In the age of digital natives and the convergence of the digital space becoming the new currency for the media these days, how important is this shift at this time in your career? And why do you think tech, AI, and digital skills are important for a journalist?
I think the shift if very important. It is the way that the world is heading and as journalist we must understand the direction and be able to pivot as necessary. As journalists, we are also members of society. So just as men and women in different professions are finding ways to bring in tech, AI, and digital skills to their professions, we have to as well. The basics of what makes us journalists remains the same, asking questions, seeking answers, holding governments accountability, our watchdog function, and more, we just have more and new tools at our disposal. It’s also important to note that Governments and all players are looking for ways to make use of these tools for their benefit. We’re one of the professions, who must use it for the public’s benefit.
You’ve been working in the media and development space for a while now, was this a conscious decision? Or what led you to choose to work in that space?
I wanted to be a lawyer. Used to use my stuffed animals as juries, and drag my sisters and friends in to play judges, defendants, etc. When my family returned to Nigeria, I took JAMB, passed well, and applied for law school in a well-known public university. They are still assessing my transcript till now. So the choice that remained was to go to a private university. I attended Bowen University, very proud Alpha Set member. But the school didn’t have law. I was admitted for Mass Communication. Within the first week or two of classes, I knew that I was in the right place. I took to it like it was the plan all along. I graduated first in my department, second in my faculty. I knew I wanted to do this media thing, but I didn’t want to just get famous and make money. But I didn’t know how I was going to do that. As I continued working over the years, I found that I gravitated towards social issues, civic space issues, governance issues and more. And as I used my voice and platform in that direction, people in that space gravitated towards me. And that’s the path I’ve towed in my 17 plus years on the job.
When was the first time you knew journalism was going to be your passion and career?
I knew it was going to be a passion when I wasn’t content to do entertainment radio. My career has spanned radio and tv, and freelance writing as well. I’ve trained journalism students and new broadcasters because I know we can have better journalists with each generation. There were and are too many things going on and going wrong with Nigeria for me to have been contented with not getting into the thick of things. Every time I’ve tried to head towards a different direction, media and journalism pull me back in. I’m constantly looking at how I can put my skills to use in different fields, like tech and AI. I believe that the intersection is there, and I want to find it and play in it. I also knew this was going to be more like an obsession when I would take leave and would still be on top of news and developments and looking for the angles I would use when I got back to work.
At what point did you feel your career was no longer just a job you showed up to? How did you pivot or even change the course of your career?
I think that would be during my time as a talk and news station. Almost every conversation I was having with a politician, an economist, a policymaker, an analyst or whoever, somehow resonated with me, not because it was my job, but because I am a Nigerian and those decisions, or lack thereof, had ramifications for my life and well-being. I needed those who listened to my show to understand the connections between the decisions we made while voting and the life we face. I needed people to make the connections between so many choices we as Nigerians make and the society we live in. I also wouldn’t say I pivoted. I was on course. I still am. But I believe there is a pivot coming soon.
Tolulope Adeleru-Balogun at her desk on News Central.
Don’t hide who you are. Deliver. Be consistent. People don’t need to like you, but they need to respect you. Be courteous, but keep the friendliness for when people have earned that access to you. You can’t help how people react to you as a woman in certain positions. All you can control is yourself in that position. Take up space. Don’t close the door to other women, or pull up the ladder behind you. The more women in the room, the more variety of thought and output. If you think you deserve to be in the room, so does the next woman. Office politics is what it is. It’s not always male versus female. A lot of times, it’s people playing power games. Try to stay above it, and treat everyone fairly, but don’t also be afraid to play the game, but play it clean.
What were some of the struggles for you in the early stages of your career, and how did you overcome them?
One struggle I had and still have is balancing work and life. For many journalists, our work is our lives. We rarely turn off, are always on the look for the next story, the next topic, and that can lead to burn out. I had to actively shut down every day for a few hours after my show. And that was hard as a team lead. But it had to be done to give me the strength to power through the next day.
I also had to deal with Nigerians understanding I knew what I was talking about. As a woman, hosting a political, socio-economic, morning radio show, I’ve seen a lot. Between callers attempting to school me with opinions about facts that are infront of me, or a guest calling me darling, while answering my questions (I had to stop the interview and ask him to refrain from calling me darling), to guests underestimating me because I’m a woman, it’s been interested. But I always bring my A-game, because I’m always prepared.
You made a switch from radio to TV, what inspired that decision and how’s the journey being for you working in that space?
