Why I took over Femi Adesina’s job at The Sun — Eric Osagie | Says “I might be the last Apostle of Tabloid Journalism”

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The GDA with SUN MD, Eric Osagie

Eric Osagie is a consummate Nigerian journalist with a career spanning over 25 years. My first encounter with him was an amazing one sometime in November 2009 at Abuja where he held sway as his company’s Managing Editor for Northern Operations. I had just interviewed his boss and Chairman of The Sun Publishing Group, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu who invited me over to one of his palatial homes (Mandela Lodge) at Wuse, Abuja for the exclusive encounter.

Eric Osagie was one of few of Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu’s lieutenants that were billed to follow him on a private trip to Republic of Guinea that very morning. I was happy to meet Eric Osagie who just dumped a political appointment with Edo state Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as his Special Adviser, Public Affairs and Strategy. That was going to be the fulcrum of my ‘exclusive’ with him as the job Eric dropped was considered a plum one.
 I conducted the interview but the gods were not going to allow me publish it. I was about publishing the interview on my return to Lagos when Eric Osagie called from Conakry (The capital of Guinea) appealing to me to drop the ‘exclusive’. Initially, I wasn’t sure I should listen to him but his consistent calls and appeals as a very senior colleague shamed me out of my exuberance and I dropped the story and buried it till date. His reasons were of political and professional bearing as he felt the time was not ripe for his to talk about his job experience and why he resigned as Governor Adams Oshiomhole’s head of media and strategy; and by extension, he was not ready to be in the news as a news manager.  
Until penultimate Tuesday evening; some 5 clears years later did I had another privilege to sit with Eric Osagie who is now the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Publishing, a position formerly held by new Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina who I equally interviewed few days to his appointment.  The encounter with Eric Osagie remains dramatic and suspense filled as he kept booking appointments upon appointments and even when we got the magic moment and started the chat, he suddenly ordered us to stop the tape as he wasn’t feeling free enough to open up. It took some diplomatic craft coupled with journalistic stratagem before he resumed his flowing mood to us. However, the work was done.


The GDA engaging Eric Osagie during the encounter

Eric Osagie; Profile @ Large
Eric Osagie is a prose stylist, public affairs analyst and one of Nigeria’s most engaging interviewers, he rose through the ranks as Staff Writer, Chief Correspondent, Deputy Features Editor of the award winning defunct Weekend Concord, and was later appointed Features Editor of National Concord in 1998. He had earlier had a brief stint with Thisday newspaper and National Interest newspaper where he served as one of the pioneer editors. He was pioneer editor of Abuja Bureau of The Sun Newspaper in 2002 and was later promoted as Editor, Northern Operations. In 2008 he was appointed Special Adviser, Public Affairs and Strategy to Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo state, South-South Nigeria. He returned to The Sun Publishing Ltd the following year as Managing Editor. He later became Executive Director of The Sun Publishing where he oversaw various sections of the organization like Special Services and Publication with emphasis on editorial and commercial content of the newspaper. Today, he sits atop the media empire as the number 1 officer and image maker of the company. When we paid him a visit last Tuesday, Eric Osagie opened up for the very first time in his 25 years career in Journalism saying it all to your Africa’s number 1 Celebrity Encounter blog Asabeafrika. It was a vintage man of news and style who gave a bit of his career and why he took over from Femi Adesina. Find a drink with a tasty snack meal and enjoy the Part 1 of the Eric Osagie exclusive. Enjoy!


Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika....'Innovation kept THE SUN as market leader

Let’s congratulate you for your new position as the Managing Director of Sun Newspaper. How are you finding the industry?
We thank God, it is a very tough industry and I can say it is not only tough for the media; it is tough for different sectors of the economy simply because of the economic meltdown. What you have is a situation where virtually every sector is affected. Both the banking sector, oil sector and every other sector but ours is worse because every input in the business is import dependent, from your newsprint to ink and every other article of production.

Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika....'Majority of us trained by Mike Awoyinfa have sat as MD of Media Organizations'

Microsoft founder Bill Gate once said that in decades to come, we will have two set of people; those going out of business and those on the internet?
Of course, if you see people holding newspapers papers today, they are virtually going to be in their 30s, in their 40s and all that. Young people don’t hold papers anymore, they hold their tablets and with the tablet they can see and read everything. It is a gradual thing and it is something that is gaining ground but despite that, I believe the conventional newspaper will continue to exist side by side the new media. To do that, innovation is key; we need to create a niche market which we have successfully done with our own brand.

Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika...'Having a loyal reader's base and a committed management is the biggest asset of THE SUN

Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika....'Running a media business today is fraught with great challenges

I was going to ask that despite the challenges in the media sector, your brand, THE SUN has remained a market leader and it is acknowledged to be one of the 5 newspapers that can conveniently pay staff salary in today’s Nigeria?
Let me tell you, first, The Sun is a very unique newspaper. Right from the beginning, those who pioneered it; our editor who is our boss, Mr. Mike Awoyinfa and his partner, the late Dimgba Igwe are people you call “Kings of the Tabloid” and “Tabloid Salesmen”. These are people who came consciously to create a unique brand and we are people you will call their apostles and disciples as it were. We have all been together at the Weekend Concord, they we our editors. So, it was like the hand just fitting into the glove. The Sun was created as a very breezy newspaper that was different from the onset. It was not only different but was seen to be truly different in terms of the humanizing angle to reporting and it became an instant hit because of its unique style, one of the few newspapers to break into the market within six months. For some of us, it is a privilege to follow in the illustrious footsteps of great newsmen like Mike Awoyinfa, like Femi Adesina, Dimgba Igwe and of course everybody who has been managing director here added something. Mike Awoyinfa and Dimgba Igwe dug the foundation, built it to what it became. Tony Onyima came, added his own blocks and took it to a level. Femi Adesina, very great newsman and media manager also took it to the level it is now.  So, my duty is to add my own blocks and take it to the next level. 

“Young people don’t hold papers anymore, they hold their tablets and with the tablet they can see and read everything. It is a gradual thing and it is something that is gaining ground but despite that, I believe the conventional newspaper will continue to exist side by side the new media”.

Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika....'I was on a rescue mission to save Daily Telegraph and i delivered in 9 months

There is this perception that Eric Osagie is probably the last man standing in the generation of tabloid salesmen? When Mr. Adesina was called to national assignment in Abuja, you were dragged from Daily Telegraph to come and run The Sun and that spoke volume of the scarcity of tabloid makers?
Yeah, I have always been with this brand as one of its pioneer editors; and when Telegraph was wobbling, I went on a rescue mission because the Chairman of the company, a great business man and visionary leader knows the craft of this business in terms of the business side and he could also suggest some things for you to do. So, he said ‘look, I want you to go there and rescue it’. So, what I have done is a turn-around even though it has not started yielding the kind of turnover we are envisaging. In changing the fortune of Daily Telegraph I adopted the three Ps; I call it my own three Ps which is Product, Perception and Pricing. I didn’t want Telegraph to look like any other paper because I identified that newspaper is about design and headline which we call aesthetics. So, the people I met on ground were fantastic guys and I enjoined them to let’s do it and we re-designed the paper and it caught the right attention in the market. Of course I didn’t hold the mouse but I told them what I wanted and it was achieved. I also introduced some processes to the company and in 9 months, it has began to compete and I put confidence in my team, I said look if people ask you ‘what is Telegraph?’ tell them that ‘it is a new paper’. You are only older but not better because older is not necessarily better. So, I put that confidence in my team that “Yeah, Telegraph is a new paper but it is not older and in 9 months, advertising community began to recognize it, corporate advert began to come. It was now ‘oh, this paper is new’ not that ‘this is a bad paper’ and they are still following that tradition but when it came to the point that my colleague and friend, we have been together for a while. We have been together right from the Concord Newspaper days and he answered a national call to serve in the government of his hero, Muhammadu Buhari, it became my lot to lead here.

