Ray Echebiri is the chief executive of Centre for Financial Journalism (CFJ). A consummate financial journalist, author and development economist, Echebiri, in this interview with Olaseni Durojaiye, speaks on capacity deficit among financial journalists and how the centre can help bridge that gap, among other issues. Excerpts:

What informed the decision to set up Centre for Financial Journalism?

The establishment of Centre for Financial Journalism (CFJ Nigeria) was informed by what I will term the slow advancement of Financial Journalism in the country, especially when compared to what obtains in many other countries of the world. The financial journalists in Nigeria, yes they are doing their best but when compared with their counterparts in other climes you find that they are not really doing well. And I really cannot blame them for that because there is really a dearth of capacity building programmes for them.

Another factor is that they all come from different backgrounds. Some are graduates of Mass Communication, Journalism, English, Political Science and many other disciplines, and they are deployed to the Business Desk to cover, for instance, the Capital Market, Money Market. Nobody trains them, they are simply told to go out there and get the story. I noticed that there is a knowledge gap and this needs to be addressed. I feel there is need to train financial journalists, to arm them with the necessary knowledge and skills so that they can churn out better stories, articles and analyses that can help their readers to take those life-changing decisions. Essentially, that was the prompting for the establishment of the Centre for Financial Journalism.

You organized a lecture in March; what was the response like and was it part of the build up to setting up the centre?

The response was overwhelming. And it was covered by all the major newspapers, radio and television stations and online publications in the country. The lecture flagged off the activities of the centre. As a matter of fact, we believe that was the day that the centre actually took off.

To run the centre will definitely require funds, how do you plan to raise the funds?

The initial funds to put the facilities that will be needed and get the whole place running has been provided by the Directors of the Centre. After that we will seek support for the activities of the centre because what we will be doing is not for us to make profits from it and put the money in our pockets. What we are pursuing is an altruistic cause. We will be training financial journalists to report and write for the benefit of everybody. So we will seek support from individuals, corporate organizations and international organizations as well. That said; we will not be going to them to ask for money that we will put in our bank accounts or pockets. No. What we plan to do is to design programmes that individuals, corporate organizations and international organisations can sponsor.

They don’t even need to give us the money. It could be by endowing chairs or taking full sponsorship of particular programmes. It could also be a situation when we want to host a programme that requires bringing facilitators from abroad, a sponsor could decide to pay the bills – like the flight ticket, lodging and all the logistics. So they don’t even need to give us the cash. What is important to us is to get the centre running and get journalists – not just financial journalists, any journalists – to benefit from the centre’s training and in turn impact the society. As a matter of fact, every journalist irrespective of the beat he covers should be interested in, and should understand what is happening in the financial sector and the economy at large. This is the reason why we will not limit our training to only financial journalists.

Who will the faculty members of the centre be?

The faculty will be peopled by different professionals with different backgrounds. The faculty will be broad because when we say financial journalism, it is not restricted to the Capital Market and the Money Market alone; it also includes Energy, Branding and Marketing, Maritime; in fact, financial journalism touches almost all aspects of journalism. So what it then means is that we will be having bankers, economists, lawyers; we will also be having those who specialize in financial journalism, communication, English language, etc.

How about specific names that we know of?

We have people like Ayo Arowolo, Ijeoma Nwaogwugwu, Stanley Egbochukwu, who are ace financial journalists. We also have financial experts like Femi Awoyemi, Tilewa Adebajo and Boniface Chizea. Other experts who are members of the faculty are Martin Oluba, Christian Udechukwu, Angela Agoawike, Funke Egbemode, Harry Willie, Jamilah Tangaza, John Wesey and Garba Deen Muhammad.

What are the short, medium and long term objectives of the center?

The short term objective is to upscale the skills set of Financial Journalists through training programmes and cutting edge research. But, we will not be training just financial journalists; we will be training all journalists in financial journalism. For instance, we want an Editor who edits a newspaper or a Controller in a radio or television station to understand what is happening in the economy; we want him/her to be well skilled in financial journalism so that when the financial journalists bring their stories to him/her he will be able to understand and appreciate what they have written.

In the medium term, we want to be able to run programmes that will last for about a week. Then in the long term, we want to grow the centre to an extent that it will be affiliated to reputable institutions both outside and within the country; and then offer diploma and even degree programmes in financial journalism. This already obtains abroad; many journalists are specializing in financial journalism. It is a big thing abroad, but I don’t know of any institution that offers financial journalism either at degree level or post graduate level in Nigeria but it is there outside the country.

