Indy Press had an interview with the outgoing Editor-in-Chief of Indy Press, Theophilus Femi Alawonde – a multi-award winning campus journalist. He discussed his journey so far, journalism in UI, impacts and the future. Do enjoy!
Can we meet you?
I am Theophilus Femi Alawonde. A final Year student of the department of Arts and Social Sciences Education. I am studying for a BA Ed in French. I have been a member of Indy press for four years plus, and I am the immediate past Editor in Chief of Indy Press.
The profile you gave largely tells of journalism, so can you describe your journey in journalism so far?
Wow (laughs), well it’s a long Journey, yeah. I joined Campus Journalism in 2017, as a member of Indy Press, under Kayinsola Olurunnisola, then I got Inducted in the same year. I actually joined because I knew Kayinsola before I came to U.I. Not like I knew him personally, but then I knew the name. So, I wanted to have the opportunity to work with him. My focus then was to just join Indy Press and write poems. Those were the things I told him during the Interview. Then, he asked me have you ever written articles? I said, well, I wrote articles as a secondary school student and during my WAEC. He said Ok, you are good to go with that.
I joined, but then the story change because Kayinsola would not allow me to sit in my comfort zone and just write poetry. So, whenever he asked me what I had any week and I said poetry, he would change it and give me something else. So, the will to do stuff started from there. And then, I remember that one of the things I held on to was that I ensured that whatever our E-In-C complained about, I avoided doing it. Then, one of the things was late submission. So, I made a personal resolve to never submit late no matter what.
So, 2018, I became news editor. I think I had only reported news for about 2 weeks before I was made the news editor.Yeah, I was wondering why News editor, but then, the man knew what he was doing. That same 2018, that was when Kanyin and Kunle published, the road before the fourth estate. So, I read the book and it impacted me so much. It was the defining point; I took it as the journalism scripture. There is this section of the book for individual interviews with past campus journalists. So I read the stories there and I did not decide to eliminate just on person I decided to emulate all of them. I read about Alao Abiodun’s energetic way of reporting news stories, and then I was to become new editor at Indy Press, so I decided to fill that gap. I read Habeeb Kolade’s story of how he also joined journalism to write poetry, how he got closer to the E-in-C and whenever he saw that people were not delivering, stepped up to the task. I gathered loads of stories and lessons from those different people’s lives as campus journalists and then I decided to merge everything into one.
I would not say I fully achieved my goal of stepping into Alao’s shoes. I think what affected me largely was that I lost my phone at the end of my first semester on campus, and I did not get another smart phone until, ermm, I think till I finished my 300 level. I did my best because I knew the importance of news reporting to Indy Press. I remembered when we did not publish because there was no news story, so, I took it upon myself that we would always report news and that I would always submit before the deadline. I also got closer to the E-In-C, I worked closer with him and I learnt a lot from him and wherever there were missing pages and it seems as if it was going to affect the publication, I would volunteer to write extra, whatever niche it was.
So, it was not about reading the book, It was about applying what I read from the book while having someone as a guide. So, 2018 was the most defining point of my life as a campus journalist and in that same year I won the best news reporter award. 2019, I was largely away, for the compulsory program in Badagry at Nigerian French Language village. At instances when I returned, I decided to shift my focus to accountability and trying to proffer solution to issues. So, I ran a column with Gods- Treasure; a photo-journalism column where we took pictures of things that were in a bad state and write on them. We did some changes and I also wrote when I could. But that year was like a gap.
2020 January, I became the Editor in Chief at Indy Press and there were a lot of things to match up to. I mean, we had won the best press organization back to back and at that time I was the last of people trained by Kanyinsola. Two things rested on my shoulders; to keep up with the standard, to train the news set of people and to ensure that they match up to Indy Press standard. One thing I was going to have a problem with was how to not send people away at the slightest instance. I am someone that has gone through a lot and I have been able to weather the storm, so it is difficult for me to take excuses. As someone that has seen a lot, I know that if there is the will, one can always find a way.
So we had plans, which I shared with the team. COVID came and affected a lot of things. Then the virtual semester came, a new reality. We had to change focus, we had to rebrand, and we had to learn how to write articles that could gain visibility. We had to deploy copywriting with journalism so as to get people’s attention to read. Then, it was difficult ensuring that people attended meeting every week before publication, it was not easy. It is just that I had people who were willing to see the vision for what it is and work with it.
Second semester came and the work had to continue. We had to intensify, to keep on their toes, to suggest solutions, to be the voice of the people. So, we did all that and we have been able to gain recognition for the work we put in both as a team and individually as persons. So, that is the long, but short story of my journey in Campus Journalism.
The story seems to have its ups and downs, what were the most challenging/toughest moments for you as a campus journalist?
One of the toughest periods would actually be a long period. That was between late 2017 to early 2019, which was when I lost my phone and I could not get another one till I finished 300 level. Especially as news editor, the way it was, it used to be only a news editor under the news desk. I would have to go around, look at notice boards to check out for events, attend these events, sit there, and try to find someone at the venue to take pictures. Then, I would give the person my E-in-c’s number to send picture. After which I would go around to borrow a Laptop to type the news story. But then, it was something I enjoyed, I enjoyed the Challenge.
Another tough moment has been working as an Editor-in-chief and being a finalist and also managing some other stuff, personal jobs. It has not been easy at all. There are things that have suffered due to my role as the E-in-C. I have seen some results and wondered how I had these scores in the positive. Then, I have also seen some results and I knew it was because I was not serious with my academics. Those are the toughest moment I had as a Campus journalist.
