Friday, April 19, 2024
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Freelance Journalists Have More Chances and Opportunities than Journalists in Established Media – Adesola Ikulajolu, DART 2023 Selected Fellow

Campus Journos in Nigeria are seizing the day. Many are no longer waiting to get a meager paid salary with legacy media organisations in the country as they set their sights on more audacious international fellowships, grants, and opportunities to hone their skills in raising the bar for themselves in the practice of media, communications and journalism.

One of such seasoned campus journo is Adesola Ikulajolu who recently was announced as the only Nigerian selected for the prestigious DART Centre Fellowship for the 2023 Early Childhood Global Reporting, a project by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New Yourk United States.

In this Special Edition of Nigerian Men in Media Project #NMiMP Series by LightRay Media, Adesola speaks from a place of burning hunger, his embers fueled with an unquenchable goal to outdo himself while also serving as a stepping stone to others. To know him is to immerse yourself in his journey into the media space in Nigeria.


Tell us about your recent award and your journey towards winning the fellowship.

I was named the only Nigerian Journalist for the 2023 Early Childhood Global Reporting Fellowship by Dart Center, a project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York, United States. The Fellowship is worth $2,000 grant , access to veteran coaches, resources and mentoring from faculty members at the Dart Center, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

This is simply a journey of grace because I am very sure there were other journalists who submissions were great as well, maybe my submission had a clear niche the fellowship seeks to address. I did the submission in less than two hours to the deadline of the call for application. I had to borrow a colleague’s laptop to finish up the submission at around after 10:00 p.m. because my laptop was not anywhere close. So, for my application to have scaled through, it means I had what they wanted the fellowship to achieve. Before the submission, I had been thinking up story ideas on my head that aligns with the Dart Center’s fellowship, so while writing the Cover Letter, it was easy for me to quickly put words together and channel my focus on what the selection team would be looking forward to. I had also read stories of previous fellows, I read resources materials related to the fellowship and had made draft if budget.

Often times journalists in established media are more privileged in getting this opportunity, yet, you got on board as a freelance journalist. What’s the secret here?

Adesola Ikulajolu has a keen eye for details.

Some media organosations don’t allow their journalists to apply for fellowships or grants to do story, but freelancers can do as they want once they have previous works that shows their capabilities. A Freelance journalist must think wide and reach out to editors. But first be able to do stories that don’t involve funds, so that when the funds come, it will increase the motivation to do better.

Is there a secret? Yes, there is, and that secret is God first and doing the work that aligns with what you want. Funnily, the fellowship requires that I get letter from my editor and submit, but where will I get Editor’s Letter that late night and two hours to deadline? I did my submission without the letter with the audacity – since it was also optional for freelance journalists. I read a lot about the fellowship, I read past works and it wasn’t a one day thing because, despite other duties, I still had to keep reading to know more because I haven’t written reports centered on children and their trauma.

What do you say to freelance journalists who may be allowing their limiting thoughts or other barriers prevent them from reaching higher in their careers?

Freelance journalists are part of the journalism profession. I don’t think freelance journalists should limit themselves because clearly, they have more chances of applying for some opportunities than journalists in established media. Some media don’t allow their journalists to apply for fellowships or grants to do story, but freelancers can do as they want once they have previous works that shows their capabilities. I even found out that being a freelance journalist comes with so much freedom that needs to be managed through discipline,. That you are free is not enough reason not to sit tight. The journalists in established media have monthly salaries and they also write daily reports, but as a freelance journalist, your energy must be alert to write pitches that are worth approving. Freelance journalists must think wide and reach out to editors, first be able to do stories that don’t involve funds, so that when the funds come, it will increase the motivation to do better.

What are the challenges, barriers or mindset you had to overcome to get this far?

This far? I’m jut starting off on the career even though I began as a student journalist as far back as 2014. One mindset that is helping is the ability to reach out, network, and seek help from senior colleagues when I need it. There are times pitches get thrashed, never replied to, and most times never approved. When rejection came, I try doing little stories that don’t require funds.

When I left school in 2021, by 2022, I was on two reporting fellowships – one by Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa for #TransfatFreeNigeria, then the other with Africa Data Hub Fellowship. I was ready to put my head where the story lies. But more importantly, there are some major stories that were published where I served as a mere fixer for the authors. I was helping others to support their stories, going to the field with some of them, and providing them information that will help their reporting- which means I had served others at some point. With that, I was already helping myself because some of those colleagues could reach out to me if they need to get some reporting done, it made it easy for me to also reach out to them if I need help.
I have been sent out of a press conference by a rector before (she later called me back): I have been threatened before, and I had used my money to do stories before. I didn’t stop craving for more ways to grow. Being open, teachable, and reading wide are good keys that helped me.