TV has always been my first love and I actually started on tv, at NTA Ogbomoso. Then Cool FM Abuja, AIT Abuja, then NN24, Nigeria Info Lagos, and now News Central. Tv has always been the first love, but radio has been battling for one. I’ve been thinking of actually going back on radio for a weekly programme. There is something about radio that I find more intimate than tv. It’s worked beautifully for me. I’m one of those who can make the cross successfully, because I know many cannot.
When you make a comparison between radio and TV in terms of setup, audience, content, and distribution, ROI, format, etc, what are the similarities and areas of divergence?
Radio is more intimate for me. It doesn’t require more than your voice to carry things, which also makes it hard work. Your voice has to do all the heavy lifting, while with tv, there are visuals to focus on. Of course, radio is easier to set up and cheaper. You can have same format of shows, same target audience, even same content. But with radio, you are likely to get return on investment quicker, given that anyone can listen, throughout the day. TV has us attempting to ensure our best programmes are given prime positions, early into mid-morning and late evening. The competition for those times is fierce, but with mobile apps and Youtube, we can still maximize the content at that time.
We’re seeing smaller ad budgets and everyone is attempting to find new sources of income for their stations. For both radio and tv, digital must be taken seriously. This is the era of going viral. Radio is also now visual radio, so tv has to contend with that as well. There are a lot of changes happening because of technology. At the end of the day, both tv and radio want loyal audiences who will plan their time around the content they have, who will be ambassadors of that content and share and engage, and who will give them the eyeballs or listenership so that the money can come in.
Having come this far in your career, do you still have any current challenges you’re trying to overcome?
One thing is to stay in tune with the changing demographics of our audiences. I won’t see that as a challenge as much as something that is part of the business. How are these new audiences consuming news, where are they consuming it, and how do they want it to be given to them? What “languages” are they speaking?
Another thing is that people think that journalists with so many years of experience don’t need further training. As the world around us changes, as our understanding broadens, I’m an advocate for training for even mid-career and beyond journalists. I think it’s important that those who make the decisions in the newsroom, in the hierarchy of media organisations, stay plugged in and on trend.
So I don’t see these issues as challenges, but just issues that I’m trying to figure out.
What are some of the barriers you think has prevented you from hitting the career target you’ve set for yourself?
I think the biggest barrier would be myself. My own self-doubt or in some cases just failure to follow through. Additionally, I think not pushing my visibility enough. I look back at the interviews I’ve done, the work I’ve done and I’m like wow, girl you did that. But to share and hype myself up, I just let it fall by the way. That is one thing I have challenged myself on recently.
Is there a secret to work-life balance? Adeleru-Balogun shares this:What is important, especially if you are married on this job is to have an understanding spouse. Because this is a job that doesn’t end when you leave the office. Give yourself grace, grace that sometimes you won’t be able to do everything you want. I have to be deliberate in giving time to my marriage, family and friendships. Those will be there long after the job is.
And how do you plan to overcome them? Why is it important for you to overcome them?
I started a brag list to show myself how far I’ve come and keep a reminder of my achievements. I’m working on sharing my work more, be it interviews, hosting events, leading the teams I oversee in my company, sharing my knowledge and insight. It’s important for me so I really recognize how far I’ve come in this profession. I love what I do, and being able to see growth in that is important to me for job satisfaction and personal satisfaction.
What are some of the stories or projects you’ve done that was the most impacful in the course of your career?
I started the first environmental radio show in Nigeria. Weekly, with one of Nigeria’s foremost environmentalists, we worked to show Nigerians the connection between environmental issues and security, health, education, and more. It was an uphill battle, but I’m very proud to say we went from people saying we could use the time to talk about more important things to people understanding their responsibilities.
I also started the Office of the Citizen on the radio. I’ve worked with organizations like EIE, Budgit, and Paradigm Initiative for several years. Making it easier for citizens to under governance, to break down the budget, to encourage accountability, and more are things I’m very proud of.
I’ve helped jump-start 3 media startups over the course of my career, and I’m proud of my contributions to all 3, where I’ve taken on leadership and management positions. I was part of the team that started NN24, Nigeria’s first 24-hour news channel, modelled after CNN and partnered with CNN. I was part of the team that started Nigeria Info Lagos, led the on-air-personalities there, and hosted the morning breakfast show, building up listenership to rival the typical breakfast shows. I’m currently Head of Programmes for News Central, a pan-African news channel. I oversee about 7 units and host a show, do special interviews, and much more. Taking on the role of Head of Programmes has been challenging, I’ve grown on the job and with the job and stretched myself in ways I couldn’t have imagined a few years ago.
