As we begin this interview, AI, the media, and technology are now fused into a single multilayered whole. From your perspective, how would you describe the media landscape and the disruptions as it will affect both men and women in the media?
The disruptions have started, so it is better to join or get left behind. The demographics show we have more young people, which means content have to be carefully crafted with them majorly in mind. The landscape is changing with multiple platforms competing so if you do not meet the expectation of the viewers or readers in the first five seconds, you have lost out already, because your replacement is always a remote control, or just a tap away. So, one needs to strive to be or remain the choice.
Leah Katung-Babatunde, Head of Business, smiles at the camera ready for the magic word: action! PC: Leah.
Katung-Babatunde: Always get a lawyer when you feel threatened as a journalist and call them in when you feel unsafe. Also, as a student I learnt martial arts and I still warm up on my self defence techniques so that no one takes me unawares.
At the level where you are now as a business editor, it is often said that either Journalism called you or you choose it. In your case, when did you know this was going to be your passion for life?
I was 10 years old, actually, in primary 5. It was after a social event, the ones the schools usually engaged us in after exams before vacation. I realised I was making my presentation, and everyone went silent and paid attention to me. I thought to myself that I should be in a speaking profession, either journalism or legal. Got home and told my dad, and immediately he said I should forget about being a lawyer else I’d die early (she rolls with laughter). However, he said I should know that clients dictate the side lawyers take and focus on journalism where I can hold my own. Thankfully, my secondary school (FGGC) Zaria had a firm Guidance and Counselling department, so it was easy to pursue the path, know my subjects, and meet those in the industry.
At what point did you feel your career was going to be both a job and a career for you?
I actually grew up with my hands getting busy because we grew up with my mum. She was widowed while I was in primary school and back then with very poor salaries we had to help her out. I sold wrappers in the university, joined sports clubs and participated in festivals which earned me some money (her face lights up with a beaming smile).
Now fast forward to when I grew on the job, I realized it was beyond just being a finance reporter or editor, people are looking up to you for financial advice, to interpret policies and breakdown the numbers. So, I became all that and, at the same time, led by example. Even at that, I began farming and started a poultry, which I still do, and the experiences still shape my thoughts on the job. This means when I am speaking about these sectors, for instance, agriculture or SMEs, clearly, I am coming from the system and understand how they work.
Leah Katung-Babatunde running a live commentary at the Villa on the Launch of the Economic Recovery (ERGP) and Growth Plan Focus Labs. PC: Leah.
Katung-Babatunde: My advise is always prioritize yourself because you are dispensable. So take good care of your health when you feel unwell and avoid managing. The next on your priority list is your loved ones, because they will remain even when everything, most especially, after the fame is gone. When you work at a stretch, take some breaks, find a social activity, eat healthy and when you are older please pay attention to your vitamins. Also, I avoid monotony . . .
What were some of the struggles for you in the early stages of your career, and how did you overcome them?
At the time, I saw the struggles for me as a pedestal to climb by rising above the limitations. Firstly, I was quite young when I came in. Right from the university, it was always about my age, and I am known for saying it like it is. I was young, a female, and a daughter of nobody who could walk up to anyone to say my mind. These combined to get me into trouble. During my service year, I got involved in an accident that almost crippled me, so I finished my service year in and out of the hospital with a battered face. TV stations didn’t want me because they termed my face not fit for TV, so in overcoming it, I went to Kaduna State Media Corporation to join the state-owned radio station as a casual staff. I went with a target which I made known: I will not remain a casual beyond one year, and I will not be viewed the same way because of my scars and if I don’t get enlisted in the system at the end of my one year, I will leave. Yes, under one year, I changed the face of news and started producing.
This made me the youngest news producer. I was never bothered about my face and the scars and most importantly, drew closer to the experts and learnt the use of the microphone. By the time I got invited by the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) officially, I had been fully employed by the Kaduna State Media Corporation and significantly improved as a broadcaster. I was very adaptable to the point where the Business Reporter at the time missed coming to work due to ill-health and I was drafted from sports to fill in, by the next day, I had been sent off to join the Business Desk and have remained there since then. The trick has always been to rise above limitations so when you put a brick on my path, I will definitely find a way round it to get to my destination.
