When it comes to the intersection of journalism and innovation in West Africa, the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID) has always been at the forefront. Once again, they have taken the lead, hosting the first-ever journalism conference in the region, bringing together journalists, academics, media moguls, technology experts, and AI enthusiasts from across the world to deliberate on the new challenges and opportunities within the fast-changing media landscape.
The West Africa Journalism Innovation Conference (WAJIC’23) was a groundbreaking event, rekindling not only vital conversations about the role of journalism in the subregion but its challenges and how to navigate the evolving obstacles.
Known among colleagues as “a big brain” in the Nigerian media space, the conference, a brainchild of Dapo Olorunyomi, served as a platform for journalists, media organizations, academics, and policymakers to share their experiences and insights on journalism, technology, and innovation in West Africa.
One of the primary objectives of WAJIC’23 was to highlight the significance of accountability journalism in promoting transparency, democracy, and sustainable development in the region. In an era where information plays a significant role in shaping societies, fostering ethical reporting and media literacy emerged as key themes during the conference. Participants explored ways to uphold the principles of responsible journalism and also face the evolving challenges in the industry.
The opening remarks set the stage for what would be an insightful journey into the realm of journalism and innovation deliberation. The keynote speaker, Richard Gingras, a veteran in media, technology, and policy, delivered a compelling address on “The Free Press in Our Digital World.” His insights resonated deeply with journalists and publishers like me.
Gingras shed light on the transformative power of the internet, and its impact on media consumption and production. As the publisher of WikkiTimes, a grassroots newsroom focused on accountability at the subnational level in Nigeria, I couldn’t help but ponder on the profound implications of his words on our platform.
He addressed the emergence of generative AI in journalism and shared successful case studies from Canada, where AI tools were enhancing newsroom output. This left me contemplating the potential of such tools to expand and consolidate WikkiTimes’ reach and relevance in our local community.
Gingras also touched upon the challenges of building trust in an untrusting world, where people avoid the news due to feelings of sadness or anxiety. For WikkiTimes, this meant rethinking our narrative structures and linguistic approaches to connect with a wider audience effectively.
The discussion on emerging internet policy raised pertinent questions for us as publishers in Nigeria. Gingras emphasized the need for thoughtful and nuanced approaches to addressing issues like information disorder without compromising press freedom.
Throughout the conference, I reaffirmed that small newsrooms like WikkiTimes held a vital role in sustaining democracy and democratization through local journalism in West Africa. While large media outlets often dominate the national and international news landscape, it is the subnational newsrooms like WikkiTimes that identify, amplify and sustain vulnerable, local voices and address community-specific issues that are desperately needed to consolidate and expand on our democratic gains at the grassroots.
Gingras’s exploration of the evolving internet policy landscape triggered significant contemplation, especially within the context of Nigeria. His assertion that governmental endeavours to oversee the information sphere may profoundly impact press freedom and the open nature of the internet is acutely relevant to our Nigerian experience. We have witnessed instances where the government’s limited grasp of internet dynamics led to desperate attempts at regulation—perhaps driven by a desire to suppress dissenting voices or exert control over online narratives that shed light on its challenges.
His urging to transcend mere memes and draw lessons from history struck a chord not only with the entire audience but particularly with me. His concepts ignited a multitude of reflections within me, and as I contemplate the journey ahead for WikkiTimes, it becomes evident that our success hinges on our capacity to evolve, innovate, and provide journalism that resonates with the community, fostering trust and mending societal rifts. The road ahead is both demanding and brimming with promise, and I am resolute in my commitment to internalize Gingras’s wisdom, embracing the dynamic evolution of journalism in this digital era.
As WAJIC’23 progressed, workshops on data journalism, multimedia storytelling, and AI tools demonstrated the power of technology in enhancing journalism practices. For WikkiTimes, these workshops offered valuable opportunities to adopt innovative storytelling techniques and captivate our local audience.
The conference also fostered collaboration, enabling small newsrooms to connect with media professionals and organizations across the region. Strengthening networks at the regional level provides vital support and solidarity for overcoming common challenges.
During the conference, I found myself particularly drawn to the insightful remarks made by other prominent figures in attendance. One such individual was Dr Kole Shettima, the Africa Director of the MacArthur Foundation. Kole argued that a critical aspect of journalism’s sustainability – is the need for the media to secure its financial footing.
Dr Shettima said the accountability role of the media will only be guarded jealously when the media find sustainable financial models. This resonated deeply with me, for, I personally feel the taste of this on a daily basis as a newsroom manager.
His words served as a wake-up call, prompting many like me to reflect on the importance of developing robust financial strategies to ensure the longevity and impact of our journalistic endeavours. As we strive to be a force for accountability in our community, Dr. Shettima’s insights served as a reminder of the practical aspects that underpin our mission and vision.
In a poignant moment during the conference, the Spanish ambassador to Nigeria, Juan Sell, argued that the media must possess the courage to ask essential and critical questions, as it serves as the lifeline for the very existence of democracy.
According to Sell, the media’s willingness to delve into the heart of matters, fearlessly raising important questions, is the cornerstone upon which democracy thrives. In a world where information and transparency are paramount, the media’s role in holding those in power accountable becomes indispensable.
His words served as a powerful reminder of the media’s duty to be the vanguard of democracy, safeguarding its principles through unyielding inquiry and objective reporting. As journalists and media professionals, the significance of our work in upholding democratic values was reaffirmed, inspiring us to continue our pursuit of truth and transparency.
At the conference, Professor Umaru Pate, a shining star in the field of Journalism and Communication in Nigeria, graced the event with his remarkable experiences at Bayero University Kano. With a perfect blend of classroom wisdom and hands-on expertise, he illuminated the audience with his journey of securing grants and funding support for the university.
Through his visionary efforts, Professor Pate was able to create opportunities for students to receive training in investigative and data journalism. Moreover, he took it upon himself to equip the department’s studios with cutting-edge tools and techniques, essential for journalism in the 21st century.
The impact of Professor Pate’s strides served as an inspiring example of how academia can actively contribute to the advancement of journalism, empowering the next generation of reporters and communicators. Pate’s account of his transformative initiatives left a lasting impression on the conference attendees, igniting a sense of possibility and potential for similar progress within their own institutions. His dedication to pushing the boundaries of journalism education and innovation stands as a beacon for educators and students alike, urging many to envision a brighter future for journalism in Nigeria and beyond.
WAJIC’23 was a transformative experience for me and WikkiTimes. It illuminated the path forward in an ever-changing media landscape, where innovation, collaboration, and ethical reporting are essential to thriving as journalists and media professionals.
As I left the conference hall, I felt determined to apply the insights and lessons learned to enhance our newsroom’s impact and relevance. The road ahead may be challenging, but with the knowledge gained from WAJIC’23, I am confident that WikkiTimes can navigate the evolving world of journalism in the digital age and continue to serve our community with impactful and relevant journalism.
Haruna is the publisher of WikkiTimes, a grassroots accountability outlet based in Nigeria’s northeastern state of Bauchi.