COLUMN/OPINION

Sam, News and Editors By Emmanuel Bello


The story of LEADERSHIP newspaper is also that of how its various editors were hired and fired by the late Sam Nda-Isaiah, arguably one of the most iconoclastic publishers of our era for he built a conglomerate of a newspaper industry from a pamphlet! Sam, in his publishing career, had more editors probably more than some stables had reporters. Some lasted for only hours. Others stayed on for better and for worse. Some editors were brought in from the cold and pushed off the deep end to sink or swim; rookies who felt the giddiness of a sudden elevation; others- lowly line editors- found themselves elevated overnight and had to find ways to literally ‘keep up with the Kardashians’. There were no two editors who had the same experience. 
In my case, I came under the irresistible wooing of Sam in the offices of Daily Trust newspaper. At the time, I was the politics editor and Sam needed yet another replacement for the LEADERSHIP SUNDAY title. My predecessor was probably not doing the right thing which, in Sam-speak, would include: ensuring you don’t have any errors in the weekly 80-paged tome, not missing any stories in the world and ultimately getting the best scoops in the industry. It’s difficult to know exactly what Sam wanted from his editors but he once told me that an editor must be near perfect or die trying. He said an editor “must have news judgement and ultimately see errors almost invisible to the human eyes.”Sam didn’t think a good editor must necessarily be a journalist but must know a bit about everything under the sun. According to him, the editor is the newspaper’s administrator. A successful editor therefore was one who produced a beautiful (error-free) paper worth the buyer’s money. If you wrote well and had a great sense of news, you are in Sam’s book for an editorship position, irrespective of your experiences. There was no need for long interviews. You got the job on merit and you are expected to hit the ground running. 
My first edition as the Sunday title editor came after the Saturday of the 2007 presidential election. By that evening, Sam had come to the office to look at the front page—which was his most important part of the newspaper. He also liked the back page because of the legendary cartoon strip ‘Ghana Must Go’. He was insistent that the front page lines must align; the headline must be catchy (who can forget the iconic headline “AK47: the official gun of 2007 election”); the picture to be used must have some significance and, above all, error-free. Any error on the front page was a sackable offence. Sam also insisted that he must see the front page no matter where he was on the globe. Editors would have to wait for his near-divine authorization before the paper went to bed. On my debut, I thought of some cheesy traditional headlines after the presidential polls. Sam dropped all my suggestions and said I should just say: “WHAT A MESS!”– which to me didn’t look like a news-worthy headline as it was already editorializing the story but that’s how he wanted it and that’s what appeared the next day. However, It turned out to be a hit as it was different from what everyone else was saying about the violence ridden elections. Following this, other creative, out of the box, headlines were to happen in the years I stayed on the job. 
He was a tough boss. I still find myself doing some of the things he did (I even try to stutter at times). He was hard on editors as he insisted on better news angles, scoops, and a “tight” production. An editor of LEADERSHIP newspaper starts resembling Sam after a while: clear-minded, courageous, tough and critical of the issues. Exit was always through the inevitable sack or the ultimate resignation after one couldn’t take it anymore. But you are never rid of Sam Nda-Isaiah. Years later, after forays in government, I returned as LEADERSHIP’s Editor-in-Chief— my last work with the great soul. And I’m a better man today because I worked with him.

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