Dr Yemisi Akinbobola on Providing a Platform for News on Africa
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Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is the founder and editor-in-chief of IQ4News, a collaborative platform for news on Africa, which publishes reports from professional journalists alongside those of citizen journalists, journalism students, bloggers and field experts.
Besides her work at IQ4News, Yemisi is a visiting lecturer at Birmingham City University and a freelance writer for the United Nations Africa Renewal magazine, which provides up-to-date information and analysis of the major economic and development challenges facing Africa today. Originally from Ondo State, Nigeria, she holds a PhD in Media from Birmingham City University and currently lives in the UK with her husband and their 7-month old daughter.
We spoke with Yemisi about the news story of which she's most proud; about the challenges facing female entrepreneurs in Africa; and the causes which are closest to her heart.
TNW: I understand that IQ4News has been through several incarnations since its inception in 2007. Briefly describe the IQ4News story from launch to the present day.
YA: I was an intern at CNN International when I came across the world of blogging. One of my co-interns had a blog in which she documented pictures of herself jumping in different parts of the world. I then decided to start my own blog in which I blogged about media related issues. After completing my internship, I decided to develop the blog into a full website where I documented my video reports - like an online showreel. In December 2008, my husband asked me what I planned to do in 2009 that would be different from 2008. This got me thinking, and as I was in the second year of my PhD, I wanted to make the blog relevant to what I was studying - the role of media in emerging democracies using Nigeria and South Africa as exemplars.
So I started blogging about African related issues. After 3 months I set up a Facebook and Twitter page and started to promote my blog. Almost straight away people started requesting to contribute to the blog, and that is how IQ4News grew gradually. In 2010 it was registered as a company in the UK, and is now branded as a collaborative platform for news on Africa. Collaborative in the sense that we blur the line between professional journalists and bloggers, citizen journalists etc, by welcoming contributors from a variety of backgrounds. We also have some field experts and student journalists contributing to us.
Right now we are in the process of looking for like-minded investors who can help us get to the next level. The future plan for IQ4News is that we explore other platforms.
TNW: The IQ4News philosophy, “Ubuntu through New Media”, refers to the creative combination of ‘Ubuntu’ - the African philosophy promoting community - with the new information age, to create a collaborative platform. How could businesses in the First World benefit from the concept of Ubuntu?
YA: With the advancements in new media technologies, we see the lines being blurred between professional journalists and citizen journalists.
There is a place now for ordinary people reporting on news and events that are happening around them whether it is via Twitter, Facebook or even Instagram.
So these things have created an online community of people communicating with themselves without having to travel 1,000s of miles. Where it has been most successful though is where this online communication has led to people coming together offline, like during the Egyptian uprising for example. I think that is how the concept of ubuntu can be used beyond Africa in this new media age.
TNW: What is your business model?
YA: The main source of revenue for IQ4News at present is advertising. We hope to explore opt-in options with premium content as well as other more experimental and innovative ideas that we have in the pipeline. That's the beauty of technology, it allows you to experiment in areas that would otherwise have been more difficult with traditional media forms like television and print.
TNW: Looking back over the history of IQNews, is there one story you’ve published which makes you the most proud?
YA: There are so many. One of the first that I can say I was proud of was my op-ed on the film 'District 19' in which Nigerians were portrayed as drug dealers. I remember there was a lot of anger and debate about this by Nigerians who are very patriotic people. In the article I wrote that we needed to loosen up a little and just understand that the movie was just a movie and that any concerns about how we are represented should be approached in a more constructive way i.e. it starts with the individual Nigerian.
Another article I was proud of was not actually for IQ4News but for the United Nations Africa Renewal magazine, and it was on the ABSU Rape case that happened in Nigeria.
Sexual Violence is often not spoken about in Nigeria, and what this rape case did was to break that silence because people were debating about it online via Twitter mostly.
It brought people together to campaign for better application of rape laws. Unfortunately, the online campaign did not transfer offline as the planned march had a low turnout, and our legislators did not address the issue, unlike what we are now seeing in India.
TNW: Generally, what kind of African news are you most interested in bringing to the world?
YA: What is African news? People talk about African news a lot, and what they mean is news from/on Africa. I am interested in in-depth features that don't just give a short report on an event/issue, but one that offers a backstory and context to the issue. This is important because of the years of negative stereotyping and representation of Africa and Africans. We have a lot of work to do in correcting some of these stereotypes, and it is not enough to just rely on short news beats to do this. Visuals always helps.
TNW: IQ4News has a Charity of the Month Scheme. Which causes are closest to your heart and why?
YA: Women rights issues. Anything from the fight against sexual violence, domestic violence, FGM, to polygamy. I also have a soft spot for environmental issues particularly in the Niger-Delta.
Youth empowerment is also a big issue because so many of our young graduates in Africa go unemployed for years, and that is just a disaster that leads to crime.
Issues to do with human rights abuse of prisoners also interests me. We are yet to understand that incarceration is about taking away someone's freedom and not their rights to live in a clean and stimulating environment at least.
TNW: Tell our community a little about the work you do for the United Nations’ Africa Renewal.
YA: I write in-depth feature articles for Africa Renewal, and like my work at IQ4News, it allows me to interview and speak with very interesting people.
TNW: What are the particular challenges faced by women looking to start their own businesses in Africa? Are families and communities generally supportive of female entrepreneurs?
YA: I think we are beginning to see more and more female entrepreneurs across Africa.
I think it starts in a change of mindset, that men stop seeing women as only useful for domestics and as sex objects, and that women know they can do these things, and feel empowered doing so.
TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?
YA: Anyone that is hardworking, resilient and persistent is my role model. My favourite news correspondent is Richard Quest of CNN International. I interned on his show back in 2007, and he gave me some directions on presenting, he has also stayed in touch with me and offered some useful advice over the years. But in general I would say my mentor/role model are people who fight against the odds to achieve what they want.
TNW: Is there anything we haven’t asked you, but you’d like to share with our readers?
YA: One of the difficulties we have encountered at IQ4News is the lack of support from businesses in African countries. All our advertisers have been companies from outside of the continent, and I think this is a common issue for startups on the continent.
I think businesses on the continent need to support these new, young entrepreneurs, and not just wait for government initiatives to do this.
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