I’ve freelanced for an African online news media. Someone approached me to ask if I knew someone who could write a story about the electricity crisis with a focus on the use of generators. I was going to recommend someone else when my husband said, “Babe, you can do it.” I doubted myself, was like me, no. They asked me to recommend someone. She’s better at it. But he convinced me, and I did it. I was so proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and taking on the challenge. I also wrote for them when the first COVID case was announced in Nigeria. There are many more, but these are some that stick out.
What career projection are you setting up for yourself you intend to meet up?
I’m ready for the next act in my career. I’ve been thinking of how to parley my journalism and media skills into tech. I know there’s space for people who have the kind of skills I have. So that’s what I’ve been exploring. There’s really what’s on my radar right now.
What training programmes or short courses have you attended, which you applied on the job that made the most impact for you?
The most impactful for me was the CNN Journalism Fellowship. That really opened my eyes to what I could do with this profession and how far I could go. I learned so much and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.
-Then the trainers that were brought in for NN24 when we first started. I’m still in touch with one of them till now. I cannot not deny their impact. I’m always proud when I see NN24 alumni in the industry.
BBC trainings have also been very impactful, particularly for my time on radio. They helped me to under the flow, what I needed to do and know and the insistence on show prep has stayed with me. I can always tell the difference between someone who is prepared for their show and someone who is just winging it.
What suggestions will you give media owners or heads of media business to help boost morale, effectiveness, and reduce toxicity in the workplace?
We need to be open and transparent about hiring processes. Setting KPIs, evaluating staff and empowering them. Let HR really do its work as a bridge between management and staff.
-No one should get away with toxic behavior because they are good at their job or because they know someone. Toxic behavior spreads and it causes dissatisfaction among staff.
We need to work on promotions and salary increases. People need to see career progression and a salary that can actually take them home.
If we can’t provide the training, we shouldn’t stand in the way of staff going for training. Encourage them to look for them. If they need recommendation letters and they are deserving, give them. Have them come back and do mini-sessions with their teams. We gain when we upskill members of staff.
Appreciate staff. Be it bonuses, giveaways, happy-hour Fridays, etc. So many of us in this profession spend more time on the job, at the job, then some do at home. Let the work environment be engaging, fun, and conducive.
Encourage staff to take their time off and let them really be off. Let them disconnect from the job. People who are burnt out and tired won’t deliver at their best.
If you were to reimagine your career, what would you do differently, starting today?
This is a hard one because I’ve made the choices I’ve made. I would say, definitely go and get my Masters first. I haven’t stopped working since the day after I passed out. I’m working to sort the Masters situation now. Put myself out there more. I wouldn’t wait for someone to recommend me, but I would advocate for myself more. I would take more chances. The decisions I made worked out for me, but I could still have taken more chances for some better outcomes.
How and what can women in media begin to do differently and better to hold their own space within the media industry?
I think a lot of women are doing what needs to be done. It’s for the industry to be more accepting and give women more chances. What I will say is that women should network more. Let people know they are interested in different positions. We shouldn’t just think that our good works will land us where we want. Yes, that happens, but networking, being deliberate, and international about building contracts, going on those trainings, and taking on those challenging positions, even when you think you’re not qualified, is important. Take up space. Sis, you deserve to be there. Show up consistently and always try to level up your work.
What important workplace policy should media organizations and communications practitioners begin to have s an important KPI? Here’s a powerful advocacy from Adeleru-Balogun:There are almost no lines of where our work starts and where it ends. We need to make those lines clear and set boundaries with our work. We need to have people outside the job we fraternize with and talk to. Many of us are friends with fellow journalists so we don’t see the forest for the trees. We also need to be willing to take that time-off so that the burn out doesn’t force the time out on us. Companies need to insist that employees take their time off and don’t just work through the year. It should be part of the line manager’s KPI.
How do you balance your personal life, work, and family expectations? Which aspects give you the most challenges, and how were you able to overcome them?
I don’t think we can have the balance that we all think of, like a perfect 50-50 balance where nothing suffers and everything is attended to on time. It’s challenging balancing personal life, work, family expectations and friendships. In all honesty, something suffers or takes a back seat. Something will take up more time and attention than others. What is important, especially if you are married on this job is to have an understanding spouse. Because this is a job that doesn’t end when you leave the office. Give yourself grace, grace that sometimes you won’t be able to do everything you want. I have to be deliberate in giving time to my marriage, family and friendships. Those will be there long after the job is.
Tell us something about the media industry you would like to see change for the better?
I would like to see investment in training staff change. I think companies should not just leave it up to staff to find for themselves, but actively look for. We gain when we upskill. I think remuneration is also important. Salaries need to be able to take people home and help them cater for themselves and their families.
