Tuesday, 30 July 2013

(67): The beauty of faith

Muslims making Tawaf (circumambulation) in Ramadhan
It is a season like no other. It comes once in a calendar year, but leaves the most indelible memory in the life of a Muslim. “Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful” (Qur’an chapter 2 verse 185).
From north to south, east to west, Muslims all over the world fast the month of Ramadhan, in the same month, united by the same faith, worshipping the same God, and longing for forgiveness from the Creator. It is unique in its essence, the hearts are warmed by its spirituality, the character is reformed by obedience to the Almighty, the poor and the needy are helped because of its mercy, the children enjoy it, they look forward to it. Everyone celebrates its arrival, and mourn at its departure.
The rich tastes the hunger of the poor, the poor enjoys the generosity of the rich. The weak is emboldened by the sympathy of the strong, and the strong appreciates the bounties of the All Powerful, the All Mighty Allah. Patience increases, generosity multiplies, sympathy develops, brotherhood is strengthened, and the beauty of faith is exhibited. That is Ramadhan for you.
Those who can afford travel for the lesser Hajj, to the holiest of cities, hosting the noblest of houses, the birth place of the greatest human being ever to walk on this earth. Neither white no black, nor Asians, Africans, Europeans or Americans, everyone is simply a Muslim, facing the same direction and worshipping the same God. That is the beauty faith.
In the vicinity of the Haramain (the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madina), the faithful are patiently waiting for the sunset. Distributing dates, water, juice, fruits, and begging the pilgrims to share the meal with them. Inside the Ka’aba, it is the faithful circumambulating and chanting the name of the Lord, men robed in white garments, the women modestly dressed in the clothes of their choice. The hearts are united by common faith, asking the one and only Sustainer. Hands raised asking for the bounties of this world and the forgiveness of the hereafter. Parents praying for their children, husbands praying for their wives. The healthy praying for the sick, and the living asking forgiveness for the dead. It is peaceful, it is beautiful, but only the faithful can taste the sweetness of faith.
As the the Mu’addhin calls the prayer, and people break their fast, it is moment of reflection and supplication. The family comes together, dad smiling at the mom, brother helping the sister pick a date from the bowl, the uncle sipping a cup of tea, the neighbor satisfied with the generosity of his brothers and sisters in faith. Happiness is not a commodity for sale, it is a priceless jewel shared by the people of faith.
The Muaddhin makes the call again; it is time for prayer, it is the Isha the Imam begins with, followed by Tarawih the whole night indeed.  The eloquence of the voice of Sudais, and the vibration of the recitation of Shuraim, makes you divorce the material world for the sake of the Creator of Ramadhan.
We thank God for the month of Ramadhan
Everyone is equal, neither poor nor Sultan

Character is reformed; there is no room for Shaitan
Beautiful month that comes right after Sha’aban

Our faith is strengthened by Iman
Always seeking the mercy of Rahman

Respond to our needs Oh the revealer of Qur’an
Forgive our sins; make us conscious of the day of Sakran

Admit us to your paradise through the gate of Rayyan
The day of recompense where everyone is Atshan

Except You, Master of the day of Jau’aan
Grant us paradise and make us perpetually Farhan

