Nigerian tech media vs Founders; how to be an honest broker of news

Dennis Da-ala Mirilla
Nigerian tech media vs Founders; how to be an honest broker of news

As the Nigerian tech news corp reported critical analytical pieces and countless groundbreaking investigative reports all through last year, increasing accusations of bias, a lack of balance and sensationalism have been levied against the media, on both social media, via emails and sometimes in person. Others have called out a lack of research in the ecosystem’s reports.

But nothing captures this disgruntlement quite like the feisty LinkedIn exchange with Techpoint Africa’s managing editor, Emmanuel Paul and the Nigerian investor Iyinoluwa Aboyeji. After Paul accused African founders of refusing to speak to journalists working for Nigerian news outlets,

Aboyeji called out what he said was “poor” writing and an obsession with page views and sensationalism by journalists working for Nigerian companies. He added that local media had not earned the right to tell the stories of the founders.

“The writing is poor. They get a lot of detail and context wrong because they don’t understand the technology business and some of them optimize for page views and sensationalism over facts and education. We need to tell our stories but local media must earn the right to do so because if the stories are told poorly then we might as well not tell them at all,” Aboyeji posted.

But media bigwigs Technext spoke to weave a tale that contrasts sharply with some founders’ and investors’ narratives.

Jessica Hope, the founder of the PR firm Wimbart, which represents multiple Nigerian tech companies, said that some parties might sense a general bias in the coverage of tech companies by the African tech news corp because of the ecosystem’s terrible year in 2022, which led to more critical pieces from the press.

How to be an honest broker of news Jessica Hope_Wimbart_head shot (Resize)
Jessica Hope, the founder of PR firm, Wimbart

“If we look back at 2022, this was arguably Africa tech’s most controversial year to date. But, the reporting was also heavily driven by local, on-the-ground journalists which shows there’s definitely a strong crop of news outlets who are more than ready to hold startups accountable if necessary,” she said.

Olumuyiwa Olowogboyega, TechCabal’s new newsroom editor, who also writes the substack NotADeepDive where he covers the tech industry, said that the criticism is the residue of years of favourable coverage of the ecosystem by local journalists.

“For a long time, tech reporting has been flattering to founders and their ventures. So today, any sort of criticism is met with anger”

Olumuyiwa Olowogboyega

“Before critical stories are published, most publications will give you {the subject} a right of response. If you think they’ve got the angle wrong, maybe provide your correct angle?” he added.

David Adeleke, Rest of World’s new Africa editor, who also writes the media substack Communiqué said that if at all there is bias in the reporting, the bias comes from media outlets with “friendly news stories” about founders and their ventures.

“I would ask what the accusation of “bias” leans towards. If it’s that local tech coverage is generally soft and favourable to founders, then yes, there is a bias in that regard. You’re more likely to find friendly news stories and reports in the local press about founders than you are to find critical pieces,” he said.

Adeleke added that this has created a culture in which criticism is not welcome. “Whenever those critical pieces come out, they get pushback because the general tone of friendliness has created a culture of entitlement where founders feel they cannot be questioned or challenged,” he said.

Frank Eleanya, who covers the tech industry for BusinessDay, said that the charge against the media is all but people looking for someone to hold responsible when bad things happen.

Read also: How Malik Afegbua is reimagining African storytelling with AI-generated art

“When things like this happen, there is always someone that you want to hold responsible as a scapegoat,” he said, referencing the underwhelming performance of tech companies last year.

“What we write, we don’t conjure from our heads. We don’t wake up and say let’s hype this person even though he doesn’t have anything. We are constantly talking to venture capitalists and founders. They are the ones that give us the information in the stories that we write”

In October last year, after Risevest’s former CEO, Eke Urum, was cleared of sexual assault and harassment allegations levied against him at the company, he took issue with a TechCabal report on the matter that said he would not be reinstated as CEO, calling it at the time “irresponsible.” He said that he made the decision to step aside for the independent investigation to happen, and he was not kicked out.

After he released his statement critical of the report, TechCabal included his new statement in its report. While that could be seen as a lexical much-ado-about-nothing, it could be the difference between “disgraced CEO” and “former CEO.”