And why is this change important?
Training will add to the quality of those on the job and their output, while better salary will help to safeguard the profession from undue financial influences.
In the next 3-5 years, where do you see yourself?
This is a hard one to answer. I think about it all the time. I think I will have found that nexus of media and tech and will be there. How I’m going to get there, I’m still working on that. Come back in a year.
What are your current role and responsibilities you handle.
I’m Head of Programmes, where I oversee content, programming, scheduling, makeup, producers, video editors, graphics, library and more. I’m also on air for the station, hosting the business show and exclusive interviews.
In your years on the job, 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 as a workplace policy?
I’ve definitely experienced a mental health crisis. When I was on radio, it was bad. I was on air from 5-10am Monday-Friday. Every day, we would talk about Nigeria’s political, socio-economic, education, security, and more. While dealing with the topics themselves was heavy, being the sounding board for angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed Nigerians was a different burden. I found that I started dreading opening the phone lines. I would leave work and refuse to pick the phone unless it was my husband, mother, sister, or daughter’s school. I needed hours to defuse from all the emotions I had waded through. I had to talk to a therapist and actively work on ways to not let callers’ emotions get to me. Burnout and mental fatigue in some ways are part of this job. It is such an intensive thing we do, and because news is our work, even when we’re home, we’re immersed in news.
There are almost no lines of where our work starts and where it ends. We need to make those lines clear and set boundaries with our work. We need to have people outside the job we fraternize with and talk to. Many of us are friends with fellow journalists so we don’t see the forest for the trees. We also need to be willing to take that time-off so that the burn out doesn’t force the time out on us. Companies need to insist that employees take their time off and don’t just work through the year. It should be part of the line manager’s KPI.
How does a journalist take stock of their career? Adeleru-Balogun shares her personal strategy:I started a brag list to show myself how far I’ve come and keep a reminder of my achievements. I’m working on sharing my work more, be it interviews, hosting events, leading the teams I oversee in my company, sharing my knowledge and insight. It’s important for me so I really recognize how far I’ve come in this profession. I love what I do, and being able to see growth in that is important to me for job satisfaction and personal satisfaction.
Let’s talk about online harrasment… have you experienced it in any form? Or any other threats on the job? How did you deal with it? What steps can women in media take to prevent or deal with online harrasment, etc?
My experience with online harassment has been limited. I’ve been accused of supporting the party in power and the opposition at the same time. I consider that a job well done if both sides are accusing me of supporting the other. I’ve been threatened with sexual assault because of my stance on an issue, but a report and block were able to deal with that. The data tells us women are subjected to more harassment on this job than men, and the sexual nature of the harassment gets to many of us. The ones I can report and block I do. Unfortunately, someone who is determined to harass and bully you will likely try multiple ways. Observe all rules for safety online. If you think someone is going further, inform your company, and let them also report and block the person from official handles. Speak up, don’t let online harassers and bullies get away with what they do.
How do you chill, relax, while giving attention to your wellbeing?
I love cooking and baking. I’m big on hanging out with my friends. I love being with my family. I watch series, documentaries, and investigative shows to de-stress.
Talking about life skills, what kind of support do you think women in media and communications need to overcome different forms of barriers to excel and thrive? And why do you think having these kinds of support is important?
I think women need mentors on the job. I think they need mentors who are women at a point in time because it’s only a woman who can understand some of the certain pressures that come as one advances up the ladder.
What strategies would you recommend for women to break the gas ceiling into the management cadre in the newsroom and stay relevant? What tips would you give women on how to navigate the office politics in a male dominated environment where, for example, bias about women in top positions is ‘perceived’ by some men as emasculating?
Don’t hide who you are. Deliver. Be consistent. People don’t need to like you, but the need to respect you. Be courteous, but keep the friendliness for when people have earned that access to you. You can’t help how people react to you as a woman in certain positions. All you can control is yourself in that position. Take up space. Don’t close the door to other women, or pull up the ladder behind you. The more women in the room, the more variety of thought and output. If you think you deserve to be in the room, so does the next woman. Office politics is what it is. It’s not always male versus female. A lot of times, it’s people playing power games. Try to stay above it, and treat everyone fairly, but don’t also be afraid to play the game, but play it clean.
Radio is more intimate for me. It doesn’t require more than your voice to carry things, which also makes it hard work. Your voice has to do all the heavy lifting, while with tv, there are visuals to focus on. Of course, radio is easier to set up and cheaper. You can have same format of shows, same target audience, even same content. But with radio, you are likely to get return on investment quicker, given that anyone can listen, throughout the day.