Gbenga Dan Asabe with SUN's pioneer MD, Mr. Mike Awoyinfa
The GDA speaking to the immediate MD, Femi Adesina in the same office 6 weeks ago

The Chairman said ‘Well, you have been on leave of absence at the Telegraph, go and manage The Sun’. For me, it is a privilege to do so. If you say I am one of the last apostles standing, if you really check our system here, I don’t think anybody in old Weekend Concord is still here, who studied at the feet of the masters, I can say Mike Awoyinfa deed a lot to build our career. We used to say we went to the University of The Weekend Concord and incidentally today those of us who went through that school ended up one way or the other being managing directors of newspapers. Shola Oshunkeye is in Ghana as managing director, I am here as managing director and Femi Adesina was managing director. So, from one news room, you have three managing directors. And before now, in my own case, I have been managing director of two newspapers. Within a short time I have managed Telegraph and I am now here. so, if you say ‘last apostle’ well, I am trying to think if anybody was with us at the Weekend Concord here and it may be difficult to find and we regard it as a great privilege and honor to have learnt at the feet of our two masters of the industry.

Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika....'Working at Weekend Concord was the best thing that happend to us'
The GDA in a similar pose with Former MD, Femi Adesina few days before he was called up to Abuja

Yes, truly we had our own individual quality but at the Weekend Concord, everything came out because you had to be good to work there. You don’t come to meetings and say ‘I have no ideas’. Or you say ‘I didn’t see a story’ you just can’t survive. Every week was a battle as everybody was fighting to hit the cover and prose was what we ate; we ate prose so to say. Your story had to be dramatic; there have to be some creativity. And for some of us, only one story was what it took for me to be employed at Weekend Concord and it was history because Mike Awoyinfa will not employ based on mere recommendation. It was like ‘Oh, you wrote this?’ and he was so excited and he wrote a memo saying “Please, employ him immediately”. So, it has been really great working with the masters. It is something we look back and say ‘look, we had great time learning’. We had great time enjoying what we were doing and we used to joke that even you didn’t pay us, we will still enjoy doing it, and it was not for the money. We were just enjoying ourselves doing it; writing great prose, meeting people and just generally living our lives the way we want it.

“We used to say we went to the University of The Weekend Concord and incidentally today those of us who went through that school ended up one way or the other being managing directors of newspapers. Shola Oshunkeye is in Ghana as managing director, I am here as managing director and Femi Adesina was managing director”

The Sun MD with two of his top staff, Mr. Kunle Solaja (R) and Executive Director, Special Duties Mr. Bolaji Tunji

What is it like to run a media organization in this era, what are the ups and downs like? 
Running any business in Nigeria today is tough. Running the media is akin to working a mine’s field. You are buffeted by all kinds of challenges. First, skyrocketing inputs like newsprint and general cost of production and then, the buying power of the Nigerian public is reducing. Then, you have the onslaught of the social media. Those are the challenges that are facing every CEO in the media industry of today. It is a global challenge. My challenge is to sustain our brand and take it to the next level and it is no means task. It is a team work and I am just the captain of the team; I can’t be everywhere all the time but our task is to take this brand from where the relay is to the next step, they have handed me the baton. 

Mr. Eric Osagie explaining a point to Asabeafrika's Gbenga Dan Asabe

My own now is to take it to the next level and when my race is finished I hand over to another person. In sustaining and maintaining the brand, we have to look for alternative means like doing projects, organizing events and look inward for ways to generate sustainability because investors don’t want to hear ‘oh, the climate is very bad, so there is nothing for us. The big challenge is to keep this brand as one of the market leaders, it must not go down. Instead, it must move to the next level. So, it is a very big challenge but luckily for us also, we have very loyal readers who have accepted SUN as a brand and we don’t take them for granted. Ours is to continue to give them what they want to read. Something exciting; our core belief is that what we do yesterday must change today. We must keep exciting the readers with creative journalism. We must not look like others, if we look like others then; we have no business being in this business.  Anytime I talk with my team, I say to them ‘look, this is a creative business. So, we are evolving. And today, we remain a market leader in our own right.

Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika....'The Sun brand is a refreshingly unique brand'
Eric Osagie to Asabeafrika...'Adopting my three Ps of Product, Perception & Pricing helped to re-brand Daily Telegrapgh'

(Read Part 2 of The Eric Osagie Exclusive “Why I left Adams Oshiomhole’s Government” after this time out)

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