What are you expecting going forward into the fellowship and after it?

This fellowship is going to be a whole lot for me. The workshop should have taken place in New York but the COVID-19 effect restricted it to webinars but the lineup of tutors and coaches are proof of what it will help me achieve. My coach is Bob Ortega, a Senior Journalist with CNN Investigates. That means I will be thoroughly mentored on how to develop reports centering on traumas. The Fellowship will widen my horizon on child reporting and their caregivers. After the fellowship, I hope to have clear focus on reporting children and how certain issues affects their upbringing and the well-being of their caregivers, coupled with the network of other fellows across the continents. It heartwarming to know i’ll surely learn a lot and also pass down to those who look up to me, too.

How did your career in journalism begin?

I love information! I always wanted to be the one to give information to everyone and also be the one who points the problem of others to where it could be solved.

I had rejected other courses before settling for Mass Communication (those were unknown times though, because one could still be a successful journalist without being a student of Mass Communication). The journey started in 2014, when I went for my National Diploma in a polytechnic after refusing to change my course of study to Fine Art at a top Federal university in Nigeria. We were the first set of Mass Communication students in Abraham Adesanya Polytechnic, Ijebu-Igbo, Ogun State, so it made me nervous on how we could be telling campus stories as well as covering events. Luckily, we had very professional lecturers that were grooming us in journalism, we started the first campus magazine called AAPOLY NEWS and that was a cool journey.

Adesola Ikulajolu, a Freelance Journalist sets his sights on pursuing goals higher than he imagines he can do.

My coach is Bob Ortega, a Senior Journalist with CNN Investigates. That means I will be thoroughly mentored on how to develop reports centering on traumas. The Fellowship will widen my horizon on child reporting and their caregivers . . .

When I left the Polytechnic, and planning to go for a Bachelors Degree, I got a gig to work as a staff journalist with an online outlet. That gave me a boost. Fast forward to when I got into the University, the foundation was there but I also met great senior colleagues that showed me applicable tips. I became editor-in-chief of a campus media outlet, Echo Media, in my first year and we produced a full fledged newspaper – a post I held for 3 years before becoming a departmental president. In between those years, I was already reporting for Campus Life on The Nation, Guardian Newspaper, Nigerian Tribune, The Hope Newspaper, Breez Fm, Campus Reporter of CJID and many others. Those were the days of little beginnings on campus and that became a good story up till now.

What were the decisions you had to take to stay on course?

I started early by writing Letter to the Editor in 2014-2015 to the Punch Newspaper. Then, I have a community of friends that won’t give up, yes. Some of my friends, both seniors and mates, are currently working with established media organizations on full-time, doing amazing and inspiring reports. Then, I am a big fan of journalism conferences, trainings and mentorships, so when I see one, I grab it quickly That would also help to open the door for others coming behind. I have Progressive friends who weren’t tired of attending trainings, so there is no space to stop. I am also visible, especially online and teachable, so people were acquainted with what I do and who I am. I was already conversing with some top media persons even before I met them physically, and I haven’t met some till date, but they support me. I read other journalists’ work, too. In fact, I spend time comparing how some reports can be written in different dimensions. I also share ideas with my colleagues, and that support system is helping. I also have younger persons who come to me for support, so I created a community where we interact, share opportunities, and charge each other to be a better version. Those decisions helped me.

Who are some of the role models or people in the industry you look up or admire that has supported you in your media journey or impact how you see your career?

I have an endless list of people whose path is helping to shape mine. I have met some, I haven’t met some but I follow them to see their growth pattern. I have editors, newsroom managers, program directors, colleagues who support and words are good to run with.

What are some the challenges young journos need to overcome in the course of the media career in your experience?

My fellow young journalists, don’t seek limelight, seek impact and sincerity. Some people want to do dangerous report so that everyone can say who wrote that report, but that isn’t the headway. Do the even very little story in your surroundings and be proud of it.

Adesola Ikulajolu: There are lots of opportunities flying around. We need to position ourselves to be able to fit in. You see, our young journalists winning international awards, continental awards, and national recognition; these are testament to the many. I have watched closely that most international fellowships are on a yearly basis, so it is best to be ready before the next one. Sometimes, I create accounts for opportunities that I am not qualified for, but I subscribe to their newsletters so that I can know when the next one will be out.