Last ten days are here, let’s seek for Ghufran

Forever never abandon the lessons of Ramadhan


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

(66): Why you should be a journalist? IV

Corporate communications is another growing sector in the world of media and communications. Companies, government agencies, financial institutions etc., are interested in having a favourable image among their publics. They also like to engage their staff on their internal communication strategy so that the employees can easily help the institution to achieve its corporate objective.
This is one area in which you can decide to build your own career. Having said that, it is also an area where experience is valued. Depending on the organization, having an experience in journalism and membership of professional bodies such as the Institute for Public Relations, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Nigeria Institute of Public Relations etc, will be an added advantage.
As I discussed earlier in this series, ability to write, understanding of international languages and the use of social media will be an added advantage. This is so because at the moment CEO’s are interested in attracting young talents, and having a positive image among this category of media users. Sometimes the Chief Executives organize questions and answer sessions on twitter so that they interact with people, gauge the image of the organization before the public, and promote its standing nationally and internationally.
Freelancing is another aspect of journalism and communication which you can use to develop a career, although sometimes it can be risky because you do not have a regular income. However it has one unique advantage, being independent and self-employed. Freelance journalists are normally contracted by media organisations as a supplement to their permanent staff. But before making a decision to embark on freelance journalism you need to look at the advantages and disadvantages. First of all as a freelance journalist you have the freedom to decide when to work and when to rest.
Secondly, you can take your time to conduct rigorous research and develop a story which the journalist who is permanently employed may not have the luxury to enjoy, due the pressure of deadlines which is common in news rooms. Thirdly, if you build an excellent reputation as a freelance journalist, you might be lucky to have different media organisations being interested in your services, this could help in getting more regular income, and you will also be in a position to negotiate the offers you received. When you decide to take full time employment, being a freelance journalist sometimes makes it easier since your work might have featured in different media organisations.
On the other hand, there is a lot of uncertainty in freelance journalism. I was once freelancing for a media organisation, and sometimes you can spend a week or more without a single story taken from you. For those who use freelancing as a means of earning a livelihood that could be challenging.  There is also the risk of a person getting into trouble spots which could put his life in danger because he is looking for stories that will appeal to his clients. Finally you risk working without developing a career. So you need to weigh your options and decide what you think is best for you. For students, and journalists on temporary employment, freelance journalism could be an opportunity to supplement their income and gather more experience. It is also good for those on retirement who would like to avoid the daily pressure from editors.
Citizen journalism is another area which you can use to develop yourself as a journalist. Although there is debate on whether citizen journalism should be considered as true journalism, I believe citizen journalism has some advantages because of the influence of social media like facebook and twitter  which provide ample opportunity for alternative news. There are so many free platforms for you to start practicing, which you can also use as evidence of output when you attend interviews.
Google and Wordpress for examples have free platforms for you to write stories, publish articles, develop picture galleries etc. Never underestimate the power of blogging, as discussed by Eric Schmidt of Google during a lecture to some university students, there are more people earning their livelihood using blogging than the total number of lawyers in the United States. The very area you live today could be the centre of news tomorrow, and if you are already blogging, your stories could lead the way before media organisations arrive at the venue.
A much bigger advantage of citizen journalism is that you can publish your ideas without unnecessary censorship from editors who would like to make sure that news items conform to the corporate interest of the media organization they work for. Understand that through journalism you can make a lot of difference to the lives of the people locally, nationally and internationally. Why not grab that opportunity now?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

(65): Why you should be a journalist? III

Having acquired the necessary skills to be relevant in the 21st century, an additional advantage of journalism and communications studies is that it offers you different career choices. In this part of the series, I will concentrate on five of them, namely, journalism practice, academia, corporate communications, freelancing and citizen journalism.
Working for radio, television, newspapers or magazine can be a fulfilling experience, though challenging. If you look at the history of journalism, some of the leading novelists, authors and literary icons the world celebrates were actually journalists at a point in time, in fact some of them use journalism to promote their intellectual output. Here I am talking about thinkers like Karl Marx who worked as the foreign correspondent for the New York Tribune. The likes of George Orwell, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and even our contemporaries like the famous war correspondent Martha Gelhorn, John Pilger and Robert Fisk became household names because of their journalism practice. If there is one reason why you should be a journalist, these are the names to draw inspiration from.
They practiced journalism to change society and question the powers that be. They epitomized the famous saying that the duty of a journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. They fought against injustice like the effort of Charles Dickens through the newspapers to fight for the right of the working class in England, or Karl Marx’s effort to expose British colonial imperialism, despite the low wages that he earns. In fact former US president John Kennedy at the peak of the cold war accused the New York Tribune, which employed Marx as its foreign correspondent for creating the radical ideas of Karl Mark because they do not pay him enough wages. According to President Kennedy, if the New York Tribune had treated Karl Mark more kindly, history would have been different. Even in our shores, the radical journalism of Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, Herbert Macaulay and Abubakar Imam were partly responsible for fighting for our independence. What is different between the journalism of these heroes and what obtains today is that they were not practicing journalism to earn some wages only, but they practice to serve as the voice of the people. So here is a choice for you.
The second option is the academia. In the last hundred years, journalism has seen tremendous transformation in the academia. A combination of sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, historians and linguists have come together to produce a pedagogical discipline known as mass communication with the aim of professionalizing this important area of the social sciences. More structured courses were developed in news writing, ethics and journalism; broadcasting regulations etc. the attempt to professionalise journalism has made degrees in journalism attractive both in the news industry and the academia.
To be a successful academic, postgraduate study is essential. Therefore, those who intend to take this route should focus on acquiring both master’s degree and PhD. They should also be mindful of the changing nature of the academia. Just ten years ago, a PhD can guarantee you a job in the academia. This can perhaps be the case in many developing countries. But beware that in many universities around the world at the moment, a PhD is just a qualification, but to get employment you must back it up with serious publications in reputable journals. Some universities have even changed the way to write the PhD thesis, instead of producing that bulky document which ends up being lost in library shelves, the PhD is conducted by publication. The student is asked to publish two or three top research papers, after which he would compile the publications and submit for assessment. It might sound easy, but I can guarantee that it is sometimes easier to write a 300 to 400 pages dissertation than to publish in some journals because of the rigorous nature of the review process and the waiting period. This is not to scare you, but to let you know the options that are available, and with determination you can make it.
Another alternative way of joining the academia is to build a successful career in journalism and then transfer to the academia; and transform your experience into research for the benefit of the students and the profession. Certainly those who have the industry experience, when they joined the academia and acquire the necessary research skills, either through postgraduate qualifications or by publications tend to make a difference. One of the leading professors of international communication once told me that one of the reasons why his books became key texts in this area is because he has previously worked in some international news agencies, and that experience has significantly contributed in making his books relevant in the academia.
To be continued

