Category: Media Written by Theophilus Abbah & Muideen Olaniyi Hits: 18280
Malam Mohammed Idris is the Chairman/ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Blueprint Newspapers Limited, publishers of Blueprint newspaper. In this interview, Idris spoke on the challenges of newspaper publishing in Nigeria. Excerpts:Your newspaper, Blueprint, debuted in May 2011. Where did you expect you would be by May 2012 and how far have you achieved that objective?
We expected that by now, we would have been popular among Nigerians. We would have circulated to most places we wanted to circulate to in the first phase of our developmental programme. And, I think, to a large extent, we have achieved that and the paper, as you can see, is being read in almost all the places that we expect to see the paper at this moment. From now, we are going to the second phase of our developmental process.
Basically, when people see Blueprint, the question they ask is, what are you doing differently from Leadership, Daily Trust and Peoples Daily?
I thought you have seen that we are already different from onset. We told Nigerians that we are going to do journalism that is highly developmental and people-focused; journalism that is going to be a linkage between the common man and the so-called leadership. And I think, to a large extent, we have established our relationship along that line.
What are the pattern of stories that you have been doing along this line?
We have said to ourselves from onset that we are not going to do only stories about the president, governors, ministers or local government chairmen. We are also going to do stories about the ‘akara’ sellers, the gardeners, the school teachers, the labourers and the pensioners because these people constitute the bulk of the population of Nigeria that Nigerian media appeared to have not focused on. We thought that that gap has been created. So we thought we should change that. Mind you, that is not to say that we don’t want to report the leaders, because throughout history the power to change the cause of mankind has always been vested in leaders.
Why did you go into newspaper publishing, because you were publishing The Market, which was like a monthly publication? At what point did you decide to go into daily publication?
The Market was actually a bi-monthly publication. We knew that there was a gap created in journalism, especially in this part of the country. That gap has not been filled, as far as we are concerned. We feel we should come and fill that gap. It was around that idea that we said let us go into newspapering. It is impossible, for example, to report events that have happened today in a news magazine. Sometimes, we would have gone to press, and the next publication would be about two weeks away. Of course, you will say we have strength in analyses, research and all that. But all the same, we wanted to report the story of the moment.
As an entrepreneur now, what is the difference between publishing a magazine and a newspaper? Did you experience any shock when you transited from one to the other?
No. Not shock as such, because we knew publishing a daily newspaper was a different thing altogether. Like I said to some people, you do not have the luxury of saying I have closed, I will finish this story tomorrow. That story has to be finished today. It has to go to bed today for the readers to see you by 5 a.m tomorrow. So, that created additional challenge. We have to expand our base. We had to bring in more experienced editors as you can see. And I think we have lived up to expectation. Our news content as you can see is very strong, competitive and fresh.
If you are talking about Blueprint, people would say ‘Boko Haram’ newspaper. It’s like you made a mark in the reportage of ‘Boko Haram’. If there is no ‘Boko Haram’, how do you think you can sustain your reportage?
It’s not about ‘Boko Haram’. It is about deep investigative journalism. I think we took investigative journalism to some heights Nigerians never thought about. I was explaining to some groups of people that we have room for investigative journalism. But it depends on how far you can go. What we try to do, because of the experienced and capable hands that we have, is that we took investigative journalism to the next level. And that was why people felt that we have some linkage with Boko Haram. I don’t think so. I think what we did is that we did things differently from the way others are doing it. And we will continue to do it. And not just on ‘Boko Haram’. If you look at quality interviews that we have published in the past, you will also see that they had depth.
Looking at our immediate environment, no single newspaper survives without its printing machine. Do you have any plan to set up your own printing machine or you want to continue printing from where you have been printing?
Let me say this: we have our machine on ground and we are just in the process of installation before we begin to print from our own press, I can assure you on that. But if you asked me, is that how it should be? I will tell you no. I don’t believe a newspaper publisher should bother too much about having his own printing machine. If you look around, almost every newspaper has a printing machine, which is not what obtained in other part of the world. Printing machines are pretty expensive. It’s not just the issue of cost. It is also the issue of management. I think it is somebody else’s business. It’s an entirely different line that some people should take and pursue. For me, it would have been better for newspaper publishers to forget about printing to some people. I would have wished that sales and circulation are also outsourced. That will make a newspaper man free to think and concentrate on his primary business of newspaper. I have to get a press because that is what everybody does. If you don’t do that, it will be difficult for you to print or you print late, or sometimes you don’t get the quality that you want. Left to me, I don’t think that is the best for newspapers. I think that a time will come when all these things will be consolidated. In other countries, you hardly find newspaper printing presses all over the place. You just have it in one place servicing many papers. But here, it is being handled as if you don’t have one, you cannot run newspaper business. Unfortunately, that is the reality that we have to face. In the UK, they do outsource page planning. You have your stories, you emailed them to India. You give them time and they return everything to you after planning the page and you take it to printer. In printing business, India is becoming number one because they do it at cheaper rate. Their machines are cheaper. That is why you find out that most newspapers can now afford to buy the machines. Even at that, it is still expensive. You are talking of over a million dollars. It’s still a lot of money. To me, that money should have been channeled into buying equipment, staff welfare and developing the capacity of staff to report.
How did you join the publishing business?
A long time ago or over 20 years ago, I started a community-based newsletters for local governments in Katsina State in English and vernacular. What I was doing then was to meet with local government officials to produce the newspaper for them. We were doing it from outside. We went to them, get their stories and then we try to do something like newsletters for them. It was really novel at that time and that was very successful. It was like a community newspaper, though from the official angle of the local government They were not just supplying the information, they also paid for it.
Now that you talk about Katsina, there is this speculation that the former Minister of Agriculture Abba Ruma is one of the owners of Blueprint. Can you confirm this?
Are you talking to him now? I have never seen him in this office. Number one, I can’t deny my friends. He has been my friend for over 25 years since the University days. To a very large extent, he has remained my friend and a very good one. But am I too young to begin a newspaper? I’m 46 now, going to 47. That is where people get it wrong. People believe that for you to begin a newspaper, you must have so much money that you have kept somewhere. But in the last one year, we have proved people wrong. Young men and women can come together, make use of the available resources to them and work hard to ensure that the paper is transformed into something that is desired within a short period of time. We have achieved that and we are looking at the possibility that in the next one year, the paper will be able to run itself. So whose big money do we need again? We know that this story has been making the sound. It happened to me when I was doing The Market. They were calling me all sorts of names. The only time people believe it’s my paper was when there was no money. It was his own, now that he is broke. We hope and pray this will never happen.
At the public presentation, you are going to discuss ‘Challenges of Growth and Development in a Multi-Cultural Society”. Why do you want to have this lecture?
If you look at it, the concept of development is a big challenge all over the world. It’s not just a Nigeria affair. And you will agree with me that at this moment, Nigeria has a big challenge of cultural integration as a result of the growth process that we are experiencing. Therefore, if we get somebody to come and discuss or a group of people to come and discuss this concept, perhaps, we will expand our horizons and in that way, we will have helped in building this bond that exists between different diverse cultural entities in this country.