Manasseh Azure Awuni (left) receiving an award from Pastor Mensa Otabil of the International Central Gospel Church at the Festival of Ideas 2013.
Anas Aremeyaw Anas will go down in history as one of the world’s greatest journalists of his generation, and perhaps, Ghana’s most decorated journalist ever. But do you know where he made his mark?
He earned his fame with a newspaper you may not have bought or read before, and chances are that you may never buy it in your lifetime. Many educated people in our country still think every newspaper is called Graphic. But Anas made it at the Crusading Guide, now the New Crusading Guide.
Sadly, however, almost every student-journalist I interact with wants to work with the Daily Graphic, Joy FM, Citi FM or any of the popular TV stations. Their reason?
Those are the platforms that they can be seen or heard by those who matter. The big platforms really make you who you are, they say. What about the small or seemingly obscure platforms?
Despise not your obscure platform. What matters most is you, and not the platform. A well-developed and persevering talent is like a cork. If you suppress it under water for 100 years, it will pop up the very minute it is released.
Despise not your obscure platform. Kwaku Sakyi Addo, in my view, is Ghana’s most versatile journalist ever. He does radio, TV, print and online and a keen follower cannot tell his area of specialization. But he started from an obscure platform. After leaving GIJ, he was employed by his own classmate, Kwabena Yeboah of GTV’s Sports Highlight fame. And Kwaku’s job description at the defunct publication included carrying newspapers from Accra to Kumasi to distribute.
When I applied for internship at GTV while in school, some friends discouraged me. They said at GTV, I would be an errand boy for lovers of roasted plantain and groundnut. And I wonder the number of young journalists who would have the humility of Kwaku Sakyi Addo to accept employment from their mate’s obscure newspaper, let alone distribute newspaper.
The two-time Ghana Journalist of the Year would later rise to attract the attention of the BBC and other famous international media platforms many journalists aspire to reach. And he really proved his worth on those platforms.
Kwaku Sakyi-Addo is today the CEO of Ghana’s Telecoms Chamber because he made good use of a small platform. Remember he has obscure mates who started on huge platforms such as Daily Graphic, GTV and the rest.
Sometimes what you really need is a small platform. You need such platform to bring out the best in you. If you’re an amateur journalist aiming to be a presenter, finding yourself in the same newsroom with the likes of Komla Dumor, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah and those in their categories may not help you. Your dream of ever hosting a show may never materialize.
Despise not your obscure platform. Small platforms present you the opportunity to do the things that will catch the eyes of the big platforms. If you see or hear the Akwasi Sarpongs and the Komla Dumors on BBC or Anas Aremeyaw Anas on Al Jazeera, know that the BBC or Al Jazeera played very little role in what they are today. They excelled on small platforms back home and caught the attention of the biggest fishes in the industry.
Another advantage of the small platform is that it affords you the opportunity to make all the mistakes so that when you get on to the big platform, you won’t fumble and stumble too much. A masquerade, our Nigerian friends say, does not perform to an outside audience until he performs well at the home base.
Despise not your obscure platform. Anas Aremeyaw Anas might never have come this far, if after graduating from the Ghana Institute of Journalism, he had a job with the Daily Graphic or Joy FM.
I know by now you’re thinking about the difficulty involved in rising from an obscure platform on to a huge one. Once again, let me tell you that difficulty and impossibilities are not synonyms. And when two proverbs don’t mean the same thing, one is not used to explain the other. I have gone through it and should be in a position to allay your fears.
I started my journalism career with no platform at all. I printed my own ID card and labeled myself a “freelance journalist,” a term alien to many people in our part of the world. Tell someone you’re a freelance journalist and they would ask whether it is a radio station or newspaper.
Apart from the difficulty in sometimes getting my stories aired and the absence of financial reward as a freelance journalist, many people turned me down when I requested interviews.
A newsmaker would tell me they are running late and would not talk to journalists. Then in my presence, a reporter from Joy FM> or >Graphic would approach them and they would gleefully speak without ending. Those are even the very polite ones. Some are very rude and you would contemplate quitting as freelancer if you encountered them.
No media house was obliged to use my story. Those which used them often sometimes behaved as though they were doing me a favour. But in those two years, I won eight journalism awards, including the Journalist of the Year, without a platform. And that is what effortlessly earned me a much bigger platform.
Don’t despise your small platform. What you need is determination, perseverance, sacrifice and the spirit of waiting. Yes, wait for your turn. Waiting is necessary because you don’t have to struggle for fame and wealth. Excel in whatever you do and they will follow naturally.
The fact that you are starting on a small and seemingly obscure platform does not mean you’re not good enough to be on a bigger platform. The chick that will grow into a cock, our sages of old say, is spotted the very day it is hatched.
Kwaku Sakyi-Addo’s mates back at the Ghana Institute of Journalism would tell you he showed signs of becoming a great journalist even back at school. And when Komla Dumor was walking around GBC performing obscure roles and doing thankless jobs, any editor worth their salt knew the great potential in him. And the fact that Anas Aremeyaw Anas graduated and headed for the Crusading Guide did not mean his mates who headed for Daily Graphic or GTV or Joy FM were better than him.
Obscure platforms are the best preparatory grounds. They are the platforms on which we can be permitted to face challenging tasks. So don’t despise them.
Sometimes the small platform may not be the media organization but your job. You may be working at a radio station such as GBC or Joy FM, but instead of being a newscaster, your small platform may be the reading of funeral announcements. Yes, an obscure platform on a big network. But don’t despise it. That is when you have to listen to what Martin Luther King Jr once said.
In a speech delivered six months before he was assassinated, to a group of students at Barrat Junior High School in Philadelphia on October 26, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said:
“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.’
“If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. “Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
I used journalism because I am one and the characters in this piece come to mind naturally. But this applies to fields outside journalism. You can make it if only you’re focused. Never think no one is watching you or noticing your exploits. It’s just a matter of time.
And, of course, the help of the ageless Old Man above the azure skies. But until then, despise not your obscure platform. It might turn out to be your best platform. Remember I started without a platform. And an obscure platform is certainly better than no platform at all.
May the God who brought Joseph out of an obscure prison dungeon to be a Prime Minister of Egypt grant you the spirit of perseverance and the humility to accept your obscure platform.
May the God who elevated the young shepherd, David, from the bush to be a great King of Israel grant you the spirit of determination, hard work and sacrifice to move from your small platform to one that is beyond your imagination.
Even if you don’t rise to a bigger platform, history will still remember your excellence.
The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a senior broadcast journalist with Joy FM.