Newswatch: Sad end to ‘a way of life’!
My first major assignment for Newswatch, once Africa’s most cited and best known news magazine, was to do preliminary work ahead of the 50th anniversary of the golden rule of late Sultan Abubakar Siddiq III. It was one assignment that took me to many parts of the north to talk to people who had one opinion or the other to express about Sultan Abubakar Siddiq and the Sokoto caliphate.
In line with Newswatch house-styles, the Editor-In-Chief did a short take on me in the Editorial Suite, a half page reserved for the EIC or, in his absence, one of his lieutenants to whet the appetite of readers. After commending me for what he said was a good outing, Ray Ekpu took one long look at me and asked whether I was surprised at my being signed on by Newswatch. ‘No, sir!’ I blurted. ‘Our Ray of hope’, as many called Ray Ekpu, Newswatch’s EIC, must have been pleasantly surprised by my candour
Prior to Newswatch, I had actually done some rudimentary writings for some local and international publications in my undergraduate days in Zaria. The trend continued during my days as a lecturer in Contemporary World History. Though I was not a rookie in the real sense of the word, Newswatch, for very obvious reasons, proved to be a different ball-game!
My midday encounter with Ray was a replay of a similar one on the day I encountered the three musketeers who interviewed me for the job 30 years ago. At issue was how I was eased out of my former job, an account which provoked a general laugh. Was it the laughable reasons given for my being eased out? Or was it the way it was narrated? What struck me most was the conviviality that surrounded the interview session. It was great to feel these Newswatch greats were not spooks, after all!
I had actually applied for an advertised position of deputy editor of Quality magazine, a soft-sell in the Newswatch group. But I guess the trio was impressed by my humble credentials. I had a job, I was told, not with Quality but the highflying Newswatch. Though, I was to get eased out of Newswatch, I guess the eight years I spent remain the most exciting in my career in journalism. I have seen a handful of newsrooms but Newswatch’s was unique!
One of the reasons Newswatch was unique was that ‘the three musketeers’ regularly electrified the newsroom with their presence. It was normal practice for any of them to drop a draft of their column for the week on a reporter’s table with instructions to feel free to raise objections! I witnessed it first hand in my first month. On the day, Yakubu Muhammed breezed into the newsroom, wearing his trademark smile and dropped a typed script on a vacant desk near mine. ‘Take this, my friend’, he nodded in my direction ‘and let me have your corrections!’ Boy! Did I read that script! Of course, I did but what I did was no more than to leaf through the three-page stuff. It was after the edition came out that I went to apologise for failing to correct Juma Rock for Zuma Rock! Yakubu must have read my mind because he sat me down for a lecture on how not to feel intimidated by people I supposed are better writers. Such pep talks help cub reporters. It helped me!
Newsroom ethics at 62, Oregun Road were, to say the least, superb. It provided a relaxed atmosphere for rookies to learn the ropes in no time. Not even the tense atmosphere that characterised Thursday productions took away the joy and benefit of working among professionals. There were never dull moments in the newsroom even though for most part of the week, reporters were out on the beat.
Newswatch newsroom turned into an imaginary madhouse on Thursdays. It was the day deep-voiced Nosa Igiebor could be heard calling for stories from reporters working frantically to beat deadlines. I got to understand Nosa as an editor’s editor very early in the day; a very caring and painstaking professional who could make the best reporter out of a dunce. And he never failed to ask about the welfare of his reporters.
Each time Nosa breathed down a reporter’s neck, he too must have been under some considerable pressure from ‘General’ Soji Akinrinnade, then general editor who regularly called for reporters’ balls to be squeezed to get them to beat deadlines. Of course, Soji himself would be under considerable pressure from Yakubu or Dan Agbese when stories did not trickle in the way they should. It was typical of Nosa to always protect the balls of his reporters from being squeezed!
At the end of what was a first hectic year for me, Nosa took one long look at a report I had filed, then took one long look at me, adjusted his glasses and smiled; this was not one of the soul-lifting smiles he gave to a blundering reporter. ‘You know what?’ he started with what I took to be a cross between a question and statement. ‘Go fill your annual leave form; you have earned it!’ Nosa knew I had had a hectic first year and needed the break to avoid a complete breakdown. That was Nosa!
For many who passed through 62, Oregun Road, Ikeja, Lagos (Newswatch later moved to Billings Way in Oregun) the death of Newswatch is an end to a way of life. When the story of Newswatch is finally told, its survival will not be attributed to some deep pockets who financed the project. Rather, the credit will go to its management, made up of some of the finest editors around, who spurred and motivated a committed staff to go the extra mile. Little wonder that, since Newswatch finally took a dive, some former Newswatchers have indicated their preparedness to restore those halcyon days of yore.
In deference to its mantra, Newswatch was a way of life. It is no less so even in death!
Magaji is based in Abuja
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