The journalism profession – or Fourth Estate of the Realm, as its practitioners are wont to position themselves – is one that bears numerous similarities to prostitution, widely regarded as the world’s oldest profession.
Playing an absolutely indispensable role (as is prostitution to its patrons) to the proper running of society; this profession is ideally peopled the world over by men and women whose job description involves mounting surveillance on society, holding government and – due to the complexities of contemporary society – big business to account while providing the populace a handle with which to navigate or make sense of the upheavals or madness of daily occurrences; yet just like prostitution, riddled through and through with the dog eat dog mentality and the pull-him-down syndrome.
This is most especially true of Lagos, the unspoken capital/headquarters of the Nigerian press.
Four classes of gentlemen of the Press currently occupy this much-vaunted Fourth Estate.
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The veterans/dyed-in-the-wool professionals: Currently in their twilight years, this generation fought in the trenches during the battle for independence and through successive years of military interregnum. Bruised, battered, oppressed, repeatedly slammed in jail on flimsy excuses or under the banner of obnoxious decrees, these ones were known to stare military dictators in the face and expose their excesses without fear or favour. Some of them were imprisoned for many years, maimed, hounded out of the country or even paid the supreme price. You could count on these ones to speak truth to power. However, they were encumbered by the backward or archaic printing technologies of their era.
The noble successors & pseudo-professionals/pontificators: Now in their early/late forties or fifties, this set is divided into two. All the members of this group learnt at the feet of the veterans/dyed-in-the-wool professionals. However, only the first group – the noble successors carried on the mantle of true and responsible journalism from their predecessors, guiding, nurturing and passing it on the next generation. Many of them can be found today doing great work in many traditional (newspapers/TV/radio) or PR/consultancy establishments,or in journalism schools coaching the new wave; running thriving online news media or putting their considerable skills to use in government circles.
The other group – the pseudo-professionals/pontificators – is a blight on the profession. It was under this group that the watering down of standards and the current ridiculing of the noble profession began. These were the ones who cultivated the brown envelope syndrome that the journalism profession became notoriously known for.
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Deploying their nose for news in digging for dirt and blackmailing influential business owners or society’s elite with the threat of publishing damaging stories about them if they do not pay up; hatchet jobbers, pen for hire; all these were part of their stock in trade. The ones that would attend an event or get a newsworthy material and demand a fee before publication. Funny enough, this group, jealous and frustrated at being left behind; remains the harshest critics of the next generation – the new wave. You would be amazed to hear members of this group pontificate about standards, about fake news, about the same unscrupulous things they pioneered, all out of envy.
Morally bankrupt, it was of this group that the sage, politician and journalist, Anthony Enahoro quipped in part: ”It [the journalism profession] cannot afford to have too many small men in big boots… guilty of a craven desire to bat on any winning side.’’ Many of them, washed up, hardly reckoned with, can be found today trying to maintain a semblance of relevance; by hogging or maintaining redundant, hardly updated or rested online media platforms. Sadly, a few of them also find their way into the corridors of power as media aides; to the detriment of their employers and the public good.
The new wave: These are the new kids on the block; the online generation currently re-defining the scope of news sourcing and speed of delivery. These ones are savvy enough to navigate the traditional sources of news including event coverage, investigative journalism, press releases, the news wires or agencies as well as the lightning fast channels of social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram which have become today veritable sources of information and content.
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Indeed, this set looks up to the noble successors with reverence but marvels at their awkwardness around the trending social media channels – Twitter and Instagram and their rather understandably active use of Facebook. On the other hand, the new wave nurses an equal or fair measure of disdain for the second group of pseudo-professionals/pontificators. ‘‘Get out of the way, old man. We have nothing to learn from your ilk,’’ seems to be the message to them. However, this group is challenged by the low level of rigour; occasioned by the dizzying speed with which they put up their news contents.
The assistant pontificators: These one are not journalists; neither do they have any form of training in the profession. They are the assistants or back-up singers – if you will – to the arm-chair critics; or washed up pseudo-professionals/pontificators. They are ubiquitous and can be found expressing their largely uninformed opinions on journalism standards with any piece of news they come across. This group will rant and pontificate even louder than the main pontificators; all in a bid to get noticed. They are best ignored.
Indeed, on every online forum or WhatsApp group, you can find members of these four classes.
But which group do you fall into?