Aisha Salaudeen is amplifying untold stories through multimedia storytelling

Inspired by her passion for stories, Aisha Salaudeen has become a storytelling maestro, which this generation is lucky to have witnessed. From a young age, storytelling manifested in her eagerness to share a memorable experience, which progressed to being enamoured with capturing ideas and perspectives with her camera. Now, Aisha Salaudeen is a multifaceted storyteller who is eager to tell stories in different formats.

In this week’s #MCNWorkLife, meet Aisha Salaudeen, a woman with an unlimited passion for storytelling. Join us as we delve into her journey out of the newsroom and into the world, with billions of stories to be told.

Tell me who Aisha Salaudeen is without referring to your work.

I am a person who loves to consume stories in different formats. I watch a lot of TV shows and movies, and I listen to podcasts. Anything that remotely allows me to consume stories is what I pay attention to. I am a big fan of K-dramas and K-pop, so I spend most of my time outside of work fangirling. Aside from that, I just exist.

What was your childhood dream job, and how did it translate to your current work?

I was all over the place as a child. I wanted to be a lot of things, from a meteorologist to an aeronautical engineer. I had a lot of big dreams. However, a few things stuck with me. I wanted to be an actress and a newscaster, but the common factor with those ambitions was that I wanted to be a storyteller in whatever format it would come in, even though I didn’t have the words for it.

Over time, I realised that I had built the skills for storytelling due to my inquisitive nature. So, even when I didn’t mean to, I was building the necessary skills to become a storyteller, even as a child. When I was young, I would stand in front of a mirror while reading the newspaper or just doing things that led me to become a multimedia storyteller.

Tell us a bit about your childhood and what growing up was like.

I was born and raised in Jos, so a significant part of my life was spent there. I grew up in a community, and I would spend a lot of time with the neighbourhood kids climbing mountains and playing games within the area. Growing up was fun because I wasn’t aware of the plights of adulthood. Real life didn’t resonate with me as a child. I didn’t know my parents were struggling with money, and I didn’t understand what it was like not to have money.

In fact, I vividly remember wanting so badly to go to the only Mr. Biggs in Jos so that I could brag to my friends in school that I had been there. It was a big deal for everyone at the time. When I finally visited the place, I was excited to tell all my friends that I had been there. So, my childhood was filled with many exciting memories, and I was oblivious to life’s chaos.

That sounds exciting. It shows a big contrast to who you are currently as a person and professionally. Can you describe the experience of life as that of a storyteller who faces reality head-on?

For me, being a storyteller means consuming a lot of things that happen around you. From real life to TV and books. Because I consume a lot of information, my instinct as a storyteller is to transform information into stories. From the outside looking in, you can only empathise with the victims of whatever circumstance, but as a storyteller, you feel obligated to tell the story. With the resources and the idea in your head, there’s no stopping you.

Storytelling is many things, but it’s especially exhausting. Even though it is an interesting experience to produce and deliver the end product, you put a lot of physical and mental energy into it. If you’ve done it for as long as I have, you will start to see the patterns in the stories. It’s usually the same thing over and over again but in different ways for different people in other places. So, I am happy to be telling these stories and conveying these emotions through whatever media, but we still have the same issues coming up. Storytelling is definitely a mix of good and bad.

How long have you been practising as a journalist?

Officially since 2013 because I became a radio host in 2013. But hardcore journalism started in 2017.

So, CNN is a very significant part of your story as a journalist. What is your educational background, and how it led you to CNN?

The short answer is that my educational background didn’t lead me to CNN. I studied business economics at university and finance, accounting, and management for my master’s. So, it definitely did not lead me to journalism.

