Give Me Back Yesterday’s Newsroom!

by admin


A visiting American journalist, some years back, stepped into The Statesman newsroom in Owerri, then a sleepy eastern town and capital of Imo State, Nigeria. A wry smile played on his Caucasian face when he was confronted by the deafening sound of the typewriters as the typists hammered away in haste to meet the day’s deadline.

*The Author, Mr. Odu*

“How nice to hear the clatter of typewriters again in 15 years”, he exclaimed.

Fifteen years? In other words, that newsroom, which belonged to the then flagship of eastern Nigerian media, was 15 years behind time.

The changing face of the newsroom and production processes in the media, especially the newspaper, has been one that elicits mixed feelings. Mixed feelings in the sense that although news professionals and consumers find a lot of ease and improvement in service, occasioned by the galloping technological advancement, jobs are vanishing and standards are being compromised.

It is the lowering standards of content of the media that makes the journalists of yesteryears nostalgic about their good old days. In the newspaper industry, for instance, the sub-editor, that ever watchful gatekeeper who filters raw copies from the field reporters and dresses them up in the right robes for a successful outing, is being run into extinction. Where he still exists, he appears half-baked and insufficiently aware of his arduous task of not letting bad grammar, poorly written scripts and libel slip into the pages of the newspaper.

The result is that copies are dumped into the pages, bearing slovenly written headlines at the detriment of the media against its consumers. Meanwhile, the copy boy had gone long ago, and after him the proofreader and the paste-up artist took their exit, with the lithographer struggling to remain relevant.

For the benefit of young practitioners who may not have known about the sub-editor, William Hill, once city editor of Evening Standard of Washington DC, described him as “the newsroom’s word artist, a doctor for ailing copy, a teacher for cub reporters…”

In the field, the media are experiencing serious dearth of crack reporters who unearth the story behind the story. What we find in abundance today, especially in Nigeria, are a bunch charlatans chasing politicians, socialites and businessmen around for crumbs from their table, cheapening the noble pen profession as they scramble for brown envelops. The days of fearless, investigative journalism are fast rolling by. Semblances of interpretative and investigative reports now have political, ethnic economic or racial undertones.

They are not written in the pursuit of the common good. They are done by hackers who work for some paymasters and are slanted to undo opponents. At press conferences, very few intelligent questions that challenge the subjects and elicit vital information pop up from the gallery. In the end, a watery report tumbles into the newsroom and is used as is.

In those good old days, the reporter had the image of a poorly dressed drunk that runs after women in pubs, brothels, ghettos and unholy places.

Ironically, that character churned out copies that were the editor’s delight. It is reasoned that his assumed character was only a cover for him to fit into the places that give him the scoops, the bad news that is good news for the paper. Many of the new generation, well dressed, corporate journalists brandishing college degrees hardly write scripts that can be printed without excessive retouching by the common on-the-job trained reporter.

Fear of the vanishing print newspaper is rife as the new media, with its numerous advantages, tends to push it into oblivion. The new media appears to hold high appeal to the keyboard- and keypad-happy youngsters, giving them audio, video and text on screen, on desktop, laptop or palmtop. The emergence of citizen journalist was made possible with the opportunities thrown wide open by the Internet for anyone, just anyone, to post information into the World Wide Web with so much ease and cover from the law. There again, yesteryears practice scores a point – the credibility point. With the newspaper, the editor is conscious of the law and feels the weight of an onus on him to publish with caution. Information, in yesterday’s newsroom, is checked and crosschecked for facts. Litigation is avoided, with its attendant loss of money and credibility. Not so for the new media. Faceless persons go virulent on the web, posting inaccuracies and figments of their imagination and getting away with it.

Today’s newsroom hardly challenges intellect. The library is only one tap on the keyboard away. The brain is no longer tasked on information retention as the computer now does the job. In yesteryears’ newsroom, the reporter or sub-editor tries to soak in information, ready to regurgitate same where and when necessary to the benefit of the reading public. Writing from the standpoint of knowledge, the reporter’s script is easily enriched and his facts, ideas and narration flow effortlessly. And so, the yesteryear’s reporter, who is today considered a veteran, did not need Google to be efficient.

The modern day, antiseptic newsroom, sometimes with graveyard calm save the hisses of the computer, presents a picture of lifelessness and makes the veteran long for the days the newsroom was hot and reporters needed to shout to be heard over and above the clatters of the typewriter, the booming of the radio and television of the desk reporters monitoring news and the noisy banters from one reporter to another.

In the newsroom of old, gay people are hardly seen, but reporters and editors who appreciate God’s unique creativity on the opposite sex are in abundance. They whistled and popped their eyes at the sight of a well-shaped woman. In error, they called them womanizers. Check out the difference today, very awful.

With all these playing back in his mind, the veteran journalist feels like shouting it aloud, “give me back yesterday’s newsroom!”

Note: This reflection on the old journalism order was first published in

Dr. Odu can be reached through or SMS +2347056207620.

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