In this interview by UCJ UI correspondent, Prisca Aniemeke, Theophilus Femi Alawonde, Editor-in-Chief at Indy Press Organization, University of Ibadan, talks about being a FOPA winner and his journalism journey.
Can we meet you?
My name is Theophilus Femi Alaw0nde. I’m a 400-level student of the Department of Arts and Social Sciences Education. I’m studying to bag a BA (Ed) French. I’m also the Editor-in-Chief at Indy Press Organization. I’ve been a campus journalist for four years plus and I’ve worked in different capacities at Indy Press and with the UCJ.
You won the award for Most Outstanding in Journalism at the FOPA 2021. How do you feel about that?
Well, I feel happy and honoured to have won. Beyond that, the well wishes and the messages I received from people reinforced the belief that it’s not an award about who’s more popular or who can get the most votes. To make it to the top three in FOPA is a thing of joy and ending up winning the award makes me so happy.
Can you tell us about your journey so far, how you got here and who was important to the process?
About my journey so far, it started as a staff writer for Indy Press in 2017. I actually joined because I wanted to write poetry. I knew Kanyinsola before I came to UI. I knew the name so I wanted to associate with him. He gave me a lot of other things to do. I always felt like I couldn’t do them but I ended up doing them really well. I learnt a very important lesson then: if one is determined, one can always achieve.
Then in 2018, I became News Editor. There’s something Kanyinsola said in his Valedictory Editorial that I held on to. He wrote about all members of the Editorial Board. He said about me, “Theophilus will always deliver, no excuses”. I held on to that and decided to always continue to deliver without excuses.
News reporting is important to the press, without news, we don’t publish. There was also this book by Kunle and Kanyin, The Road Before the Fourth Estate which served as a Journalism Bible for me. I read people’s stories. I read Alao’s, Mayowa Tijani, Habeeb Kolade, Osho Samuel. I learnt from everyone’s life and I decided to apply what I learnt to my life.
So, from Habeeb Kolade, I learnt that he used to volunteer to write for pages that people failed to deliver on. He also started with just writing poetry for Indy Press but as time went by, he noticed that the Editor used to have difficulty publishing because of the people who didn’t deliver on time. So, he started volunteering to fill those spaces. I decided to pick that up too. I moved closer to Prof — Olopade Oluwasegun — our then E-in-C. I started filling up pages that were stressing him. I started working with him and learning from him — I was so close to him. I learnt perfection and precision while editing from him. I also learnt discipline because we would sit for hours on end trying to edit articles and get them ready.
In 2019, I worked with Chidera. I learnt people management from him. Because of my kind of personality, it’s difficult to take excuses from people; I hardly give excuses myself. If you give me an excuse, I’d always look into it and show you that you could have done better. It was a problem I was going to have, being too harsh if people didn’t deliver. So, I learnt patience and people management from Chidera and that helped me.
Alao and a lot of people influenced me. Alao is an energetic reporter, I wanted to fill his shoes.
I had lots of plans. Covid-19 happened and some were not achieved, but I’m happy for what has been achieved so far.
What or who pushes you to keep going?
It’s not easy but the first thing that keeps me going is that we need to do this, we have to do this. We write about things and I see changes or I see that what we’re doing is actually working and people are taking heed.
And then, we’ve been able to carve this culture of excellence over the years and it’s a good thing to be a member of Indy Press. I often say this, especially in my final year, that one of the strongest things that has kept me going is having to be the first partaker of the wholesomeness of our publications. People submit pieces but I’m the first person to read everything together as a whole. There’s this wholesomeness about it that I love.
The fact that I get to see changes means we are not just about toiling; we are doing it for the greater good and it’s evident.
How do you manage the stress of tight deadlines?
I wouldn’t say I’m someone that meets deadlines everytime. In fact, I’ve had issues this final year. What I do is arrange things in order of preference and in the order of how I enjoy them. I always remember that Kanyinsola said, “Theophilus will always deliver, no excuses.” Those are the two things I keep on to. Sometimes, it has to be some other things suffering for the things I have to achieve. In essence, it’s just me prioritizing.
How do you ensure your work is accurate and factual?
One thing I’ve learnt and kept over the years is that what we’re doing as journalists is for the greater good. It’s not stemming from me having personal beef with someone. I ensure that my personal life is separated, as much as possible, from what I’m writing as a journalist. Except in the cases of writing opinions.
Whatever it is that I’m writing, I focus on dealing with the issue. I go to the field whenever I need to and if I have doubts about things, whether it’s something my members wrote or I wrote, I reach out to the concerned persons or authorities to verify.
What are some of your best publications?
It’s difficult to mention my best publications. It’s been years and there are some I can no longer remember. And, there’s hardly a time we publish that I don’t love what we publish, so it’s difficult to pick or pinpoint. I think the ones I love best are things that deal with issues affecting students; especially the ones we wrote and through them, we brought about change.
Are there any famous journalists that inspire you? Why are they inspirational to you?
Talking about famous journalists that inspire me, the ones that come to mind the most are Fisayo Soyombo and Kunle Adebajo. The reason is that their styles are similar and these two can go to any length to work on stories that benefit the masses. That’s something I find inspiring.
Do you plan to continue as a journalist after graduation?
I’ve always thought about doing many things when I graduate, not just one thing. And yes, journalism is definitely one of them.
Thank you very much for your time.