When I was in university, I was a radio presenter for the African community. I would play music, speak to people, and just do my thing on air. Doing that solidified storytelling for me. I knew I wanted to be in the media, but I didn’t know what format. But I liked what I was doing. Then, I discovered that I enjoyed writing. At the time, I ranted a lot on my blog about what was happening in Nigeria because I studied abroad. I always received positive feedback about my work, so I started sending things I wrote to media houses in Nigeria. Things like social commentary and opinion pieces were my forte at the time, and that’s how I became a contributor to newspapers. By the time I was done with my master’s, I knew I didn’t want to be an accountant, and the goal was to tell African stories, but that couldn’t happen in the UK. When I returned to Nigeria in 2016, I immediately freelanced for international media corporations. It helped that I already used to write for newspapers in Nigeria, which boosted my credibility.

In 2017, I pitched to write about the End SARS protest to Al Jazeera, and they agreed. That was my first by-line for international media; from then on, it went straight to freelancing. I discovered that freelancing wasn’t sustainable, and then I began looking for a stable role in journalism. During my service year, I tweeted about looking for a job and got a few recommendations. I had a job interview with Stears and started working with them. Shortly after, CNN came knocking, and I got an offer from them asking if I wanted to work with them, and I did. There, it became less Nigeria-focused and more about the whole world. After a while, I decided to learn about production, documentaries, and how to write scripts for videos. When the opportunity came to join CNN’s production team for Africa, I joined and started writing scripts for TV shows, especially on how to do it globally.

Your journey at CNN remains one of the most exceptional ones we’ve seen in Nigeria. Tell us about what excited you the most while working at CNN.

Many things excited me. For one, I was used to a certain worldview while working for Steers and also while freelancing. My perspective was very Nigerian-centered. But by joining a global organisation like CNN, you can’t think about Nigeria alone. You have to think about the global worldview. So, I had to think about how to tell different stories in different countries. That was very interesting for me because I had the opportunity to learn about other people’s cultures and network with people from various parts of the world.

Another thing that excited me was the access to resources and the network that CNN gives you. With CNN, I had access to resources and opportunities that made my life and work easier than other media houses I’ve worked with.

Also, the name held a lot of weight. People tend to take you more seriously when they know you are a reporter from CNN rather than just any media house, which also excited me a bit.

Covering 20 countries in Africa must’ve been an interesting experience. What was the country with the most interesting story that still stands out for you?

There are so many, but the stories that stuck with me the most were stories that had a direct impact as soon as they went out. One that comes to mind is the story about Mustapha Sallah in Gambia, who tried to go to Europe by boat and was arrested by the Libyan coastguard and then deported back to Gambia. What I liked about the story was when he returned to Gambia, he formed an organisation called Youths Against Irregular Migration. Through his organisation, he has changed many people’s lives and educated Gambians on the ills of irregular migration. Seeing the impact of his effort despite the troubles he went through. The feedback I got from many Gambian people was that they thanked me for putting his story out because now we have real human experiences of people who have tried to migrate to a country because of false promises of wealth and immediate success.

Another story that stands out is the stories of The Critics Company, who used their mobile phone to secret sci-fi movies in Kaduna State. After I had written that story, I received a message from them saying thank you. The story had given them visibility, and they were invited to an exhibition. In that way, it felt very nice to have an impact on people’s lives through CNN.

You are an award-winning journalist with awards ranging from the Future Africa Awards to the 2023 One Young World nomination. How have these accomplishments shaped your perception of your future as a journalist and storyteller?

When I won the Future Awards Africa, knowing that I wasn’t entirely doing rubbish felt a bit validating. That same year, I was also on the Vogue list. So, it helped me see that I was working and boosted my self-esteem.

The One Young World Journalist of the Year nomination came shortly after I decided I didn’t want to do conventional journalism anymore, so I was slightly conflicted about it. But once a journalist, always a journalist. While many of the documentaries I make are still journalism in a way, and I am grateful for the impact I have made on people through stories, I am doing my best to leave the four walls of a conventional newsroom and adopt different ways to tell stories.

Why do you want to leave conventional journalism?

I am tired. If you stay in a newsroom long enough, you get bored. But I will keep making documentaries and telling stories through TV shows and podcasts. Many of these things are still classified as journalism by definition, so I don’t think I can entirely avoid being labelled a journalist. So, to better frame it, I don’t want to work in a traditional newsroom setting.