As a follow up to the article I wrote few months back on Wisal TV, I have been informed that the TV is now live and can be watched on Eutelsat 180181 h 30000.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

(64): Why you should be a journalist? II

In the 21st century as some experts will argue, you do not have to worry about permanent employment, but permanent employability. Permanent employability is what makes you relevant anywhere, anytime and in any organization. One profession in which I find this statement to be true is journalism. The most important word in my opinion for both practicing and would-be journalists is skill acquisition.
A combination of factors like the revolution in information and communication technology, the emergence of social media like facebook and twitter, the economic turmoil forcing media organisations to cut their budgets, the pressure on print and broadcast media to refocus their business models in order to attract advertising have made media organisations to be very selective in their recruitment of staff. So what are these skills that you need to acquire in order to increase your chances of securing employment, and make more impact in the practice of journalism?
The first is language acquisition. Whether in the broadcast or the print media, language is the key instrument. Apart from your own native language, combining two international languages at the same standard will make you a hot cake by media employers. Try and combine at least two international languages, either English and Arabic, Arabic and French, French and English, and with the way things are moving, a knowledge of Mandarin because of the economic rise of  China, Spanish because of the rise of some Latin American countries could be an advantage. For those in Africa an understanding of these international languages with Hausa or Swahili, both of which have international broadcasting organisations transmitting in them could be an added advantage. You can see clearly some examples in today’s newsrooms. The likes of Ghida Fakhry of Aljazeera, Ben Wedeman and Arwa Damon of CNN, BBC’s Zeinab Badawi are examples of the advantage speaking multiple international languages can have on the career of a journalist. In fact some of the ones I have mentioned have a modest understanding of the second language.  
The pressure to report stories from areas that provide the raw material of news has made media organizations to rethink the informal policy of having only people with native accent of English, French or Arabic as reporters. The likes of Muhammad Adow of Aljazeera English, and Mannir Dan-Ali, formerly reporting for both BBC Hausa and BBC Focus on Africa are clear examples. Their reports are clear, incisive and analytical. Having both writing and broadcasting ability in these languages can make your CV glitter before employers. It is also an opportunity to showcase your talent and inform the people about issues relevant to them.

