In the wake of the #EndSARS protests that rocked Nigeria in October, one television station, Arise News, has shot to the limelight for its unique coverage of the series of events that resonated with young Nigerians, especially on social media.
Shortly before the protests, we talked to Laila Johnson-Salami, a journalist and news anchor at Arise News. She spoke about her life, career, and how with more young people actively sharing and discussing clips from the news channel, she appears to have reached one of her goals — getting more young people to watch the channel. Here’s how she works.
- Current role: Journalist at Arise News
- Location: Ikoyi, Lagos.
- Current computer: MacBook Pro
- Current mobile device: iPhone 11 Pro
- Describe how you work in one word: Structured
Tell us briefly how you started and how you got where you are today.
My career started when I was 15 years old. I launched my first blog, LAffairs, which was focused on getting current news to a young demographic in an appealing way. So I looked for other young people interested in writing blog posts on LAffairs, and the idea was to see LAffairs become a huge media agency for young people. In 2014 when I was 16 years old, I launched Our Vision Nigeria, my first NGO. The idea was to establish an NGO leading up to the 2019 election because we believed that by 2019, a certain percentage of young Nigerians would be out there voting.
When you’re young, the amazing ideas you start up with don’t always have longevity. But I would say that’s where my career kicked off, and I started to understand more about myself, my passion, and what I was interested in. Luckily, I had a mother who supported my passion and never wanted her children to hold back. She saw my interest, and she asked if I wanted to intern at the House of Commons during my summer holidays. And that was my first proper job.
I interned at the House of Commons in the UK and shadowed Chris Williamson — an MP representing a constituency in the midlands — for a few weeks. I sat in on many meetings, and he allowed me to go into the House of Commons library to do my research on matters that were relevant to me.
I did a lot of policy work for him on human rights, and that was when I realised that I wanted to study politics and international relations at the university. During my uni years, I continued working and got a job as a journalist for a US-based company. They had an NGO called Africa Rizing, and they were looking for young Africans across the world who were interested in coming to write for them; I wrote for them for about a year. I also did a lot of charity work and then became an ambassador for Girl Rising, an American-based organisation supported by Michelle Obama when she was First Lady.
I continued doing a lot of work in that sphere. Then I launched the We Rise Initiative, my current NGO, to empower women to rise above systemic oppression through sustainable initiatives. The We Rise initiative still runs today.
In May 2019, I started working at Arise News. I’m 23 now, so I’m still young, and my career is still transforming. But it’s been a very consistent career and a very transformative one.
What does your job entail?
I anchor News Day, a daily programme, from 12 noon till 3 p.m. It’s focused on covering global and local news. It’s a diverse show where we cover the stock market, speak to our business analysts, and cover what’s going on in other African countries. We also interview people in Nigeria and talk about politics and what’s going on.
It’s very similar to my last show; I was previously on The Morning Show until about two months ago. I kind of just got tired of waking up so early every morning, and I was like, “You know what, Laila, you’ve tried.” The Morning Show was more hands-on, but I think I prefer this, and it works better for me, mainly because now I can diversify as a journalist. I’m covering a lot of global news now and not just local content, so I think I’m also building my portfolio.
Walk us through a typical workday.
I wake up by 7:30 a.m.; I’m either woken up by my alarm or my dog. I try to get in a quick workout — l recently downloaded this 7 Minute Workout app.
Once I’ve showered, I get back into bed, put on the news, start researching, scripting, and keeping up to date with current affairs from 8-10 a.m. I plan for my guests of the day, write out all my questions, and make sure there are no grammatical errors in my script.
By 10 a.m., my stylist comes over to drop my outfit for the day, and I start getting ready for work. I don’t take much time to do my makeup, so I’m usually ready in 30 minutes. After I have done that, I relax for a bit. Once it’s 11 o’clock, I take a couple of pictures in my outfit for work for the day to put out on social media, promote the show, and get young people watching because that’s my goal for Arise.
I usually get to work within five minutes because I live just down the road. I could go in later, but I choose to go in a bit earlier to sit down, get comfortable, and make sure everything is okay. And then I’m on air at noon. From 12 to 3 p.m., I’m anchoring News Day. As soon as it’s 3 o’clock, I get into my car and head home, where I typically take a minute or two to unwind. The first thing I do is take a shower to get my makeup off. And once I’ve done that, I head into the kitchen to figure out what to eat.
