In Nigeria, a new wave of student journalists are actively involved in critical journalism. Student reporters are shifting from covering topics like student elections and other school events to reporting on critical issues plaguing the country, while getting published by international outlets.
Journalists like Pelumi Salako, Ope Adetayo, Olatunji Olaigbe, Sultan Quadri, Abiodun Jamiu and myself are Nigerian students who have acquired bylines with international outlets including Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, The New Arab, TRT World and Rest of World.
As Nigerian students become more interested in wider coverage and big-name media outlets, only a few recognize the importance of incorporating solutions journalism into their reporting.
“[Solutions journalism] helps us take a step beyond the problem to see what is being done to rectify the problem. It not only shows us that there is a problem we should be concerned about, but it also helps us identify the people who are actively working to fix the problem and their methods,” said Salako.
To get more students engaged in solutions-based reporting, Dr. Rasheed Adebiyi, a mass communications lecturer at Fountain University, developed training courses in hopes of cultivating the country’s next class of solutions reporters.
Setting the pace
After conducting a survey, Adebiyi realized that in southwest Nigeria, private university students don’t have the same opportunities to practice journalism as students in other tertiary institutions. He noticed, too, that solutions journalism is a beat not broadly explored by journalists who are still in school.
Selected for Nigeria Health Watch’s 2022 Solutions Journalism Network Fellowship, Adebiyi’s mandate was to advocate for the mainstreaming of solutions journalism in southwest Nigeria’s media ecosystem. In June, he held a training for a select number of students on the components of mainstreaming solutions journalism and education in the region. Topics he covered included how to focus on solutions to problems in the student’s reporting,the limitations involved in this form of journalism, and more.
“The Solutions Journalism Africa Fellowship has given me the impetus to help redirect the orientation of the young journalists from being problem-focused to being solution-driven,” said Adebiyi.
Adebiyi’s work to build a strong class of young solutions journalists in his region includes advocating for the importance of solutions journalism in media houses, speaking at events on why journalists should be interested in this kind of reporting and calling for outlets to move from “the watchdog role to the guide dog role”. He has met with the state chapters of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, National Association of Women Journalists, Online Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria, among others.
“I believe training young journalists [on solutions journalism] from whatever background will assist the profession and make practicing journalism more professional,” he said.
Discovering a new reporting style
Mutmainah Abolore, a junior mass communications major at Fountain University, was one of the students selected for Adebiyi’s solutions journalism training. Abolore has been keen on writing solutions stories and vows to pursue the niche once she becomes a certified journalist after graduation. To gain more experience, she interns as a reporter at Rave FM, a radio station in Osun State, where she reports on her community.
Participating in the training made Abolore realize that she didn’t need to wait until after graduating to report on the solutions stories in her hometown. “The training made me realize that I can become a journalist at any time,” said Abolore. “It boosted my interest in pursuing solutions stories.”
After the training, Abolore started thinking about where to start her solutions journalism career. The result was a podcast, “SoJo Talks,” which is currently in development.
“The podcast would be everything about solutions journalism. From reporting solutions stories to teaching people everything I learned from the training,” she said.
Aside from hosting trainings, Adebiyi has also made it his mission to provide students with hands-on experience and opportunities to incorporate a solutions-based angle into their reporting.
“I have been working with selected journalists with the aim of mentoring and helping them tell solutions stories,” said Adebiyi. He currently sponsors two students who traveled to a rural area in Osun State to report on how members of the community are trying to restore its forest by planting trees across the town without assistance from the government. With Nigeria losing the majority of its forest reserve, he believes the story offers a model the government could follow to restore forest area.
Adebiyi’s future plans
Although Adebiyi’s journey has not been easy, he believes he’s had a major impact on his region in just a few years. Building the foundation from his school, he plans to start a media innovation lab, where media practitioners and students would be invited to experiment with new trends in journalism.
“The media lab would further customize solutions reporting on different specialized areas of journalism,” said Adebiyi.
The lab would serve as research into the media ecosystem in the state and the region to understand the peculiarities and identify the push and pull factors for the mainstreaming of the solutions approach in journalism. “The lab would also be involved in researching and communicating [the] latest trends in journalism with a view to developing products [to help reporters improve their coverage] from the research outcomes,” said Adebiyi.
Adebiyi hopes that, through his efforts, a new generation of solutions journalists in southwest Nigeria who not only report on solutions to pressing issues facing the country, but also adopt a solutions mindset more broadly will be born.
“My interest in training young journalists in the Southwest stemmed from my solution-oriented philosophy to life and teaching, and I hope students would also understand how important this is,” said Adebiyi.