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When Hannah Ojo was preparing to graduate from Obafemi Awololo University in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, she was debating whether to stick with journalism or pursue public relations.
“For a time, I was discouraged,” Ojo explained. “People told me, ‘You’re going into journalism? You’re not going to make a lot of money.’”
But ultimately the ability to give people a voice and potentially spur change motivated Ojo.
“The power and influence of the written word: that’s what helped me embrace journalism,” Ojo said.
And Ojo plunged into her chosen career full-force.
Since 2015, she has worked for The Nation, a daily newspaper in Lagos. Eager to hone her craft, Ojo constantly hunts for new opportunities, awards and fellowships. In 2015, after finding the opportunity on IJNet, she got her first taste of international reporting as a Thomson Reuters UN/SDG Fellow, traveling to New York to cover the 70th assembly of the United Nations. Earlier this year, she earned a reporting grant from ImpactAFRICA to report on the safety of water in Lagos. Even during her interview, Ojo was in the middle of the ICFJ News Corps Fellowship for African Journalists.
We spoke to Ojo about her passion for journalism, the importance of technology and data and what she sees for the future of news in Nigeria.
IJNet: What made you decide you wanted to be a journalist? And when did you decide?
Ojo: When I entered university, there was this page called Campus Live where students can write and get their articles published in the national newspaper. It helped me kind of decide, “Okay, this is what I want to do.” I looked at the power of the media and the power of the pen and that helped my decision. I also have an interest in public service and that also helped me choose to be a journalist. I was thinking about the ability to not just write, but to go to a place, do some work and help the situation change. You hold government accountable, you call attention and become a voice in society.
You do a lot of data-driven work and you describe yourself a “tech-savvy” journalist. How do technology and data inform your reporting?
I think one of the things that technology and data has done is given stories the ability to put a human face to some of the numbers that we are inundated with, especially when it comes to reporting development issues. Using data and resources to back up your reports, it really gives your stories credibility among readers and it spurs government action. With my investigation into the water industry, I used some interactive tools, like a GPS map and an infographic, to create interactive data, which showed how the water crisis in the state is so critical. I am fascinated by technology and its ability to change the world and give journalism new leverage. It’s a great thing for journalism in Africa. And in my newsroom, I want to ensure that we start to see digital news not just as an option for print journalism but as the main thing. We need to invest in skills and young talent and invest in great ideas so we’re not left behind.
You collaborate with other organizations, like the Naija Data Ladies and BudgIT. How have you benefitted from working with these groups?
It’s been challenging with the other demands I have as a journalist, but it has been a blessing. The Naija Data Ladies have exposed me to new ways of reporting development and health. It has given me an opportunity to learn new tools. I never imagined I could do anything with data analysis –usually I have this fear of numbers. But I had people teaching me, and I had an opportunity to have a one-on-one lesson with one of the ladies. I was taught how things like developing my own maps and charts on Atlas. It was such a big deal for me, and it has given me this confidence like, “Wow, you can do great stuff.”
What advice do you have for new or young journalists?
The advice I have is: go for it. Don’t be discouraged. It’s not about making money; it’s about being a voice in your generation. No amount of money can really compare to that. When you take up your pen and write something, you tell the truth and you are affecting change. For any young person, especially in developing countries like those in Africa, you have to be determined. Go for your dreams. If you follow your dreams, other things will fall into place.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Main image courtesy of Hannah Ojo.