In the future, I will explore storytelling in different formats and ways for brands and individuals. I will also be doing content strategy. My real goal is to become a director and make films.

The documentary “October 2020” detailed stories from the End Sars Protest. Tell us about the process of piecing together the stories and releasing the documentary to the public.

A nonprofit organisation called Tiger Eye said they wanted to do something to mark the anniversary of October 2020. Of course, I said yes because it is now an important part of Nigeria’s history. While at CNN, I was part of the research team that released the investigative documentary about the government’s denial of the events that happened during End SARS. So, this documentary felt like a continuation of what I had already been a part of at CNN. I particularly liked this angle because we spoke to people who had experienced it first-hand and people who were affected in different ways.

Luckily, the foundation had done something to End SARS the year before, so they had a lot of contacts across Nigeria. So we leaned on their network for that and did a lot of interviews across the board, and we gathered a narrative for how End SARS impacted people. It was kind of a comprehensive guide to understanding the events that took place during End SARS. From the history of SARS to the violence that happened all over the country, we ensured to have all the details of the protest and the experiences of the people in the documentary.

It was a very interesting but traumatising experience. As the producer, I had to go through hours of tears and death, which wasn’t great for my mental health. I’m glad we were able to put it out in time for the memorial, and it got to the people it needed to get to. The feedback we got from people was mostly, “Thank you for not forgetting,” and I appreciate that because we, as Nigerians, have a history of moving on. But for events like that, we must remember.

You most recently released the “Out of Nowhere” documentary about Godwin Udoh’s fight against trigger-happy police. What was your biggest challenge while creating the documentary, and how has that influenced your career?

So, we made this documentary simultaneously with the October 2020 one, which was very depressing. But working on “Out of Nowhere” made me a better storyteller. We had to get Mr. Godwin’s trust to let us into his home, church, and story. He trusted us with his story and charged us to tell it with dignity, not making him look like a victim but as a survivor.

We got a lot of feedback from people saying they would love to support him in different ways. So, out of all the emotionally draining experiences we had to flow through, seeing people be eager to help and support someone who had been through something so traumatic made me feel a lot better, and it felt worth it.

Tell us a bit about your passion for helping people and brands craft powerful stories and what opportunities have presented themselves so far.

It’s just another way to tell stories outside of the conventional newsroom. With my skills and experience as a storyteller, I can take all those skills and apply them to different situations. What that looks like is doing content strategy for brands, helping brands tell stories specifically for their audience.

Most recently, I have worked with a tech company called Mira. Mira is a point-of-sale company that makes the dining experience easier for restaurants, bars, and diners. They have many products, like QR codes, that enable guests to scan, place an order, and pay without having to wait for a server to give them the bill. Archiving is also essentially digitising newspapers and creating content inspired by the past. I do a little bit of everything media- and tech-related.

Tell us a bit about your podcast “I Like Girls.”

I Like Girls is my first podcast, and it was my first experiment at learning audio production. I have told a lot of women-related stories on Stears and CNN. So, I thought about how else I could tell women’s stories without writing articles, and podcasts came up. I learned how to produce and make a podcast, and I Like Girls is just a narrative storytelling podcast that tells the stories of women and how life impacts them differently as a result of their gender.

For example, we take an experience like Post Partum Depression and ask one or two women to share their stories and experiences with the condition. Then, we’ll use their experience to tell a wider story on how it impacts women. I Like Girls started as an experiment, and I’ll admit I haven’t done as much as I can with it. Still, so far, we have told the stories of 50 women across 25 African countries, and we currently have 50,000 listeners, which is great for a podcast that doesn’t do any marketing. When we are in season, we are consistently among the top 10 documentary podcasts on Apple Music, which I think is a big deal, especially because we are competing on a global scale.

The podcast is doing well, and I like it mostly because it is a breath of fresh air compared to what is considered normal for podcasts.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career so far?

