Knight International Journalism Award Winner: "I Have a Passion for Stories That Change Society"

Nov 102014

Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye, the first woman and youngest journalist to edit Nigeria's widely read Sunday Punch newspaper, believes there is one thing that makes a story worth pursuing.

"I have a passion for stories that change society," Ogunseye told IJNet. "It doesn’t have to be change on a very big scale. It could just be change in one person’s life, 10 people’s lives or a community’s life."

As a reporter, Ogunseye, a 2014 Knight International Journalism Award winner, searched for "any story that had to do with me writing the story and something good coming out of it," she said.

And it's worked. Her investigations into a top hospital’s lack of incubators for high-risk infants, a steel plant’s pollution and a school’s dangerous pit latrine, among others, all changed policies and improved living conditions for Nigerians.

As she approaches the end of her second year as executive editor, she talked with IJNet about how she fosters this drive for impact and excellence in the newsroom she leads. Here is her advice for editors:

1. Know your reporters and care for them

Ogunseye knows all her reporters’ strengths and weaknesses. She knows who can finish a story quickly, and who might take a little more time.

“It’s very important not to put all reporters in one bucket and say they’re all the same,” Ogunseye said. “You need to familiarize yourself with your reporters.”

As an observant editor, she also recognizes who has potential. When a 21-year-old male reporter showed eagerness, Ogunseye gave him a big assignment: Find out why Nigerians still suffer from polio when most countries have eradicated the disease.

“I gave him that responsibility because I saw that he was very enthusiastic,” she said. “He might not write it the way I want him to write it, but that can be edited."

2. Foster well-rounded journalists

At Sunday Punch, Ogunseye works hard to make sure reporters’ days aren’t monotonous. She’s made it a requirement that every reporter write at least one news story a day outside his or her beat.

That rule has led to health reporters writing about sports, and entertainment reporters filing business stories. Not only has this created well-rounded reporters ready to handle any story, but it’s also made the paper more diverse.

3. Create competition and a rewards system

Ogunseye makes sure reporters know when they’ve completed a strong story – and when they’ve failed.

Once a week, she’ll announce a story of the week in front of the entire newsroom. The winner gets a small sum of money and a round of applause from the entire staff. She’ll also have the staff applaud other strong stories of the week.

“The fact that the whole newsroom is clapping for you means the next day you’re going to do your next story with so much success and speed,” Ogunseye said.

However, she also calls reporters out in front of the entire newsroom for slacking off. They don't like it, she said, "but the next week they do well. And we all clap for them.”

4. Find stories that will make a difference for your community

As a reporter, Ogunseye insisted on covering stories that could effect change. As an editor, she gives the same assignments to journalists at Sunday Punch.

“I tell them to write stories Nigerians want to read,” she explained. “What are people talking about? What is affecting the average Nigerian?”

Ogunseye tells reporters to gain the community’s trust so that when they have a problem, they know they can call a journalist.

“The people that have these problems buy the newspaper,” she said. “Once they see you’re addressing their problems, you make them trust you.”

In the video below, Ogunseye shares more of her advice for young journalists.


Main image: IJNet photo of Oluwatoyosi Ogunseye by Ashley Nguyen.