Is the centre modeled after any training institution?

CFG Nigeria is not modeled after any institution in the country. Again, what we will be doing will be different from what similar institutions abroad are doing. For instance, even if we are mounting a programme on Capital Market Reporting, we will incorporate writing skill, reporting skill, ethics, etc. into the programme. We will be running trainings on financial journalism all through the year and for different cadres of journalists. Our scope is quite wide; we are also targeting members of Editorial Boards and title Editors, etc. and to expose them to financial journalism.

That sounds like what obtains at the Pan Atlantic University’s School of Media and Communication?

Not really. What we’re trying to do at CFJ Nigeria is that we will be bringing in people who are either practising financial journalism, or who have distinguished themselves in financial journalism practice or those who are currently doing their thing in other areas that we think we need to build capacity for financial journalists. It’s not about just bringing people; we want to bring people that have practical, hands-on experience in financial journalism to train the journalist and even mentor some.

What will the cost implication be for the journalists who want to benefit from what the centre offers?

I have worked in some media houses and I can tell you that at no point was I sent on any kind of training by any of the media organizations. Most times, institutions from outside of the media did. At the beginning of my career, the United State Information Service (now Public Affairs Section) of the United States Embassy was the major institution that took up the challenge of training journalists in financial journalism. And I benefited from such trainings. So I am not expecting the media houses, be they newspapers, radio or television stations, to pay for their staff members who want to train at the centre, and like I mentioned earlier, journalists write for the benefit of the whole society, so it will be a payback for organizations to identify a journalist or some journalists and sponsor them for a training programme at the centre to help upscale their writing, reportorial and analytical skills.

We don’t plan to bother owners of media organizations but at some point they will have to foot the expense if we have to conduct in-house training for their staff members, where it will be exclusive to staff members of a particular organization. We will also be having sponsored programmes in which case we will write to media houses to nominate some of their reporters or correspondents to participate in our programmes. So we don’t really expect the journalists or the media houses they work for to pay for the trainings.

Will objective reporting not be compromised with the arrangement of depending on corporate organizations to fund some of the training programmes?

There won’t be any conflict of interest. If any company is sponsoring any of our programmes it should be seen as part of the company’s corporate social responsibility. If they expect any kind of benefit it will be in the improvement in the financial reporting standard that the journalists will display after they must have benefitted from the training programme. Besides, it is not all the time that we will reveal the identity of sponsors to participants, so they may not even know who the sponsors are; it is only when they need to know that they should know. And even if they know, it doesn’t stop them from writing their stories if that organization is not doing the right things; that does not cage them at all. More so, in all our programmes, we will have an aspect that touches on ethics – objectivity, truth and trust, because as a journalist the position you hold is that of public trust and you need to use it and use it very well.

What are your thoughts on the belief that journalists rarely make good business managers?

I won’t say it is totally true or totally false; but the fact is that journalists are trained to write stories especially as a reporter or correspondent. Many media organizations don’t bother to expose their editorial staff to trainings in the area of management or leadership. When it concerns reporters, we may not dwell so much on management and all that but when we begin to get to the level of Editors we will be interested in building capacity for them in the area of management and leadership because at that level they should also be thinking about how to manage the resources of their organizations efficiently. For instance, line Editors have people working under them, so the challenge of human resource management comes in; so also with the title Editors.

At that level they should be thinking as business persons, always having at the back of their mind the survival and growth of their media organisations. This cadre of journalists should be exposed to management and leadership trainings. So I think it is because we’ve been focusing on stories too much that we forget that there are other things that contribute to making the media organization work.

Who are the directors of the center?

The board is made up of very eminent Nigerians who have acquitted themselves creditably in their chosen professions. Like our Chairman, a former deputy governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Ernest Ebi; Dr. Oladimeji Alo, who took Financial Institutions Training Centre (FITC) from nothing to something that everybody talks about when it comes to capacity building for the financial services sector; Professor Akpan Ekpo, former Vice Chancellor of University of Uyo and currently the Director General of West African Institute for Financial and Economic Management; Dr. Uju Ogubunka, former Registrar of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria; and Bukola Onifade, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria. These are people who are committed to the mission and vision of the Centre.