The Media Industry Is Going Through Challenges Now–Mayor Akinpelu
Isiaka Mayowa Abiodun Akinpelu, popularly known as Mayor Akinpelu, started his journey into journalism as an undercover reporter in the Kirikiri prison, and later became one of the most celebrated society reporters in the country. He speaks on why some of the publications he worked with in the past collapsed and how he eventually created Global Excellence magazine.
Newspaper and magazine publishing is believed to be going down. What is your view about this?
To some extent yes, I think the print media industry is going through its greatest challenges right now because of many reasons. We have the Internet, the right of social media, private blogs and not to forget that we still have the television and radio to compete with. But I believe that the industry will survive. When radio came, people thought that was the death of the print media. The same was said when television came, but I agree that this time, the threat is real. Now, a lot of magazines and newspapers are finding it hard to cope. The reason is that news is now in your face. Everybody is now a reporter. All you need is to witness an event, upload it and it will go viral. Because of that, they (bloggers) are doing so many things that we do without the cost implications. They don’t have to employ anyone and they don’t need any infrastructure. All they need to do is gather news from other people put them on their blogs and generate discussions and comments from there. That will drive traffic to them. All they need is just a laptop. They don’t have to pay the printer or journalists. I agree that our industry is under threat, but I assure you, we will survive.
Is Global Excellence planning to go online to compete too?
We are online already but the problem with going online is that we have to upload our contents for free. If we ask people to pay to read, they will not. Eventually, people will learn to pay for what they read. But now, they want to read for fun. Most of the publications online are not really generating any income. Most of what they make is still from their hard copy format.
Are you saying Global Excellence is not doing well now because of these reasons?
As I said, the print media is still going through challenges at the moment. Income in all newspapers has declined. It is difficult to make money off the streets anymore. Part of this has to do with the reading culture and the low income. How many people have the money to buy papers daily or magazines weekly? Even the illiteracy level is high, many people do not read. So, we find ourselves in an industry that is not expanding. Also, there is not enough support from advertisers. This has to do with the high number of newspapers and magazines we now have. They cannot advertise in all of them, so they narrow it down to a few papers. For this reason, I will say, yes, Global Excellence is struggling like every other publication.
Global Excellence is a society and entertainment magazine, which delves into the soft side of issues. Do people still read such soft materials?
Oh sure, very much. When I was in PrimePeople or Vintage People, we were printing over 100,000 copies every week. But today, you will see that all the weekend titles of newspapers are now soft-sell magazines. They take news from the softer side of things. They have rebranded in such way to survive and also to make it look different from the daily edition. So, when you look at the market, there are so many publications doing the same thing that we are doing. And since we are all competing in the same market, the competition becomes stiff. So, we are practically producing the magazine with our blood.
Many think soft-sell magazines are filled with rumours and half-truths. This is also evident from the number of lawsuits magazines get. Do you have any explanation for this?
We could get lawsuits but that has nothing to do with what we are doing. Journalism is history in a hurry. No matter how efficient and brilliant you are, you make mistakes in journalism wherever you are in the world. Most reporters rely on sources. As a reporter, you are as good as your sources and if your source makes a mistake, then you make a mistake as well. That is why as a journalist you have to try and confirm stories from other sources. But since we have to beat deadline and go to bed with the news or produce the paper, sometimes, some errors will find their way into the paper. So we make sure that when mistakes are made, we make corrections. Therefore, getting lawsuits is part of the business, whether you are a newspaper or a magazine. It happens like that even abroad. Global Excellence is now 14 years and we have never lost any case in court. This is because when we confirm that we have made a mistake, we make sure that we correct it immediately. Sometimes you carry a true story and they will go ahead to sue you, not because the story is false but because they want to show people that they did not do what was reported. At the end of the day, they will not follow up on the suit. There are several issues like that. When Vintage People wrote that Ojukwu was dating Bianca, they said that it was not true, but not long after, they married. When we reported that Folawiyo was dating Abah then, they said it was not true, but we all know now that it was true. So, lawsuits come with the business.
Why did you decide to be a journalist?
I have always had the flare for writing. When I was in the university, the tradition was that before you can be a students’ union leader, you have to be very mature. There was a man called Panaf Olajide, who wanted to be the president of the students’ union. What he used to do was to write articles and paste them on notice boards across the school. That turned out to be very effective. For the first time, somebody who was young became the students’ union leader. What worked for him were the articles he was writing. I really fell in love with the idea, and always wanted an opportunity to write.
When I finished school and served, I wanted to be a federal information officer but I was made the federal social welfare officer, and I was posted to Federal Maximum security Prison, Kirikiri, Lagos. As faith would have it, when I was posted there, it coincided with the time two journalists, Nduka Irabor and Tunde Thompson, were jailed during the Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Fela too was also there in prison. As a lover of journalists, I was happy to have two prominent journalists right there in prison. So, every day I would go to the workshop where they worked and we became friends. At a point, the prison authority told me that as an officer, I was not supposed to be fraternising with prisoners but I ignored them. That led to my transfer to the medium security prison.