I don’t know the biggest challenge because there are little challenges that clump together to form one big issue. For starters, everyone knows journalists are not paid, but working with a global media organisation helps boost the pay. In the true sense of it, journalists are underpaid, underfunded, and undervalued, and there’s no real model for media on the continent, so it’s still very tricky navigating that.

Another issue is the general misogyny that comes with being a woman and, even more so, a visibly Muslim woman. The lack of resources is also an issue. Lest we forget the fact that as a journalist, you are constantly targeted. No matter your beat or who you are, the minute you say the wrong thing, you’re targeted. There’s a lot of censorship, especially for traditional media workers.

So, all these little things, pieced together, form the challenges journalists face in the profession.

Tell us about your biggest work accomplishment so far and how that became a reality.

I don’t think there’s a big accomplishment, but there are little pockets of things that make me happy about my work. The awards are just a testament to the fact that I am not doing rubbish. For me, the stories that make people come back to say, “Thank you for saying this,” make up the little pockets of joy. Those are my real accomplishments, and that’s why I do what I do.

As a woman, and most especially a Muslim woman, what is the biggest misconception or stereotype people have about you?

There’s a general assumption that Muslim women do not have sense. When I wear my hijab and go out for production, there’s always a look that follows it, and sometimes I can’t tell if they’re looking because I am a woman, an African, or a Muslim. It can be anything, and it can be all three.

Sometimes, I go on a production set, and people automatically assume that the cameraman or literally anyone else on the set is responsible for the production. But it is not. Casual misogyny never fails to rear its head on sets, during journalism training, and in executive meetings. A lot of time is spent trying to prove that you are worthy as a woman and a Muslim. As a woman, it’s a constant battle.

What do you think is the most prominent challenge women in your profession face when advancing their careers, and how can we overcome it?

Many of the challenges are universal and exist outside of journalism as a career. Issues like the gender pay gap stand out. Specifically in journalism, there is the idea that women should not be in the field, which is why people always question when they see women holding cameras or doing production. There’s also the overlooking of women when they speak in the newsroom and how women should not have the desire to be on screens. The debate about “women should be seen and not heard” still takes place in this day and age. So, I think there are a lot of cultural stereotypes that seep into the workplace and create issues for women in the workplace. In my opinion, people need to remove their personal prejudices against women and see women as human beings who have goals and desires.

Moving on to personal questions, what brings you the most joy?

Money and K-dramas. Outside of work, community makes me happy.

What has been the biggest motivating factor in your career so far?

Stories have to be told, and I love stories. Whenever I get bored of a format, I find new ways to tell the stories that intrigue me the most.

Give us a rundown of a typical day in your life.

There’s no typical day right now because I’m currently a freelancer, but the project I’m working on determines the order of my day. I wake up at any time, but usually at 8 a.m. I check Twitter conversations and then K-drama spoilers on Instagram. The rest of my day will be spent working on projects, ensuring all my projects commence smoothly, and sneaking in some K-drama along the way.

What do you like the most about the work you do?

It’s the stories. There’s always something new and interesting to learn. Because my work involves communicating with and talking to all kinds of people, I always find new and entertaining things. I like that I’m certain I’ll find something new whenever I’m working on a new project.

If you could go back in time, what would you change about your career?

I don’t think I would change anything, to be honest.

What advice would you give someone looking to start a career in journalism?

Be open-minded about all aspects of journalism. Knowing a little bit of everything helps you find your niche. As a new journalist, you can’t afford to be selective. You need as many skills in the newsroom as possible because you don’t know where you will end up.

A lot of people talk about how journalism isn’t lucrative. What do you say to someone who just wants to write stories and make a living simultaneously?

You must be aware that if you want to make a living, you should not consider journalism. We can see the evidence in how journalists are constantly collecting brown envelopes because they’re not making enough money. Personally, I always say don’t do it, especially if you want money. However, if you insist because you want to tell stories, start first and learn the basics, and then take your skills to another industry where you can make more money.

So think about your options, weigh them, and figure out how else to tell stories so that your passion doesn’t die and you don’t end up unhappy. But there’s no money in journalism.


React to this post!
No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.