Abubakar Idris, best known for his beat at TechCabal and much recently Stears Business, is a recognizable tech journalist in Nigeria.
In this interview, he tells us how it feels to be recognized as an award finalist, how to get hired by top publications, and his writing process for producing 1000+ word articles.
Let’s get right into it.
Congratulations on finishing as the 2020 Finalist for the PwC Journalist of the Year Award for SME Reporting. How does it feel to be recognized for your work?
It feels great. Although I didn’t win, it felt terrific that my work got recognition at that level. I’ve built on that success since then.
You transitioned from tech to financial journalism in October. Would you share the secrets and makings of your success as a writer/journalist?
I won’t call it a transition. My beat as a journalist at Stears Business still includes a lot of coverage around technology and innovation in the African ecosystem.
Regarding the makings of my success as a journalist: after three years of experience writing for five publications, I’d say it is essential to niche down. That’s one way to stand out as a writer.
Focus on a particular topic, industry, sector, or even a business and develop domain expertise. Then study how other publications, particularly foreign publications, cover the same topics. Imitate, then modify to suit your audience’s peculiarities. This applies to almost every writing career type but has been especially true in mine.
You’re known for musing about digital and financial innovations in Africa. What motivated you to start this? What’s your why?
Digital innovation fascinates me. For instance, programming was my hobby while studying History and International Politics at the university. This made me experience the joy of being a creator and how to see a problem, think of a solution, and build it with code. My background as a programming hobbyist spurred my later understanding and interaction with technology innovation.
Much more, I believe coding and hardware engineering skills can solve present-day problems with financial services and a few other sectors. So I’m motivated to write about innovators who are building these solutions.
Please tell us about the differences between working as a tech writer and a financial journalist. How can a young writer get hired by publications like TechCabal and Stears Business?
I would say the first difference is a mindset change. I’ve always considered myself a technology journalist, not a “tech writer.” Also, I see no difference between technology journalism and financial journalism; they require similar skill sets, and at a time when “software is eating the world,” both are crucial.
In my opinion, the term “technology journalist” indicates the readiness to commit and dig deeper into your niche. In my case, that’s invaluable because my short-term goal is to become a technology analyst. Now, that’s a different trajectory from what “tech writing” offers.
As a tech writer, you don’t do actual reporting. Instead, you develop content like “top five financial apps; how to start programming; when to raise funds, etc.” Don’t get wrong, these are great ways to start, but eventually, you’ll have to decide if you want to specialize.
I knew I needed to step up and specialize. So I joined TechCabal. I joined Stears Business for the same reason as well.
To get hired by TechCabal or Stears, start by pitching stories to either publication or their editors. If you’re a young and new journalist, pitching your story is a great way to get noticed. If they like your pitch, they probably won’t immediately offer you a job, but they’ll want to work with you to fine-tune the story and then publish it, perhaps with you attributed as the author. You can then build relationships that help you get a foot in the door whenever these publications start hiring.
Your articles average 1000+ words, and you write consistently. How do you come up with fresh ideas and maintain writing quality? Please share your writing process.
I rarely run out of article ideas because there’s just so much I’m thinking about and would like to write about. Two reasons account for that.
First, my readings are quite broad and diverse. As a History and International Studies graduate, I’m avid about international politics, migration, finance, and trade. I also have good web developer skills, so I understand development terminology and issues. Abstract debates about data privacy, social media moderation, and the “color” of investment into African startups interest me too. I often pick a topic from any of these areas and narrow it down for Nigerian or African readers.
Second, I sometimes pick my article ideas from particular sectors. I could pick an article idea from a fintech, eCommerce, telecoms, streaming, education, or regulatory issue in each of these sectors. Developing a 1000+ word draft on the article idea is easy after studying different sources and interviewing experts. Afterward, I review and edit the draft until it’s ready for publishing.
What’s the biggest highlight of your writing career so far? Do you have a short or long-term writing goal you’d like to attain?
I’ve had quite a few, many of which happened during my time at TechCabal when I wrote some of the Nigerian tech ecosystem’s biggest stories. You can read some of them here. My long-term goal is not to write for a living but to make writing a hobby.
If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not because I’ve been 100% perfect, but because I’ve done a lot to move from 0-1. That process was fulfilling and enriching. I doubt I’d do anything differently.
Please give a word of advice to anyone starting as a technology or financial writer/journalist.
Make the smart choice and go niche. Develop your industry expertise and find your voice as a writer.