Later, an opportunity came that eventually made me a journalist. After the (Maman) Vatsa coup, they were detained and executed at the prison. Though I had been moved to the medium security prison, Nduka who had been released at that time managed to get to me. He told me that since I was interested in writing, I should do a story about the last days of the coup plotters, what they ate, who they spoke with and how they were finally killed. I was very happy to take it on. I started snooping around the prison, and I was speaking with my colleagues and prisoners. I eventually wrote a story for The Guardian. Nduka Irabor was happy, he told me that I wrote very well and asked me to start writing for The Guardian on a freelance basis. I could not use my real name at the time so I used Mayor Akinpelu, which I am known with till today. People in prison did not know that it was I. One day, Nduka asked me to join Guardian Express. I quickly resigned and joined the paper. Later, I moved to Prime Peopleand from there to Vintage People before we started Fame.
Before your accidental move to journalism, what did you have in mind to
I had always wanted to be a lawyer. At that time, the cut-off mark for law was too high, so I chose history as a second choice. I was taken to read history at the end of the day. What I thought then was that when I finished, I would go back and do law, but the love of writing eventually took over.
You are one of the people who popularised entertainment and lifestyle reporting. Can you relate your days in Prime People and Vintage People?
At the time I joined Prime People, its focus was more on women and horoscope and the bulk was unusual stories. I told my boss then that we could do stories on society, and he gave me a column to try it out. The first major society story I did was the Tejuosho, Okoya wedding, which was huge then since it involved two prominent families. People loved the coverage I gave it. The publisher even asked me to do a follow-up story on it. We dubbed it wedding of the year, we even gave figures on what the wedding might cost. That was how it all started. We also did the story of Bianca and Ojukwu, which was also a big story then.
Prime People and Vintage People were the toasts of the society then. Why did they fizzle out?
Two reasons. Firstly, the economic situation at that time; it was cheap to print and so they sold it cheaply. People were buying it like hot cake. Along the line, the cost of production started going up and, in turn, the cover price started going up. The economy did not help matters as well. People started earning less and could no longer afford to buy the magazines. When we were selling those days, it was just N1. Today an average magazine is N200. Secondly, new magazines came up and younger people started doing the same thing we were doing.
At what point did you decide to own a personal publication?
When I was in Vintage People, I was quite popular because I used to interview the sons and daughters of rich people. One day, I was invited to interview Dr. Iyayi, who is the son of a popular businessman. So I went to Benin to have an interview with him. After the interview, he came to my hotel and we were having some drinks. He asked me how much it could cost to own a magazine like Vintage People?’ I told him about N2million. He asked if I could become his partner if he came up with that money. I said yes. He promised that he would come up with the money and I would run the magazine, and we would own it equally. Unfortunately, he never got back to me on the issue. Meanwhile I had already done all the groundwork. I don’t know if you know the Fame magazine story, which came next. In a nutshell, I had conceived the idea, which I shared with Kunle Bakare, the publisher of Encomium today. Kunle Bakare later joined Classic magazine and became a very important staff. I was introduced to Femi Akintunde Johnson because the entertainment content of the magazine was going to be high, and he was very good with such contents. Eventually, when we got funding for the magazine, Kunle said he had to be a part of it because he had helped to work on the concept. So we did Fame. That was how we had three people on board. One thing led to another, there was a misunderstanding and I left the magazine. I later joined Today’s Choice and both Kunle and Femi also left. Later, Fame failed to come out for two months so I decided to go back and help resuscitate it. After two years there, I left and I started Global Excellence.
Was it not difficult starting your own magazine?
It was easy, that I must tell you. With all the experience I had, I did not want to co-own anything again. If I was to start a magazine, it had to be my own. I started soliciting for funds and slowly some friends started responding. N50,000 here, N100,000 there. It was tough initially. Then Dr. Mike Adenuga came on board to assist. I remember that I wrote an article then explaining that a new magazine is like a baby and it needs help to survive. I appealed to people to assist by buying extra copies of the magazine and give to friends and family members. Periodically, Dr. Adenuga will send me money. Sometimes, he would send N200,000, which was a lot of money at that time. Based on the generosity of people like Mike Adenuga, I took off.
Is it true that when Global Excellencestarted, there was a lot of blackmail and, instead of publishing, they approached people to pay so that their stories would not be published?
That never happened. I own the magazine and nobody will do that without me knowing. That is something I cannot support. I got this far because of friends and my integrity. A lot of people do that and it makes it difficult for them to grow. You cannot blackmail people with your magazine and grow. How much will they pay you that will sustain you? If we anchor our magazine on blackmail, we would not have survived for 14 years.
You say you have a lot of close friends, and Mike Adenuga is one of them. This means that you cannot see anything wrong about someone like Mike Adenuga. Don’t you think that having so many friends dulls objectivity?
Let me tell you something as a reporter, all over the world, you will strive to write all the stories you have but you will have somebody that you will never write something against. I cannot pick my pen and write something negative about Mike Adenuga. Even if he kills somebody in my presence, I will pretend not to see it. I cannot write it. I have known him since I was a reporter and he has made many interventions in my life to show. In fact, I think it’s just recently that he has abandoned me. Maybe, when I went to pick up a political appointment in Abuja, he must have thought that I am now a big man. When we were starting off, he used to send money to me regularly. Look at my table and you will see a plaque. He gives it to people who he calls his disciples. So, he has made several interventions in my life, which I can never forget. Someone that I have such a close relationship with, how can I write negative things about him?.
Many see you as a lady’s man. You must have many ladies running after you?
If you say so. Many people see us celebrities as such sometimes. I will not lie to you, I have children from my wife and I have from other women as well. Because I met my wife when I was young, we are more like friends and she knows my antics. She is still with me and she is the only woman in my house. I am 53 and she is 51