You talked about trying to get young people more interested in the news, and you’ve been working at Arise News for a while now; how has that worked out so far?
There has been a considerable improvement. I get feedback all the time within and outside of work. Many young people are now sharing content from Arise News; thus, Arise content is going viral. I think there are many young anchors here now, and I think collectively, we have been able to give Arise News a well-balanced presence that is representative of all Nigerians. I think the station has now managed to get that right.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you do without?
I definitely can’t do without my iPhone. I’ve gone without my Laptop — I didn’t have a MacBook once for nearly a year, and I could still write all my essays on the Google Docs app on my phone. So definitely, I’d say my phone is number one. Also, my Amazon Fire TV Stick, because I like watching good stuff, and that’s where you get all the good stuff.
All my news apps: New York Times, The Guardian, and BBC. Also, I use a mind-training app called Elevate to get my mind into its most performative state.
And my last one, I would say, is OyaNow or Jumia Food because I order food like two or three times a week. And then my banking app — in fact, that’s on top of the list.
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
I would say, hyperfocusing. I read a book once called Hyperfocus: How to Be More Productive in a World of Distraction by Chris Bayley, and it’s all about how we can work less and achieve more. So I would say that hyperfocusing is the best way to get things done in a short amount of time. It’s also about not putting too much pressure on yourself.
What task(s) do you dislike but still do?
I would say using teleprompters on live television. Before I got to Arise News, I had done live TV, but I had never done live TV with a teleprompter. A teleprompter projects your script so you can know exactly what to say, but you find that unless you’re the one that’s written what is on the teleprompter, you’re probably going to see mistakes that could confuse you.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
My Google Calendar. I can’t live without my Google Calendar, so I put everything there. And I’m not going to lie, my partner also has the best mind, and he always remembers things, so I also use him as a reminder. But I’ll say my Google Calendar because it’s easy for me to put everything in there.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I go to the beach, or I go to Ibadan, which is where I’m from; that’s where I grew up, and my dad still lives there.
Besides work, what do you spend time doing? What do you enjoy?
I enjoy cooking. I find myself coming up with new recipes in the kitchen. I like being outdoors too — whether it’s the beach or going swimming at the pool. I also like doing charity-based work. Like I mentioned, I run an NGO. So just looking at what can be done to improve the lives of young women in different ways. And I paint a lot as well.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to? What do you recommend?
I am currently watching Cursed on Netflix because my aunty is in it. I’m reading What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack. I’m listening to my godbrother’s EP, and it’s called Deleted Memories. And I’m listening to one of my best friend’s EP as well called ZeLLi Vol 1.
I recommend reading Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta. I also recommend The Meaning of Things: Applying Philosophy to Life by A.C. Grayling and The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin because her Netflix series is coming out soon, and I think everyone should read the book first.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Do what makes you happy as long as you’re not hurting others.” And in terms of relationships, “People are like onions and come in layers.” My mum told me both.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
A problem I’m still trying to solve is rape culture in Nigeria. I’m not trying to solve rape in Nigeria because, unfortunately, it exists in every society and we have to focus on ending the culture of rape. Another problem I’m trying to solve is how to break Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency stigmas across Africa.
What other projects are you working on?
Towards the end of last year, my partner and I started a company called Forth Strategy. It’s a development consultancy firm essentially looking at how we can link private and public institutions, individuals, and corporations to the fourth industrial revolution.
We identify gaps within existing corporations or within initiatives that individuals have built. We approach them and say, “This is great, but this is how we can even tailor it more to the fourth industrial revolution — the Internet of things, artificial intelligence — and how we think you can become more effective.”
It’s a very new company, but I always knew that at some point, I wanted to use my career and whatever I have built for myself to link to where the world is going, and starting a development consultancy firm was the best way to do so. At the moment, I have one client I’ve been working with. Nothing is out in the open yet, but essentially, that’s my focus at the moment. So when I wake up in the morning, Forth Strategy is top of mind.
Who would you like to answer these questions?
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I write about media, technology and internet culture. Reach me on Twitter @okikesam