•Ode to a Master of the Art
In his active years as a journalist, he was regarded as the doyen of Nigerian tabloid journalism. It was respect well-earned. The success story of pioneer editor of Weekend Concord and pioneer managing director/editor-in-chief of The Sun, Mike Awoyinfa, who turned 70 on July 23, is the stuff of news.
As features editor of National Concord, he had introduced a fresh approach to features writing. “I changed the paradigm in National Concord,” he recalled in an interview. “Their orientation towards features was hard stuff, analysis and all that; but when I came, I humanised the whole feature thing and turned it into human angle, which is exactly what it is supposed to be – stories that are emotional, stories that evoke pity; that evoked joy.”
This gave a boost to sales, he said, adding that people “would buy and pull out” the paper’s features section. His participation in a three-month training programme in the UK for Commonwealth journalists, in 1985, had equipped him for the game-changing role. He had a stint at the Sunday Sun of Newcastle. “Having worked in a home of tabloid journalism, UK, you came back brimming with confidence,” he stated.
Revolutionising the features department brought an opportunity that changed his story dramatically. In 1989, he was appointed editor of Weekend Concord, a trail-blazing Saturday tabloid. He was the paper’s editor for 10 years. “My goal was to one day be the editor of a newspaper,” he said, describing the accomplishment as “my Olympic gold medal.” His work was an eye-opener as it inspired other papers in the country to launch Saturday editions.
His achievement was no fluke. He proved this at The Sun. Moving from editorship of a weekly tabloid to running an all-week tabloid, in 2003, was a challenge that not only tested his expertise but also his professional reputation.
He said: “We succeeded in creating a paper that became acceptable in the market… it’s not easy to start a newspaper and sustain it. It’s not about money; you can pump in all the money in the world, but if you do not have the right leadership, the right creative persons, and the right strategy to come into the market, you won’t succeed.”
The Sun was tagged ‘Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids,’ and lived up to its billing. Awoyinfa described it as “a roaring success.” His succession of successes in the tabloid world enhanced his professional standing.
He studied Mass Communication and graduated from the University of Lagos in 1977. He then worked in Jos as a reporter for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN). When he joined National Concord, he was appointed its chief correspondent in Kaduna.
He has also made a name for himself as an author. Indeed, he advocates that journalists should write books. He co-wrote The Art of Feature Writing with his bosom friend, Dimga Igwe, a fellow journalist who died in 2014. They also wrote 50 Nigeria’s Corporate Strategists, about top managing directors and CEOs, who shared their experience in managing businesses in Nigeria. “We struck gold with the book. It was proceeds from the book we used to build my house and that of Dimgba,” Awoyinfa said.
They wrote another book, Nigeria’s Marketing Memoirs, in which marketing directors talk about their brands. After his friend died, he wrote 50 Nigeria’s Boardroom Leaders. He also wrote 50 World Editors: Conversations with Journalism Masters on Trends and Best Practices. He plans to write a book on the art of headline writing. Headlining is considered to be one of his strong points.
His friendship with Igwe was remarkable, even exemplary. He is Yoruba, and Igwe was Igbo. But they rose above ethnicity, and their bond expressed unity in diversity. Igwe was his deputy at Weekend Concord and The Sun, and many Nigerians admired their winning partnership.
As Awoyinfa enters his septuagenarian years, his legacies in journalism and writing are unmistakable and applaudable. We wish him many happy returns.