Editor speaking #1, Colin Udoh discusses risks of misinformation and need for training in sport journalism
Colin Udoh is Regional Digital Head at KweseSport, in Nigeria.
by Chibuogwu Nnadiegbulam
Seventeen years and counting, there is no such thing as regret for renowned Nigerian sports journalist Colin Udoh, whose decision to abandon a more lucrative career path in Engineering has rather yielded fulfilment.
Following his graduation from the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria where he studied Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Udoh landed a promising job at Schlumberger, a well-known oilfield services company in Nigeria. But when passion came calling, he made the audacious switch to a less-fancied profession and never looked back.
“There’s a lot to be said for doing something that brings you joy rather than doing something that you are doing because you have to do it,” says the Regional Digital Head at KweseSport.
“Probably If I was few years older at the time, I wouldn’t have taken such a risk because I would have been thinking of too many different things and how much money I would make by working as an Engineer. But I think I’ve enjoyed being who I am, doing what I’ve done, and being able to affect people from that perspective.”
From working for a small local publication to breaking into international media organisations, Udoh’s stock has continued to rise while expectedly drawing a lot of admiration. He has built a trusted brand that is well respected in Africa and beyond and according to him, “staying true to the principles of being a journalist” is the way to go.
Colin Udoh on set for SuperSport.
However, Colin Udoh, does not think (sports) journalists are being appreciated enough. “The thing is, journalism is not the best paying job in the world and I say that not just in Africa but all around the world. Unless you are one of those celebrity journalists, you don’t get paid the kind of money that you want to call life-changing money,” the African football expert explained.
“Journalism allows you to get by, and in Africa - Nigeria particularly - it’s especially worse because people, media owners don’t exactly value talent. They don’t see reporters as people who need to be paid that much money. In fact I think people actually make it a point of duty not to pay journalists good money because they feel that you actually go out there and get brown envelopes. That culture is encouraged and it’s dehumanising the profession in so many ways.”
“What I have tried to do is to take myself out of that mix and try and ensure that whatever story I write or whatever I do stays on facts and facts only. If I want to write an opinion piece I will write an opinion piece. So what that does is, it automatically puts us in a position where people come to understand that this person doesn’t stand for anybody, he stands for the truth.”
Your work speaks for you
"Being in the thick of the action is what I like the most about sports journalism. Maybe not at the beginning, but It’s your work essentially that speaks for you. So when you write a story and people can relate to that story and they can see that you’ve put a lot of hardwork into that story to be balanced and objective and actually do a story that reflects what the issue is, they tend to remember."
Udoh remembers how a "well-written" match preview of a local game played in Port Harcourt got him his first international job at KickOff. "Mazi Njoku, who was my editor (at South South Express), read it he said 'this boy you would go places'."
Udoh got the job through Emeka Enyadike who pointed out that the last line of that preview was what tickled his interest.
"It was an evening game so I ended it by saying that by the end of this game the stadium will be lit up by more than just the floodlights. He (Emeka) said there was something about the line and I knew it because it was like a play on words. I knew it would be a night game and the floodlights will be on but I wanted to bring out the fact that there would be something else to light up the stadium and it won't be the floodlights it would be the game."
When asked about the main issues sports journalists need to tackle, Udoh first points out "misinformation". "You have too many people who are trying to discredit the news media by using fake information and just putting it out there and it speaks to credibility issues because already there is a growing distrust of media around the world."
"We have focused too much on the game so now we need to give equal balance to the sport itself, how we report it and the other issues behind the sport. There's discrimination everywhere and at the heart of sports lies discrimination so you have discrimination against minorities, discrimination against women, discrimination against people from different backgrounds and there needs to be a way for the media to report these stories in a way that levels the playing field for everybody,” he adds.
"That doesn’t just begin and end with going to the games and reporting the games or the sport, it needs us to take a deep dive into how the sport is run, how the sport is administered and why its such a closed eco system that outsiders can't come in and make changes.
"If you try to look at the football system in Nigeria and in Africa, you can't get in there. So the question is how do we ensure as media that that space is open in a way that people can see a path to participation because when you have those kind of stories throw a searchlight on how the game is administered and the things that happen, then it's easier for you to get competent people in there to run the game and when they do that then the benefits can now come down to the sport itself."
Colin Udoh is very passionate about passing on his wealth of knowledge to the younger generation of sports journalists. He understands that the evolution of the profession in this digital age has left it open for anyone to pick it up as a career path with or without formal training.
"Everybody is writing a blog, anybody can do a podcast, anybody can tweet, post on Facebook. So the challenge then for us is if anybody can write stuff and put out there what now differentiates you as a journalist from the next man and that is where the issue of credibility, being on the spot, and being objective and professional comes in.”
Udoh is on a mission to stop the rot from moving on from generation to generation. This is the reason why the second edition of his mentorship programme - which will also feature other renowned sports journalists of international repute - is expected in April.
"We must get regular training," Udoh emphasises. "Now it shocks me how many veteran journalists in this country (Nigeria) and even on the continent who don’t even understand the basics of journalism and journalism ethics. People just tend to do things and because they have been doing it for a while then it must be right."
"Because one thing you will notice, a lot of people just like me didn’t come into the profession as trained journalists. Most people come in from different professions and they come in without proper training so what they do, they get on the job training."
"How not to write an investigative story" is one topic that will be thoroughly treated. Such that participants will understand the legal implications of what they write, and "make sure it’s properly sourced, there is evidence and everything is linked".
"The AIPS Sport Media Awards are a great idea. There's nothing like awards to encourage people to do things the right way," Udoh says.
The AIPS Sport Media Awards
In a bid to promote sports media excellence, the International Sports Press Association launched the AIPS Sport Media Awards during the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea and Udoh says he will submit his best work.
"I think it’s a great idea. There is nothing like awards to encourage people to do things the right way and awards are also a way of training people because ...especially when you don’t win you go back and ask yourself 'what happened? what did I do right? what did I do wrong?'"
He adds: "A story that wins an award is a story that actually goes below the surface and digs in and actually tells a story that people cannot only relate to but that can make a difference in either their lives or the lives of other people. So if people take part in this award they would understand that it’s not just about writing a match report or just writing a news story.”