Do you still have any current challenges you’re trying to overcome?
For now, I believe it’s health wise. Over time, I developed a sleep disorder and recently got diagnosed of acute anxiety disorder. I hate to fail and with a family, balancing work and life at home, it is never easy. Even at that, I am still a young female on my turf at decision making level.
Any barriers you think has prevented you from hitting the career target you’ve set for yourself?
Ermmmmmm (she hums then pauses before answering). The parlance here is the reward for hard work is more work; so expectations are high and from multiple sources. Time for research is just not enough and I still feel that it is a lapse. Then of course you have to do that and balance with the home.
Leah Katung-Babatunde interviewing Ekechukwu Enelamah, Former minister of Industry, Trade and Investment. PC: Leah.
Katung-Babatunde: Knowledge and expertise have no sexual orientation so own your space. Never let anyone make you feel less. Be determined to perform optimally and execute it. Women are known to be good at multitasking, do so while insisting that the work place accommodates the peculiarities of the family even if you don’t have one. Women have to support each other, hold each other’s hands in the work place.
How do you plan to overcome them? Why is it important for you to overcome them?
For the first time in a long while I have decided to put “ME” first because basically, if anything goes wrong, the family is hit the most so I have slowed down. My child needs to be raised by me and I intend to do so absolutely. So professionally, I took a decision to step out of the formal setting into the informal so that I can work at my pace and convenience.
What are some of the stories or projects you’ve done that was the most impactful in the course of your career?
There are quite a good number of them. My very first report as an intern proposed and executed by my friend Abdul Iddi (now late) and I at NTA Kaduna in 2000 on Consumer Protection went straight to the Network and gained then president Obasanjo’s administration’s attention. I worked on the scholarship scam in Kaduna State in 2008 which spread across media platforms and led to the reforms at the Kaduna Scholarship Board then. In 2016 I was the first to report Nigeria’s recession, I recall it was like I murdered the country but thankfully when it was run by Yemi Kale the then Statistician General, he affirmed it and the pressure eased.
That was some feat (we both laugh). So, what career projections are you setting up for yourself you intend to meet up?
Apart from journalism, I intend to continue farming and expanding. I also want to write because there is so much I have to share with the world and I have officially joined the content creation market but will remain with finance, business and economy.
What training programmes or short courses have you attended, which you applied on the job that made the most impact for you?
I have enjoyed trainings with the Central Bank of Nigeria, NDIC and NAICOM annually. The courses give insight and improve understanding of policy issues. The Japanese state-owned media NHK also did impact me well in terms of audio visuals- it was a virtual course we had early last year.
On the field report: Katung-Babatunde interviewing Uche Olowu, Former President, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria. PC: Leah.
Leah Katung-Babatunde: If you feel choked or your mental health in waning, see a therapist. I saw one recently and found I had anxiety disorder and the signs had been there but I didn’t know so I used the opportunity to reassess my life and work pattern. So yes, take care of yourself fully because at the end of it all, if you do not leave the job, the job will leave you. So the choice is in your hands.
During the course of your career have you ever experienced burnout, mental fatigue, or mental health crisis? How did you handle it? How can women and men in the media reduce burnout, mental health breakdown or prevent it?
Of course I have experienced those fatigues and whenever I feel it getting to me I just take a break. Often times for me, I get to know I’m burnt out when I literally forget things I ought to know or recall at the snap of a finger or I begin to forget the numbers, data or statistics, these indicators serve as red flags for me. My advise is always prioritize yourself because you are dispensable. So take good care of your health when you feel unwell and avoid managing. The next on your priority list is your loved ones because they remain even when everything most especially the fame is gone. When you work at a stretch, take some breaks, find a social activity, eat healthy and when you are older please pay attention to your vitamins. Also, I avoid monotony so I do not assign anyone, including myself to the same schedule day in and day out. I find it refreshing to explore other duties. If you feel choked or your mental health in waning, see a therapist. I saw one recently and found I had anxiety disorder and the signs had been there but I didn’t know so I used the opportunity to reassess my life and work pattern. So yes, take care of yourself fully because at the end of it all, if you do not leave the job, the job will leave you. So the choice is in your hands.