Some young journalists are too mentor-centric, they can’t do anything without looking for one mentor or the other. They will message successful journalist asking for mentorship and they will never be committed or consistent; that is unfair. Do the work and reach out to whomever that you feel should be a contributor to your growth. I read from senior colleagues on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn and to be sincere, those words are good to hold on to, rather than troubling them to do this or that.

Young journalists must overcome arrogance. The feeling of I-write-good-stories-and-no-one-can-do-it-better-than-I is destructive because it is better to be remembered for the good things than to be remembered for the arrogance they see it you. Humility is key in this profession, so that those who are up can can lift you too.

What are some important lesson, ideas, tips, etc, that you applied in your work to get you where you are today?

I remembered sharing with Mr Lekan Otufodunrin and his successor as Online Editor at The Nation, Mr Sunday Oguntola, how a lecturer failed me in Science and Technology reporting in 2019, because we were not really on good terms and there was a day I ran out of the test class to cover an ongoing protest in the school. They both told me to continue doing the right thing and they both became someone to look up to. Mr Sunday was helping to publish my reports on The Nation and Mr Lekan is always with advice and mentorship. I didn’t let anything weigh me down.

Adesola Ikulajolu. PC: Adesola.

Some young journalists are too mentor-centric, they can’t do anything without looking for one mentor or the other. They will message successful journalist asking for mentorship and they will never be committed or consistent; that is unfair. Humility is key in this profession, so that those who are up, can can lift you too . . .

When I interned at Center for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) in Abuja, it was an amazing workspace that I loved so much. I wasn’t lazy or running from work and I created a good rapport with my managers. When I wanted to move to the Southwest, I wrote mail to almost all the newspaper outlets in Lagos, seeking internship. I never received any reply, but I was stronger than ever because I didn’t feel dejected. Never always give up or get tired at any sight rejection, better days are plenty. If I don’t feel like it again, I talk to my colleagues. If ideas are fading, I share with my colleagues. Something positive will surely come. No competition, just compliment others and play your part well.

If you were to reimagaine steps you took in the course of your career advancement, what will you do differently?

I did not grow well enough before handling editorial and managerial roles. Maybe if I had undergone reportorial duties, I might have done somethings differently but still, I was on track while learning and writing reports. I was also the one teaching others, assigning and editing reports because I was exposed to higher roles early on the journey. Nevertheless, I go to my secret place to learn higher than others because it is what I know I will teach others.

What skills do you deliberately seek to have to get you what you want in your career and how do you go about them?

I am interested in growing myself, upon graduating from the university, I went back to a broadcast academy to learn Broadcast Journalism. I signed up for data journalism courses and Storytelling including stepping my foot into the fact-checking space. All theses skills are necessary for growth. The basic Microsoft office usage is as useful as anything in this profession.

What do you think the Nigeria industry and other media bodies need to do differently within the Nigeria Media landscape?

Nigeria Media landscape should give more space for the younger journalists. Most newspapers don’t even have columns for students journalists, only the online outlets are giving space for students journalists to own their skills. When giving the space, there should also be support to build and learn. Thank goodness for platforms like CJID, AFYMP, MCDN, ICIR, Udeme, LightRay Media and others training young journalists.

It is interesting to note that some very good and impactful reports were done by young journalists, so there is nothing wrong in investing in the younger talents. The older ones can take it upon themselves to serve as mentors to the up-and-coming ones, while also providing opportunities to practice. A lot of journalists started with Campus Life of The Nation and that marked their starting point. It is not enough to be looking for journalists of over 5 years experience when they haven’t been trained in any.

What other opportunities are out that Cub Journos need to know about and seize?

I have come to realize that there are lots of opportunities flying around. We need to position ourselves to be able to fit in. You see, our young journalists winning international awards, continental awards, and national recognition; these are testament to the many. I have watched closely that most international fellowships are on a yearly basis, so it is best to be ready before the next one. Sometimes, I create accounts for opportunities that I am not qualified for, but I subscribe to their newsletters so that I can know when the next one will be out. Before then, though, I would have read about the requirements. Fellowships, mentorship programs, and trainings are good ways to get exposed and well taught in this profession. We must go all out for it. For me, I am not relenting because I just started, so I aim for the higher ones while I also put others through the ones I’ve benefitted from.

Adesola Ikulajolu: Nigeria Media landscape should give more space for the younger journalists. Most newspapers don’t even have columns for students journalists, only the online outlets are giving space for students journalists to own their skills. Some very good and impactful reports were done by young journalists, so there is nothing wrong in investing in the younger talents. The older ones can take it upon themselves to serve as mentors to the up-and-coming ones.

Written by ERU.

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