Killing me soft-ly
By Chude Jideonwo
I started my career as a print journalist with TEMPO magazine, some eight odd years ago. TEMPO and its sister publication TheNEWS had just emerged from a classic ‘roforofo’ under Abacha and was trying to find its feet. There was no more lunatic general trying to snuff the life out of the media as well as citizens, the dynamics of investigative journalism were changing in a way no one could have anticipated considering the suddenness of ‘Khalifa’s’ death. It was double jeopardy for a magazine with two such stables.
The heads of the organization at the time, led by Babafemi Ojudu, seized on a brainwave – TEMPO as a lifestyle magazine that would be able to capture something of the essence of the Nigerian at the time.
It was something inchoate, something noble while at the same time unreasonable. But they managed to get it week after week – with a mix of brilliant interviews (one with Bola Ige at his insouciant best was priceless), delicious columnists headlined by the inimitable Funmi Iyanda, and feature stories that drove right into the heart of urban life – anchored by a team of bright, excited and worldly-wise news reporters (now managers and editors) like Olumide Iyanda and Yinka Ijabiyi, who knew intimately the ping-pong art of the interview, who could follow a story anywhere and who could find a fresh angle in anything.
It was soft-sell with a soul. Elegant soul.
Unfortunately, it would seem that its brand of elegance was increasingly out of touch with a vulgar society, and very sadly, TEMPO soon found itself at Death’s door.
So we are left with the vulgarity. What we have now is pure gossip – many times, pure lies. And even that isn’t very well done. Far be it from me to stand as judge, but I suppose that anyone with good taste knows exactly how bad the soft-sell genre has gone. Bad writing, bad sensibilities, bad interviewing – yes many of society’s best smuggle these magazines into the toilet and try to confirm that they remain ‘relevant’, but the key word is ‘toilet’.
Many have died by the way side. We barely hear of Global Excellence even though its chief, Mayor Akinpelu led the way for his generation, Femi Akintunde Johnson tried to do what TEMPO did with Treasures but not a lot of people paid notice to that fine job. FAME – once the brilliant purveyor of truly high society tales – has spluttered to death, and considering its latest incarnation, it will not be missed. Then there are other stables that came and went just as fast – High Society, News of the People among them.
Encomium however, has managed – somehow – to keep its head above the rest on the taste-o-meter. The gossip is largely thoughtful, the headlines are engaging, the design approachable, its feel the closest we have gotten to the finest global lifestyle tradition. On Sunday, the primary reason for that, its impressive and tireless editor, Azuh Arinze, after serving Encomium faithfully for 17 years, launched his own magazine YES! at an event that, not surprisingly, drew the heavy-lifters who run Nigeria’s high society – from entertainment to finance.
At a time when the grapevine (a sordid word-cliché that has gripped the length of our soft-sell media) is awash (another one!) with news that Hello! magazine is coming to town, it is perhaps time to hope that something is about to happen.
Because what TEMPO tried to do, getting to the heart of Nigerian lifestyle, not just through gossip, or through malice or blackmail, but by trying to capture the mix of Nigerian lifestyle and pop culture, is a challenge someone had to take on, with a ruthless Murdoch-like eye for the bottom-line, for need and for the future.
If anyone can do it, Azuh, with his sparkling interviews, his untiring eye for the soul of Lagos and Nigerian celebrity, and the beautiful Encomium Specials which can – and this is no exaggeration – stand their own anywhere in the world, is the man.
I know. I burden him with unreasonable high hopes. He needs resources that are presently unavailable to any journalist in this for passion. But then, at the end of the day, all we really have – when it comes to the Nigerian media – is hope.
So yes, I welcome and wish YES the very best. In the most heartfelt of ways.