Let’s talk about online harassment. Have you experienced it in any form, or any other threats on the job? How did you deal with it?
I have not been harassed online, may be because I don’t let anyone bully me. I grew up living with advise from my father to never allow anyone bully me, never lie to please anyone, never sell my conscience and never sell my self cheap.
I take full responsibility for my actions and do not let anyone put me in any tight corners. I can do without anything and anyone, so irrespective of who you are, if you harass me, I give it back to you because when one door closes, another one opens, if no door opens, at least a window will open so why not use the window to get in and open the door yourself? I have been threatened physically, and so right from my university days, I keep records and if I feel its going to impact me negatively like in the last case of 2017, I get a lawyer. So, always get a lawyer when you feel threatened as a journalist and call them in when you feel unsafe. Also, as a student I learnt martial arts and I still warm up on my self defence techniques so that no one takes me unawares.
If you were to suggest how women can cope with online harassment, what tips would you give?
Develop a thick skin if you do not have one. Ignore when you need to. Report when you feel attacked or targeted and always stick to the truth. If you are in the wrong, own up and apologize, but above all, try to keep a clean sheet at all times. When I know I am right and anyone keeps going on and on, I can shout to the whole world, but I won’t shut up to be trampled upon by any troll.
What suggestions will you give media owners or heads of media business to help boost morale, effectiveness, and reduce toxicity in the workplace?
I have a belief that people should be fully satisfied after work and feel good to return the next day happily. Number one concern is renumeration, salaries should be paid promptly, effectively and optimally. This is inclusive of all entitlements, as a laborer deserves his wages and in full. Work schedules should be friendly with full consideration for the family and personnel wellbeing. Put in place a proper reward system, hard work should be rewarded and acknowledged promptly.
If you were to reimagine your career, would you do it differently?
No. I was born for this and I planned and worked for it. It could never be any other way.
Leah Katung-Babatunde, Head of Business, News24, NTA. PC: Leah.
Katung-Babatunde: Report when you feel attacked or targeted and always stick to the truth. If you are in the wrong, own up and apologize, but above all, try to keep a clean sheet at all times. When I know I am right and anyone keeps going on and on, I can shout to the whole world, but I won’t shut up to be trampled upon by any troll.
How and what can women in media begin to do differently and better to hold their own space within the media industry?
Do not let anyone press your neck, knowledge and expertise have no sexual orientation so own your space. Never let anyone make you feel less. Be determined to perform optimally and execute it. Women are known to be good at multitasking, do so while insisting that the work place accommodates the peculiarities of the family even if you don’t have one. Women have to support each other, hold each other’s hands in the work place.
Tell us about some of your accomplishments that make you proud of yourself and continue to inspire you to do more?
As I stated earlier, I became a business reporter by Fluke in 2008 and have remained so till today. I have always thought of better ways to produce results so I am glad that when I joined the Nigerian Television Authority my work spoke for me and the then Director General, Mallam Usman Magawata, brought me straight to the Head Quarters to join the finest crop of reporters in News24 (I was the youngest).
I was also part of the first team of Early Edition, which later metamorphosed into Good Morning Nigeria. While on the job, I monitored elections with the ECOWAS in Niger Republic twice. I have covered the annual and spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF SINCE 2017 and a fellow of the IMF. I also worked with the UNIDO Quality Infrastructure project in Nigeria and eventually joined the ECOWAS team to Ivory Coast in 2018 – the only Nigerian to be so chosen and based on merit.
Leah Katung-Babatunde interviewing Zainab Ahmed, Former Minister of Finance, Budget and National planning at the Spring meetings of the world Bank and IMF (April 2019). PC: Leah.
