and top-echelon in their media organisations need to be convinced.
Mr Jamiu FOLARIN,
Lecturer and Researcher,
Mass Communication Department,
Ogun State, Nigeria.