So, during these periods, have you ever had any of your stories get you in trouble with the school management?
No, I have never. The thing is, I have this philosophy that, you can always write and impact and bring about changes without necessarily stepping on people toes or going with full attack. It does not mean that your message will be less impactful if you are not confrontational with it. I have always focused more on trying to look at the problem and proffer solution. In the end, that is better than confrontations without solutions. I have not had any instance where my E-in-C was contacted about my story.
We have had one about the story of a member this session, but it was not confrontational. So, the UCJ was able to handle it like nothing happened.
What about the student leaders? Have you ever had any story that got you negative/violent reactions from student leaders?
Well, it can never be rosy with student leaders if you are a campus journalist. Yes, we have had instances. I think the strongest opposition we had was at 2019 during Chidera’s time where Indy had a candidate at the Student Union Presidential competition. Then, at Indy Press, we interviewed the two candidates running for the office. That time, we had lots of back and forth with the student administration in the hall. They were asking why we interviewed the other candidates when INDY pays our subvention. We had to explain to them that we are fair in our dealings and inasmuch as there are two candidates, we are not a PR agency, we are a media house, we have to interview them. We stood our ground
While that might not have gone down well with them at that time, I can remember that up till now, that has earned us a lot of respect from the student leaders in the hall because they know that whatever happens Indy Press would always be fair in its dealings. Not once, not twice have I Heard them say it, during this session, not even then alone. I have heard them say it as recently as during the past student union elections.
There was also one during Prof’s Time. There were issues between the house and the executive admin, we did our job as the press in reporting and it did not go down and well, with members of the executive council. So, we had issues then too. But those things are normal, I see them as normal.
In light of that, how has been your personal interactions with student politicians?
Well, there is one thing I say and one thing I keep to, I have friends who are politicians, In fact, very good friends. I am not saying that every Campus journalist should go with this, but I am so sure that my personal relationship with people cannot cloud my judgment, and cannot affect my duties as a campus journalist. So, we could be smiling now and then the next moment, it’s time for your press night as a politician and then I would still quiz you fairly as I should. In fact, I would give an instance of the time when we wrote an editorial on the executive council of Indy Hall, and then the next morning, I saw about three of them. Some did not receive it well, some did receive too well. I did not allow what we wrote to affect the fact that I would greet them or not. So, whatever I would do remains what I would do and it is what I should do. If someone takes me as an enemy for doing what I should do, then that would be good riddance to that person.
Moving away from political affiliations, how has journalism affected your personal development?
Being a campus journalist is one of the best decisions I have made as a UIte. One, it opened me to a wide network of people. Two, it helped me be build emotional intelligence. Three, it has given me connection to gain jobs that are of financial benefit to me. Four, it has helped me academically and this is how; I am in the arts and humanity field and one thing I have learnt early, as a campus journalist are that answers to any question are just like any other article. So, if you have a beautiful introduction, strong points and a beautiful conclusion, you would most likely win the heart of your lecturer. That was what I have always done and it has yielded. Campus journalism has been beneficial to my growth. This wasn’t where I was and I don’t think I would be here if I am not a Campus journalist.
I mean, there were times when I flash back and remember when people asked me why I would be that serious with something that does not pay me, that does not give me money. I can remember that same people are happy with how I am doing now and they cheer me up.
Alright, so do you think Journalism in UI is at its peak now?
Well, journalism in UI when I came in was high up there, there were people we lived up to and I can remember people writing articles about how there would be issues when those people leave en masse – the Kunle, Kanyin, Alao, Aleem set. We did struggle a bit, but there are things I have observed in the past few months, that have brought us back to a very strong level as Campus journalists.
One is how we became the voice of the people. Two, the people see us for who we are and the people appreciate what we do as solution focused journalists that ensure student politicians are accountable. It is way to go, we can do better. They are stories all around and we should go for these stories. We have tried to do that during our time and we can do better.
How supportive do you think the UI environment is of journalism?
Well, if we should consider the school management and all, the UI atmosphere is hardly ever supportive of anything. So, you have to push yourself. I think the average UI student knows they have to engage in something; so, the average UI student pushes for themselves.
I would not say the UI atmosphere is supportive of Campus journalism. I would say the clampdown has reduced or maybe the stories are not as confrontational as they used to be. It is not still that there is support anywhere.
Well, as a multi award winning journalist now, what advice would you give someone just steeping into the field?
Chuckles, Multi-award winning journalist, let me agree with you on that. Well, what I would tell any campus journalist is that it’s not about the awards. Do not let the awards be your goal. Let the awards just push you to do better. I did not set out to win awards; I did not set out to become the E-in-C. What I set out do what was is expected of me.
I think Rancho of the three idiots said something along that line, I can’t remember now. But Do what you need to do, do what is expected of you as a campus journalist, be the voice of the people, and write articles that will make impact. Of course, the awards will come. In essence, it is not really about that, they should push you to do better. Do it in a way that sets you apart, do it in a way that will make people know that you will never engage in shenanigans. I think I have been able to achieve that and it is known to all.
Finally, in the next couple of years, do you see journalism as what you would be willing to hold on to?
Well, the future holds a lot. I have lots of loves. One thing about me is that I always have a fear of getting bored. So, if journalism holds enough to engage me, why not? Personally, I don’t think that is something I would stick to, I think I would do a lot of things. It is however one of the things I would be considering.
Alright, that wraps it, thank you very much for having us!
Thank you for having me.