The OpEd Project Speaks With The Takeway’s Femi Oke

Femi Oke is a British television reporter and journalist. She works as a daily newscaster and contributor with the Public Radio International/WNYC’s morning radio new program The Takeway. Femi was kind enough to sit down with Chris Fanikos, the social media intern here at The OpEd Project, for a quick yet informative interview.

Femi Oke

So, tell us a bit about yourself. What inspired you to follow this path?

Since as long as I can remember, I always knew I wanted to be a journalist. When I was seven years old I would gather “news” from my family and report it all in a weekly news bulletin.  I did my first professional radio broadcast in London at 14 years old.  By the time I left home to go to University I’d already been working as a cub radio reporter for five years.  I free-lanced at the BBC radio station close to my University when I wasn’t studying my English course.  The day after I graduated I joined the BBC as a researcher.    I was very focused.  I knew exactly where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do from a very young age.

What does your average day entail? What does it look like?

My day begins at 2AM when my alarm goes off.  The shock of getting up at “crazy 0’clock” never quite wears off, but I’ve been waking up this early for the last three years.  As I run around my apartment getting ready for work I catch up on all the latest news.  I have BBC World on my tv, BBC World Service Radio on my laptop and I download NPR and CNN pod newscasts and listen to them on my way to work.  I have to be up to date with all the latest news so when listeners wake up, they don’t miss anything that happened overnight.  The Takeaway news team starts preparing newscasts at 3.30am and by 6am the first of sixteen original newscasts are ready to go live.  By 10am the show’s over and then I have a little more flexibility to research potential guests, plan meetings and prepare for the next day.  I’m always sleep deprived, but I love knowing the news before most people are awake.

How many people tune in daily to The Takeaway?

We have about a million listeners a week.

What are the major differences between broadcast radio and broadcast television reporting? Which do you prefer?

The major difference is complexity and how many people are involved. . With television even the smallest shoot requires a team of people; the reporter, shooter, maybe a producer, editor and a control room full of crew to get the story on the air.  With radio you can create a beautiful piece with very few people.  I can go out on location and record a story without dragging a crew around with me.  Getting back to the studio I can even edit my own story and this makes the entire process much more intimate and personal.  Television of course has an instant impact.  I remember being on my first primetime television show back in the UK.  The next morning after it aired, I walked down the street and I was shocked that people recognized me.  The impact of radio is much more subtle, a great radio story gets into peoples heads and their hearts.  I do love both mediums, so trying to pick a favorite is like asking a mother which child she prefers.  She may well have an answer but will never tell you.

How has the rise of internet journalism both professional and private (blogging) impacted radio news?

Journalism on the internet and private blogging has expanded the possibilities for covering news. Just think how less informed we would have been without people in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria posting their stories, images and video online for the international news community to see.  In a much less dramatic way domestic stories are also given more depth and breadth thanks to the internet as it’s so easy for the radio and television audience to comment and share their experiences online.

Internet journalism has lifted the barrier between the audience and program makers.  On The Takeaway  for instance listeners post comments about a segment and within a few minutes they too are part of the program.  It’s not unusual for us to book a particularly insightful listener from a comment that has been left online.   Our reporting becomes more interesting and diverse because the Internet allows the listeners to get their stories to us so easily.

The one reservation I have is that it’s smart never to trust anything your read on the Internet until you’ve checked the source multiple times.  Just because a story comes up when you search for it, doesn’t make it true.

Do you have any advice for those interested in pursuing radio journalism?

Decide what style of radio journalism you’d like to produce.  Once you know what you want to do, find a local radio station that makes that kind or radio.  If you turn up willing and eager to learn most stations will be happy to help you. Radio people on the whole are very warm and welcoming.  Walking into a radio station is exactly how I got started.  It may take you a while to convince the boss to pay you, but the experience you gain along the way is worth it.

If you can, who was your favorite interview and why?

People always expect me to name somebody famous.  I have interviewed iconic leaders, movie stars and tons of celebrities. I’ve had a laughing fit with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sat on actor’s Kurt Russell’s lap ( don’t ask) and seen Cher behave like a bad tempered school girl.  I have hundreds of fun celebrity interview stories.  Honesty though, my favorite interviews are with people who aren’t celebrities, but still allow me into their lives so I can share their deeply personal experiences with the world.  While living in Johannesburg and reporting for CNN I interviewed a family who lived in a shack made out of corrugated iron.  They lived in two tiny rooms with no real heating or cooling and three children piled onto one tiny mattress at night.  They had no wash facilities and the toilet was a crude hole in the ground.  The family was so frank, funny and kind to me that I will never forget them and it’s been years since I broadcast that report.  It’s easily one of my favorite interviews.

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