The next skill in the 21st century is multimediality. Media organizations are interested in journalists who can adapt to different news platforms.  They want a journalist who is good for radio, but will also fit in television. They want journalists who can write analysis on their websites, and at the same time interact with audiences on Facebook and twitter. During the BBC social media summit in 2011, a statement made by the managing editor of the Washington Post, that: why should he employ a journalists who doesn’t have a Facebook and twitter account, instantly became viral on twitter. Using twitter and Facebook, journalists bring audiences to their media organization which is hitherto unheard of. Journalists like Piers Morgan of CNN have more than 3 million followers on twitter. Of course you and I are not in that league, but the few hundreds or thousands of followers that you have could be an added advantage; in fact do not be shy of writing the total number of your followers on your CV, especially if the number is significant. That could be the difference between you and your competitor, especially if the media organization has someone in its management or interview panel like the managing editor of the Washington Post.
A common mistake that some students make is that they hardly do anything to build their experience in university. They think graduating with upper second class degree, (2:1), or first class are enough to secure them jobs. Yes it is good to have a good result, but never underestimate the value of an average student who perhaps graduated with second class lower (2:2), but has multiple skills and practical experience, those skills that you overlooked could bridge gap between you and him,  which might take you ages before you catch up with him. So be warned.

To be continued


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

(63): Why you should be a journalist? (I)

“Mass Comm ai kwas din mata ne” (Mass communications is a course for women), was a common adage we used to hear in our secondary school days. I can vividly remember the story one of my friends told me when I said I was going to study mass communications; he told me the story of a father who said he would rather his son or daughter become a street hawker than to study mass communications. Many parents assumed that for a child to be successful he has to study medicine or engineering or law or pharmacy or accounting or  economics or business administration,and so on and so forth depending on how lucrative the course could be.
Then the same people who castigate certain courses will be glued to their radio to listen to the announcement for the siting of the moon of Ramadan, in the morning the same father will either pick a copy of the Guardian, New Nigerian, Daily Trust, Punch, and in recent years Leadership, Blueprint, The Nation, and People’s Daily to find out what is happening in Nigeria and around the world; in fact if he has some shares he would monitor the pages in these newspapers giving up to date information about the value of shares in different financial institutions, at 9: 00 pm it is almost mandatory that every member of the household should leave the sitting area for the Oga at the top to watch NTA news.
When there is crises in the middle east like the Gulf War, popularly known in northern Nigeria as yakin tekun fasha, he quickly switches to radio Kaduna to listen to Duniya ina Labari and hear how Abubakar Jidda Usman provides analysis of the war with such oratory and analytical prowess. In fact while Uwargida (the chief or head wife) is preparing breakfast, his attention is divided between the food and the vibration of the voice of Usman Muhammad, Isa Abba Adamu or Saleh Halliru of the BBC Hausa service, or Hadiza Isa Wada, Kabiru Fagge and Halima Djimrou of VOA, or Deutche Welle’s Ado Gwadabe and Umaru Aliyu, most of them retired but no tired broadcasters.
In fact the same castigator discouraging his children from studying mass communication and other journalism courses forgets that the first president of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe, the likes of Alhaji Abdullateef Jakande, Alhaji Magaji Dambatta, Alhaji Abubakar Imam, Ahaji Abubakar Rimi, Chief Segun Osoba and many more were at one point or the other working as journalists.
After joining the university one discovers an amazing trend, the interest by students from English language, sociology, political science, Islamic studies, library science, history, rushing to take courses in mass communications, and not all of these people are women. Then one begins to think that, there must be something in this course that is attracting people, and the answer is not far from us, it is simply marketability. Almost every state in Nigeria has a radio and television station, and perhaps a newspaper. At the federal level you have NTA and FRCN. Lagos is the hub of the newspaper industry with various newspapers and magazines. But this is just part of the story; almost every government parastatal has a public relations unit, the banks and other financial institutions have corporate communication departments, local governments have information officers, even in the military era, the governors, the president, the ministers have press secretaries, and having the word mass communication on your certificate helps in turning your qualification into a meal ticket in a market congested with university graduates searching for jobs. In fact my teacher Malam Jibrin Ali Giginyu, formerly of the Triumph newspapers used to say, journalism is too large to be filled by mass communication graduates only.
But what is the purpose of this long tale. It is simple, irrespective of what you think of journalism, it is a profession that provides job opportunities, and it is when the best, the honest and the brightest refuse to study or practices it, that others join to spoil the show. Beyond the traditional journalism practices of working in print and broadcast media, there are other opportunities locally and internationally. And in this series, I will mention some of those areas that might be of interest to students of mass communication and journalism, and those who would like to venture into this profession; what are the basic things you need to do to secure a job, what are the opportunities out there, but only few people can grab, and how can you improve your skills so as to make it difficult for employers to overlook your CV? Join me for an update.

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