I’ve been hard at work this week teaching infographics at Leadership, a national newspaper here in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria.
Leadership is a seven-year-old newspaper that is distributed throughout the country. It’s a thick tabloid, heavy on news, politics and analysis. The paper redesigned over the past couple of months and now wants to take the next step into visual journalism. I’m honored to draw the assignment.
The staff works out of this compound on the outskirts of Abuja. That gate is the main entrance, of course. The press is located in that large building to the left, here.
Next to that building is the administration building. Note the very nice shaded balcony.
Walk in the front door, through a small vestibule and down a very short hallway and you’ll find an office directly in front of you, with the logo of the newspaper frosted on the window.
That’s the office they’ve given me to use while I’m here this week and next. You can’t see it here, but I have my own air conditioner. Very important for a spoiled American like me in this sub-Saharan environment.
If you walk back out the front door and turn to your right, you see more buildings in the rear of the compound. That larger building houses offices of the managing editor, the IT department and a number of other folks.
Also there is a long main room that would make a fabulous banquet hall. They’ve cleared out all the folks from this area to give us a place to hold our sessions this week.
Second from the right in the bright blue outfit is the managing editor, Iyobosa Uwagiaren. Standing behind him is another managing editor, Chinyere Fred-Adegbulugbe. The gentleman on the far right is the creative director, Isiaka Gbodiyan, or “Easy G.” Seated on the left — in the blue-grey outfit — is the design editor, John Friday.
We started out Monday with an introductory session: What are infographics, what can you do with them and — perhaps more importantly — what do you not do with them?
Unlike most of our sessions this week — which are targeted to specific groups of journalists — this opening session was open to the entire newsroom. Although we had a very large room and a lot of space, more and more folks trickled into the room. It was standing room only, for most of the session.
Folks seem very enthusiastic about graphics. They already have the software lined up and they’ve hired a couple of artists to work with me. The pattern so far is that I give slideshow-illustrated lectures in the morning and then I meet with staffers for brainstorming sessions and individual work in the afternoons.
Back in the main compound — again, coming out of the admin building where my office is located — you see this one-storey building on the right. That’s the main newsroom.
Inside, dozens of reporters, editors and designers work elbow-to-elbow to put out each day’s edition.
I’ve been in a lot of newsrooms around the world. Each has its own rhythms and pace. This is one of the faster-paced places I’ve seen. It wasn’t what I expected at all. But it makes sense, given the product they put out here.
The paper publishes six days a week. The Saturday paper isn’t just the big edition of the week. It’s enormous. It takes a lot of resources to produce all these pages.
I believe they told me they had 19 designers. Here are four of them lined up, side-by-side along the front wall of the newsroom. The gentleman in the striped shirt is working on page one. To his right, the woman in blue is working on the next day’s editorial page.
Leadership is very heavily focused on news and opinion. They take their name very seriously and offer thoughtful commentary on their country’s government. Consequently, the editorial page is on page three. Open the front page and — Boom! — there it is. I don’t think I’ve seen this in any other country.
Despite the frenzied activity of the newsroom, staffers still take a moment to indulge their curiosity in that strange American visitor they’re finding roaming around their offices.
“You write this blog? Really? Dude, you need a copy editor!”
I hope Timothy, there, enjoyed the blog.
The sessions have gone very well so far. The one problem I’ve had: Staying hydrated. A thick haze that’s hanging over Abuja this week has kept the temperatures from rising too much, so I’ve not yet seen the 104-degree temperatures that had been forecast. But still, it’s been pretty steamy at times. I’ve learned the hard way to take it easy and to drink extra fluids.
Mixed in with my sessions, of course, is lots of hard work for the designers. Here, John Friday — again, the design editor to supervises much of the day-to-day look of the paper — addresses his staff on how they’ll schedule their week in order to a) get their work done while b) freeing up folks to attend my sessions.
The paper has bent over backwards to allocate resources for training. You have to love that.
While Monday we focused mostly on introductions and basic information, we devoted most of Tuesday to sports: Sports graphics, sports pages, sports promotional ideas from the editorial side. How to use visuals to tell sports stories.
Everyone listened with rapt attention.
This young lady seemed to enjoy the sports sessions yesterday…
…as did another journalist who had studied in England and who had a very cool cover for her laptop.
After an hour-long break at midday, we reconvened to brainstorm ideas. I found it just a little difficult at first to get folks to speak up. But they’ve never done this sort of visual free-association thinking before. So it’s going to be slow at first.
We eventually cooked up an idea to look at the poor success of the Nigerian soccer program and the turnover of coaches. A reporter was assigned to pull data for a graphic. If all goes well, we may end up with an interesting full-tabloid-page infographic for Saturday’s paper.
Or not. We’ll see. If nothing else, we’ll learn from the experience.
Once the ice was broken, ideas started flying. Here, one of the more talented prospects — Adeola Adebayo — sketched out an idea on how to produce a graphic look at one of the star players for the soccer team.
The concept was a good one. The design director and I then discussed the idea of “evergreen” graphics that we could build and then run whenever we have space for them.
Yeah. I think they’re catching on. I just love watching light bulbs go on over people’s heads.
Today, we’ll focus on business graphics and we’ll look at sports ideas the designers bring back. Thursday, we’ll get into features graphics: Science and technology, health and so on. Friday, we’ll focus on entertainment and politics.
I’m just starting Day Four of a 12-day teaching and consulting expedition to Abuja, Nigeria. Earlier posts about my journey: