British-Nigerian Femi Oke is one journalist that you have undoubtedly heard about. The current Al Jazeera’s social media show “The Stream” host is someone who has started her journalism career since she was 14 years old and has worked her way through top-notch media houses like CNN, BBC, SKY and now Al Jazeera.
Walking in for the interview with Femi my natural instinct was to curtsey. I was in awe. This is someone I did a school project on about 4 years ago and I was getting me meet and interview her. She really was nothing like I had built up in my head and she was easy to talk to and laugh with.
Femi was kind enough to sit down with us at FAB for an exclusive, quick yet informative interview. She spoke on the use of social media, being a part of the African community, her journalism lessons so far and so much more.
FAB: Has being the host for a hip social media show opened you up to actually being familiar with social media because I noticed that you have a Tumblr account and not a lot of people know about Tumblr yet but you are on it
FO: Do you know what I was doing a few years ago – I realized that traditional media was morphing into new media and if you don’t stay relevant then you’ll become some sort of old dinosaur and you’ll notice that if you look at my Facebook page, Twitter page, it all goes back to the same time – a couple of years ago. So I was already thinking how do you stay in the game as a journalist and it used to be that if you don’t have a business card you don’t, you know, now it’s like you don’t have a website what’s wrong with you? You don’t tweet? My test for people is “Do you tweet?”, so I know the type of person you are – the one who tweets and the ones who don’t tweet. It was deliberate on my part and the other thing was that I wanted to write online so I started to. You’ll see more of my stories online in digital publications. So I was actually thinking “This is the future” and I was starting to plug into all of these things. It really was deliberate I was aware that media was changing and in order to be on top of that you also have to have all of those tools. Having said that it’s very hard to keep up; your Tumblr, your blog, your Facebook, to schedule all your tweets. I mean it’s a lot of work; it’s like a full-time job.
FAB: So do you ever get tired of the Internet?
FO: No, in fact it’s the opposite. I wish I got tired of it so I could stop. I was up till like 2am this morning scheduling my tweets at the right time because I knew I had to do interviews today, putting my Facebook posts up – but I am a social media current affairs host so that is my job, my life. I literally tweet everyday including my birthday and Christmas day.
FAB: Do you think social media is necessarily for a younger crowd?
FO: I think a younger crowd has embraced it but look at how many people are on Facebook right now, it’s mostly older people. So I feel as things become more mainstream then the younger crowd look for something new because they don’t want to be the same as the old crowd. I think it’s a great way to connect, very easy and mostly quite cheap to do if not free and that is very appealing to younger people.
FO: It’s been a lot of fun. I used to pick my job when I was younger with “How many places can I go to with this particular job, and how much fun am I going to have?” I did that until I was about 30 and then I realized that I needed a different strategy so I became more of “Ok where do I want to be in 5 years’ time?” I started to ask “Where do I want to see myself when I hit 40?” and all of those things and so I actually started to plan. But I think if you think your job is the most fun and where do you get to go in the world that’s not a bad for a young person and it’s been amazing, it’s taken me all over. Now I think – for instance the job I have right now, I watched the stream when it first started and I loved it and I actually thought “That is a great job, I want that job”. And I looked and looked and looked till there was a vacancy and I could not believe it when the vacancy came up and I literally applied for it online and I got the job.
FAB: When you first got the job I read on your blog that you felt it was a perfect fit like a good pair of jeans, do you still feel that way?
FO: Absolutely. More so now than ever.
FAB: Ok. You helped launch “Inside Africa” as well as being a host for the show, what brought about the idea for you?
FO: It was actually an idea that was going around CNN for a while because they were doing so little coverage on Africa and people were complaining and CNN at the time was very widely watched you could watch CNN all over the continent and people were complaining. They would do like half a story or one story a week on Africa and yet the audience was big but nobody was really seeing anything. I think we had about 3 African correspondents in CNN but there was very little coverage and it always terrible coverage. It was always a murder scene or crisis or political election that was going wrong. So a couple of people got together and lobbied, and one of them was Jim Clancy, he’s still at CNN and is a great friend of mine. We thought we need a weekly show about Africa where we can look at Africa in all of its breadth and depth and Jim and I started doing a little 15 minute thing on a Saturday, we started doing it for fun. He was anchoring the Saturday news and I would do a little thing – we just put all the African stories we could find together and at the end I’ll do a little African weather forecast just for the fun of it because there was no African content on CNN. Then this turned into Inside Africa which turned into a much bigger tradition. It has changed since when I was hosting it so now there is more of a travelogue as opposed to more current affairs from the African continent. I liked it when it was current Affairs because I felt there were stories that had to be told as opposed to a travelogue kind of program. But I think any network that has coverage from Africa; I will never criticize them for that and I think there is always more to be done.
FO: It’s funny when I get off the plane wherever I am, whether I am in South Africa or Kenya or Nigeria, wherever I turn out to be I feel like my shoulders come down from my ears you know. You know that tenseness that is up by your ears and then you relax your shoulders and you take a deep breath – that’s how I feel wherever I am. I feel like it fits. It’s like a little part of the puzzle that was missing. I grew up in London, I was born in London, I live in America so I’m part of the diaspora but I think there’s a little bit of me that it’s just, it’s my place here. It’s just something as simple as you don’t stand out. Nobody is staring at me when I walk into a theatre like “Oh my God, what is that black girl doing in this theatre?” and it changes the way you walk. When you notice people are looking at you, you hold yourself in a different way and you act a different way. Not necessarily in a bad way, like you have that confidence and you feel like you’re representing. Whereas whenever I am back home, either in Nigeria or anywhere around the world, I’m not representing anybody other than myself. I’m not representing an entire country or an entire race or whatever so it feels good to be, when I get off the plane, and I’m literally anywhere because people greet me and say “My sister” and kids hug me like “I did my school project on you” and old men greet me and it’s just wonderful. I feel like it’s a community and I think here’s a great example and I think it explains a lot better than I have – when this World Cup was going on in South Africa, we all had our various teams that we were supporting but soon as that team was out then we went to the next African team to support, soon as that team was out then we went to the next one. Even in Nigeria where we love to play football we were supporting other teams. In Europe if your team is knocked out, like if Germany is knocked out you don’t support France, you don’t then go and support England that doesn’t happen. But for the African continent we were just supporting each other, we were just proud of each other. I think that to me, that camaraderie, that sense of community is what we have.
FO: For me the most important lesson for me is if somebody tells you a No, that’s not the end of it. For me when you get a knockback I think you can evaluate why that happened and think of another way to get to where you want to. Here’s a great example, I heard that CNN had jobs in the metrological department several years ago. I sent a letter to the boss and he sent me back a rejection letter saying sorry we’re not looking for anybody right now. And I kept that letter and then 3 year later I saw that job posted so I was ahead of my time – I applied to the job and I got the job. So he told me No, and I went back and I reapplied and then I got the job. And I think that’s really important to know that just because someone says No that’s not where you stop otherwise if we didn’t have challenges how do we begin to form our character?
FAB: How are you able to create some time for your social life?
FO: My job is incredibly social and a lot of fun. For instance I am working this week but I’m at Social Media Week Lagos so the whole thing is a lot of fun. I’m lucky that what I work the hardest at is also pleasure too.
FAB: Thank you so much for chatting with us it has been awesome
Catch some videos of Femi Oke on ‘The Stream’ below and follow her on Twitter @FemiOke