Q&A with OWM International Journalist of the Year winner, Philip Obaji Jr.

Highlights from our Instagram Live with OWM International Journalist of the Year winner, Philip Obaji Jr about where to start with telling stories from an entire continent.

 

Q. How did you find yourself in investigative journalism? 

Philip: Let me start from the very beginning. I’m a sports lover and I love football. I support Manchester United and so growing up, when I was 15, in 2000, I went to a local radio station in Calabar, a city in Southern Nigeria, called the Calabar Broadcasting Corporation. I went to the management and said I wanted to become a sports analyst. And surprisingly, they gave me a chance on the radio. 

When the Boko Haram insurgency began in Nigeria, I noticed that a lot of kids had fled their homes in northern Nigeria to Calabar, where I lived. I interviewed them and asked why they fled. They said their homes had been destroyed by Boko Haram and that some of their peers had been conscripted by the Boko Haram insurgent group. So I began to think, how can we prevent more children from getting conscripted? I travelled to Maiduguri in the northeast to see the level of disruption and when I returned to Calabar, I wrote about my experience and shared it on social media. 

An editor with the Daily Beast saw this article and reached out to me to ask if I was willing to join the outlet to write about human rights issues. I said yes and that was how it began. This was in 2015 and I haven’t looked back. 

 

Q. For someone who wants to be a journalist in the continent, where do they start? 

Philip:  When someone tells me they are interested in writing stories for more established platforms, I say that editors want to check out your work first. If you say you are a writer and have a good story, that may not be enough. The editor wants to see the work you’ve done. So I encourage people to create a blog and even publish their work on LinkedIn. Write and share articles on social media or Medium. 

Meanwhile, it is no longer difficult to find these editors like in The Guardian UK, Al Jazeera or The Daily Beast because their emails are usually on their social media profiles. 

 

 

Q. How can journalists get their story into mainstream media? What does that process look like?

Philip: If you don’t have the approval to focus on a story, you are taking a gamble because you could go out there and do a good story and not find a platform to publish it. It’s really important to know how to pitch a story because it begins with that. So, pitching a story means you have a very strong story and know exactly how important it is. You have to convince an editor what new ideas you brought up that are different from what has been told on that topic in the past and why the story has to be told at this time. Knowing the best time to approach someone or an editor is key in freelance journalism.

 

Q. What influenced you to apply for the One World Media awards and that category?

Philip: Last year I did a lot of reports on the Wagner group and also on how victims of human trafficking ended up in sex slavery. My editors thought we’ve done a lot of exclusives and decided to enter many of my stories for several awards in the United States. But I entered the One World Media Awards on my own. Initially, I thought about entering the Refugee Reporting category, but then I realised that not every story I’ve reported involves refugees. The only other category I could think of was International Journalist of the Year. And people encouraged me to go for that category because they felt I had written so much explosive about the Wagner group that should be recognised. If I didn’t get that encouragement, I wouldn’t have been confident enough to enter in this category.

 

Watch the full session on Instagram.