On what makes an excellent journalist report from the perspective of a PR expert, Hope of Wimbart believes all journalists should be sure of their facts before publishing any news piece, and an excellent journalistic report has its facts correct. “News travels incredibly fast and it can be tricky to change a narrative once it’s covered by a lot of outlets so journalists really have a huge responsibility in ensuring their fact-checking is water-tight,” she said.

“PR people need to provide information in a timely manner, and they also need to manage their own internal stakeholders – helping the CEO, for example, to prioritise sign-off or confirmation on a fast-moving news story – this is essential to assist the journalist and ensure they have everything to hand,” she added.

How to be an honest broker of news

Others media watchers have latched onto the incident as emblematic of a pattern of local journalists inserting their personal opinions into their reporting.

Olowogboyega, who wasn’t at TechCabal at the time of the incident, speaking broadly about personal opinions in reporting, said it’s important for journalists to present the company’s perspective in their story.

“No one likes being criticised, especially when you’ve spent years building something,” he said. “I think it’s always important for journalists to have their perspectives but to also present the perspective of the company they’re reporting on. Your audience is intelligent enough to spot where the truth lies.”

It then begs the question. If analysis, the part of the reporting that brings context to the event or opinion, when the writer gives his/her opinion on the event, can co-exist in the Nigerian tech ecosystem going forward.

“You can’t divorce your opinions from analysis. There are biases in analysis, no matter how much we try to eliminate them,” Olowogboyega said. “Sometimes interpreting the data we’re looking at also comes down to bias. It’s kinda why newsrooms have editors, to trim down on this kind of things and present analysis as level-headed even when they are critical.”

Eleanya, the BusinessDay reporter, said that the litmus test lies in the reporter’s ability to be truthful.

“It is staying on the path of truth. If something is wrong, say it is wrong,” he said. “If there is a law that says something of wrong don’t go and bring the other people that say it’s not wrong and say these other people are saying this is not wrong. I have issues trying to understand whoever writes that way,” he added.

Jessica Hope of Wimbart said that facts are the key to unbias reporting.

Journalism trades in facts and that is (or should be) an underlying principle for every reporter,” she said. But she adds the caveat that journalists should have access to the story source for this to happen.

“If anything, access to the story source should make for better factual reporting even if this hasn’t 100% been the case. It is important that African tech companies and the news media view themselves as partners and equal stakeholders in the tech ecosystem. The success of one is an opportunity for the other.”

In the past few years, as the African tech industry became even more attractive to foreign investors, there has been a trend of founders opting to speak with foreign media and offering them exclusives, including major funding and rebranding announcements, leaving local journalists to form their reporting of the foreign media report.

Hope, the Wimbart founder, said that she doesn’t support the foreign media first approach, arguing that both local and foreign media play significant roles in shaping the narrative around a startup. Instead, she advises her clients to engage both local and foreign media.

“Yes there are some founders that prioritise international outlets over local ones – at Wimbart we try and advise our clients against this approach as we think it’s important to engage with both,” she said.

“Entrepreneurs all over the world require that their stories are well told and on reputable platforms. The nuances of these stories are sometimes best captured by local journalists and amplified by international platforms to achieve a global reach,” she added.

Emmanual Paul, the Techpoint Africa editor who had the exchange with the investor, said he was surprised that some people missed the intention of his LinkedIn post. But added that founders are choosing to engage with foreign media because of the influx of foreign investors investing in African startups.

How to be an honest broker of news

“The major reason many of the founders publish in foreign houses is just because of exposure to foreign investors,” he said. He added that the allegations of sensationalism against the ecosystem are not without merit, saying he has seen some reports recently where the event is blown out of proportion, especially in some newsletters. “Sometimes it happens, even internally,” Paul said of reports blown out of proportion. “Once in a while. But it’s a side effect of the model that we choose to operate, the whole page view model.”

He added that there is room for growth in the quality of journalism coming out of the ecosystem. “Most of the newsrooms are understaffed. We actually just can’t keep up with everything,” he said.

Paul said that it would be difficult to find an objective story because the concept of objectivity itself is subjective. “It depends on who is defining what balance is. Can a journalist really be objective in this day and age? Can the founder be objective?” he said.

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