Katung-Babatunde: If no-one trains you, train yourself. To Media Owners: put in place a proper reward system, hard work should be rewarded and acknowledged promptly. This is inclusive of all entitlements, as a laborer deserves his wages and in full. Work schedules should be friendly with full consideration for the family and personnel wellbeing.
I grew up the ladder to become the Head of Business or what others call Business Editor of the NTA, a position I have held since 2018, the youngest ever in the organization and the only female at the national level in the entire country. I am also the only one with a daily current affairs programme “BUSINESS EXPRESS” in the organization. I did not start the programme but rebranded it, and it raised a full team of producers, presenters, and narrators.
I was the first producer of Business 24; an NTA news24 Business magazine programme, I developed the synopsis. I have always been assigned roles above my level and have never failed on any, but perhaps my major accomplishment is raising people and giving them opportunities I never got. I love being the ladder. This is because I believe in continuity.
What tips in personal development, career pursuit, network strategies, and wealth creation would you advise other women in media, including men, to tap into?
Hard work pays, make yourself useful at all times. Train yourself if no one trains you, read up everything that comes your way. Don’t ever go to the negotiation table empty. Take something along with you as no serious CEO will want to dialogue with an empty person. Don’t beg for money. Offer services for a fee. Choose your circle carefully and shed negative persons off you. Be friendly to all irrespective of personality and pay attention to their welfare the way you will want them to pay to yours. No knowledge is a waste, so add as many certificates as you can and build your network both physically and virtually. Stay in touch even if you don’t need anything from them, it will speak for you when you need it.
How do you balance your personal life, work, and family expectations?
I never put my son on the school bus, not because I don’t want to, but because our regular chit-chat to and from the school are priceless. He didn’t come cheap. My work-based phone calls are strictly 8am-8pm, if it is important, send a message or email. I do not share family time with work. We plan a family activity every weekend so that we can bond as my week days are full with work.
I used to get phone calls at odd hours and get called to work late into the night but I find that I started developing problems while driving at night and then COVID-19 came and demystified the work place so I had to be deliberate. Another challenge for me is the ability to look normal no matter the circumstance. What I mean is, my face remains the same and my bold pressure is constant so people don’t believe me when I tell them I don’t feel good because I never look it. So nowadays, I just firmly tell you I can’t, when I know I can’t. There is no award for being a superman or superwoman. Lastly, anything that discomforts my family, I have learnt to do away with it.
Tell us something about the media industry you would like to see change for the better?
The media fights for everyone except itself. I will like the media to show itself some real love, protect itself from itself and let humanity prevail because a lot of our media organisations horse-drive their staff and it is now a vicious circle.
Leah Katung-Babatunde in preparation for the Annual Meetings of the world Bank and IMF, Washinton DC, USA (October 2019). PC: Leah.
Katung-Babatunde: Hard work pays, make yourself useful at all times. Train yourself if no one trains you, read up everything that comes your way. Don’t ever go to the negotiation table empty. Take something along with you as no serious CEO will want to dialogue with an empty person. Don’t beg for money. Offer services for a fee. Choose your circle carefully and shed negative persons off you. Be friendly to all irrespective of personality and pay attention to their welfare the way you will want them to pay to yours.
In the years to come, where do you see yourself?
At the top of the content table with a bigger farm to compliment.
How do you think the Nigerian media can up its ante to compete more favourably with international media organisations?
Training and retraining breaks barriers to progress. Motivate your staff and subordinates, afterall, it is a team job, so ensure no one is left behind. Look out for the extraordinary and pay attention to the end product. Invest in equipment and their handlers, pay attention to the needs of your audience and feed them appropriately.
What activities do you engage in to chill and unwind?
Family time is either at home or we go out. I love being outdoors either swimming or just doing nothing. We do go to adult places when a proper plan is made for the hours we would be away for the child’s upkeep. My husband and I have great social lives and because we are both industry people, we easily align.
Written by ERU.
Katung-Babatunde: The media fights for everyone, except itself.