CNN’s Aisha Salaudeen on making podcasts, telling women stories and monetising media

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British Vogue named her one of its 50 Trailblazing Creatives And Young Activists From Across The Globe Share Their Hopes For The Future in 2020…
CNN's Aisha Salaudeen on making podcasts, telling women stories and monetising media

At the turn of the last decade, there was a seismic shift in the Nigerian media space. A new crop of journalists, mostly writers, who broke away from what one could best describe as legacy Nigerian media, emerged.

They built portfolios parallel to their western counterparts. They worked at young media startups tailored to young educated middle-class Nigerians.

Aisha Salaudeen was one of them. A relative newcomer with bylines in the Financial Times and Al Jazeera, she quickly rose to the top, snagging the Future Award prize for journalism in 2020 and landing a high-profile gig as a producer at CNN.

British Vogue named her one of its 50 Trailblazing Creatives And Young Activists From Across The Globe Share Their Hopes For The Future in 2020.

Aisha’s podcast journey

Then last year, she started a new venture, a podcast — I Like Girls, with the intention of telling women’s stories. She shared her motivation with me:

“I had spent at least four years telling stories in written format,” she said of the decision to start the podcast. “I had done TV production. I had written so many articles. So it was kind of like, what other way can I tell stories that I had not explored yet? And it was podcasting that came at me because I had not done it.”

Over the years, podcasts have become the leading media product in Nigeria. Radio presenters, Instagram influencers and everybody with a friend have launched podcasts promising their listeners insightful, raw or honest conversations.

But Aisha is not in the game for the “conversations” per se, at least not with her friends chatting about them on the podcast. She is more focused on telling the poignant stories and then hopes it sparks the conversations that as a society, we fail to have.

In one episode she tackles religion and feminism. In another, she dives into the controversial “Kayan Mata” phenomenon.

With her podcast, I Like Girls, she broke away from the ubiquitous type of podcasts popular in the country. Those types of podcasts which she describes as the “my friend and I are coming online to gist podcast or I’m interviewing a guest and we’re having laughs.” That type of podcast she said would not have been “sufficient” for the type of story she is interested in telling.

“It was extremely deliberate,” she said of the storytelling narrative arch I Like Girls typically takes.

“It was informed by the types of podcasts that I consume. So it just made sense that when it was time for me to create mine, I was like, you know what, let me mirror the kind of podcast that I normally listen to.”

CNN's Aisha Salaudeen on making podcasts, telling women stories and monetising media
Aisha Image source: British Vogue

That decision has already paid off. Just in its second season, she has been able to bring Paystack and PiggyVest on board as advertisers. This is in part because she tailored the themes of her podcasts to issues that she said the companies care about — issues about women.

Read also: For the culture: Here are the top 7 podcasts you can listen to in Nigeria right now

“I’m a fan of telling the type of stories that you have authority over and not the one that you don’t really know anything about,” she said. “In my career as a journalist, I’ve covered a lot of women’s stories. Telling the stories of women is just something I feel extremely strongly about. It’s possibly the one thing that I feel strongly about.”

As the world pays close attention to African women doing big things and small things, many of the stories being told through various media channels about women are mostly presented with a depressing arch to them —women fleeing oppressive traditions, women fleeing abusive workplaces etc.

There have been agitations from some feminist quarters calling for more positive stories, especially of African women.

What does Aisha think of the debate?

“I understand where telling depressing stories about women comes from,” she said. “It just comes from reality. If you claim to be telling the stories of African women and you don’t document the bad experiences, then you won’t be honest in your coverage of women, because those bad and terrible experiences are the realities of many women. But at the same time, I feel like there’s always a balance to be established. And that is what I try to do.”

She is also acutely aware of how as a society, Nigeria sets different standards for men and women. This is something that informs her storytelling.

For instance, recently, Nollywood actress, Funke Akindele was announced as a deputy governor aspirant for a major political party in Lagos, a move that sparked debate about her qualifications. Aisha said that even then she could smell the misogyny.

“We’ve had so many nonsense male candidates coming out to contest for elections,” she said. “People that are not qualified. People that don’t have (expletive) sense. And everybody is like ‘yeah, this’s bad.’ The minute it was Funke Akindele, a woman; People were like ‘Ooh my God! What are her qualifications? Writing think pieces. Why is the reaction so different for women?”

But she cautions that her argument is not to excuse the excesses of women, especially public-facing women. But rather, to outline the double standards in the system.

“There is a certain standard that women are placed on, much higher than men, and which, for the life of me, I can’t understand,” she said. “Why is it that when it’s a woman it’s like so much more dramatic and quite frankly irritating?”

She says that the way to tackle the situation is for society to create the same standards for all sexes.

New business venture

With a friend Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, she has launched Twenty Seven Productions, an audio content production company under which she will be launching new podcasts. But this also means that she will be leaving Visual Audio Times, a podcast production company led by Osagie Alonge, one of the oldest Nigerian podcast creators.

CNN's Aisha Salaudeen on making podcasts, telling women stories and monetising media

“At the time that a joined them, my idea for Twenty Seven Productions was not fully formed,” she said of her decision to leave the company. “Osagie as you know is a podcast OG. I thought it will be good to work with him. But I realised when I started working on my own podcast, it became a bit too much and I had to be honest with myself and say ‘Guy, I’m taking too much now.”

Even though there has been a new crop of podcast production companies (Lafiaji Radio, Eggcorn Digital) churning out dozens of quality podcasts, monetisation for podcasts is still very hard, especially in Nigeria.

Aisha sees this as a larger problem that African media companies face, weaning themselves off advertising and creating long-lasting business models. Some young media companies have turned to hosting events (shameless plug, register for Technext Conference here), raising money, and launching multiple supplements to sell more ads.

For her, the success of podcasts is tied to the success of the media industry as a whole.

“Podcasting is a huge part of the media. I don’t know if it’s going to be profitable,” she said. “At least I can’t see it yet. Generally, the media business not just in Nigeria, but in Africa is hard. The media has not yet hacked how to make money. Until we figure out the business model of the media making money, I can’t say that podcasts as an entity will make money. I may be wrong.”

Conclusion

How does she manage her time with her multiple side gigs? What is Aisha’s work-life balance like?

“I don’t have a work-life balance,” she said matter-of-factly. Right now she just wants to make more podcasts. “I don’t just want to make one podcast. I have actually fallen in love with podcasts. I am currently producing more podcasts behind the scene.”

Podcasts Aisha has on rotation:
Tea With Tay
Archetypes with Meghan
Ear Hustle
Imagined Life

A book Aisha just finished:
How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs by Guy Raz (PS: She did the audio version)


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