Frank Eleanya, BusinessDay
This week we are shining our spotlight on Frank Eleanya, Technology and Media Editor, at BusinessDay. Frank shared how his love for reading novels, and his father’s love for telling stories eventually lead him to start his career writing stories.
Frank also highlights the negative portrayal of the continent, stemmed through the media, and what we as Africans can do to shift the narrative.
What led you into journalism, and what would you be doing if you weren’t a journalist?
I would say, I bonded with journalism when I was a little boy growing up in the market at Ahia Ohuru, Ngwa Road, Aba, where my mother and two elder brothers had shops. The shops were in the same place in the market so I was their shopboy. I made a point to put the small radio in the shop on channels where I got the latest news stories. If I wasn’t listening to the news, I was reading a novel, a newspaper, or any article I could get in my hands. I had several favourite novelists including Dean Koontz, Robert Ludlum, John Grisham, Fredrick Forsythe, Arthur Hailey, etc. In time, I started writing my own stories, mostly fiction on full-scape sheets. I wouldn’t tell anyone the stories until I was about 25, when I summoned up the courage and gave a girlfriend’s mum, who was a teacher, to read and provide feedback. The mum praised my imaginative thinking in the stories and that gave me some words of encouragement.
If I wasn’t a journalist, I would probably be a lecturer. I’ve always wanted to share my knowledge on things. There was a point I was so convinced I was going be a TV broadcaster, so I began to practice by reading things aloud and making faces like I was looking into the camera. Other times, I would assume I was standing in a class speaking to students or an audience about a subject or a concept. I always knew I was going to have a career in communication. I guess my father’s love for telling stories rubbed off on me. He died poor, but he could sell anything with a good evening story.
The good thing about being a reporter here is that there is no shortage of the bizarre, the outlandish, stories that make you drop your jaw.
When you’re researching stories, what compels you to work on sharing a particular story with your audience? Any hot trends we should look out for in the coming months?
I look at stories the same way a business person looks at his product; he wants to solve problems and so he begins to work on this solution that he believes would bring about the solution he wants to see. I see stories that way. So when I am out there on the street or interacting with people, I am careful to listen to their problems or concerns. When I leave and ponder over those concerns I find that could be a potential story that needs to be written; maybe it would help that person find answers or find relief. It is the same thing when I am writing a critical story on government policies. It is always with the mindset that this policy is hurting businesses and by extention the consumers who are those I interact with on a daily basis. Hence, when my story is critical of any authority, I am essentially, saying fix the problem people’s lives depend on the solution.
I see hot trends everyday and I hardly have enough time to write every one of them. I still think I and other tech journalists in Nigeria haven’t paid enough attention to the science of innovation; How are these innovations made, what are the raw materials made of, what more can be made from these raw materials, what are the cost of securing these materials? Etc.
While I love to write the stories of grass to grace most startups that come up, I am more concerned about the business environment in which they would thrive.
Why is African business so unique and what makes it so exciting to report on?
African businesses operate in a black hole most times, you go in and you are not sure what you going to come out with. There are a lot of inconsistencies that breed uncertainties in the business environment. Hence, to survive, you have to pretend to be extra special and do something everyone is not doing. The fact that leaders in Africa have done less development and more looting, means you have little expectations from them, which is why many businesses on the continent self-regulate and provide nearly everything they need to thrive. It is not really that African businesses are unique, it is basically that they find themselves in a peculiar environment. You either swim or die trying.
Thus, for the reporter, you are constantly at your wit’s end. The good thing about being a reporter here is that there is no shortage of the bizarre, the outlandish, stories that make you drop your jaw. The funny thing is if you write the stories, people on the continent are not surprised because they live these scenarios you write about and don’t see why it is peculiar. But if a foreign journalist writes about these stories for a foreign audience, they win awards. But we must write our own stories.
Which sectors or industries do you like to cover most and why?
Telecom and policy. I think everything technology rises and fall on those two subjects. If you do not carefully cultivate the telecommunication industry and frame the right policies that encourage technological innovation, you end up where Nigeria currently finds itself; always playing catch up and never catching up. The telecom industry is the engine room of innovation because the base infrastructure comes from there. Also, the quality of the person you appoint as Minister or DG of NCC and the activities that they conduct are very critical to what becomes of other segments of the technology sector including tech startups. While I love to write the stories of grass to grace most startups that come up, I am more concerned about the business environment in which they would thrive.
Why is it important that people around the world get to hear about young, growing companies on the continent?
I can say it is because the world needs to know about a different Africa than the one they were told in the old story books. For a long time, this continent has been profiled with some of the most appalling stereotypes and this is because our stories were mostly told by outsiders, who most times visited as tourists and ended up writing stories that made them look like they knew Africa and its people more. We now realise it might be difficult to correct some stereotypes by merely writing rejoiner articles or novels. However, by simply taking the stories of young people who are planting seeds here, and reaping harvest, we can present a better face for Africa than the rest of the world has seen. Every week, I am being followed and engaged by people outside of the continent who read the stories I write on technological innovations and they want to know more. That for me, is the way we change the narrative of Africa as the dark continent.
How can we encourage more people to join the writing community and dedicate their energy to telling stories about African tech and business?
We have to find a way to convince them that writers are not poor. I know a lot of people who love writing and would want to drop every other thing and be part of it permanently but the fear that it is a dead career always puts them off. Some of them have heard the gory stories in the newsroom and are not encouraged.
A few media companies are trying to change this mindset in order to attract the best talents to the industry. But we have to do more. There is also a need for more professional training and opportunities for more African writers to cover events on the global stage.
I still remember that in 2018, I was the only tech reporter selected from Africa to cover the Web Summit in Lisbon. I felt proud, but really concerned seeing as thousands of journalists from around the world were present on the sponsorship from their various media organisations. Exposures like that go a long way in equipping journalists with the right tools for quality storytelling. We need more African journalists to be able to cover events anywhere in the world.