Errol BarnettErrol Barnett, host of the award-winning 'Inside Africa’ on CNN International, talks on his experience in the one week long social media week in Lagos, Nigeria. In this exclusive and exciting interview with Ken Adejumoh, Barnett shared his research on the current significance of social media among Nigerians and the response of Nigerians as regards the growth of social media.  Excerpt.

Tell us about your educational background and your journey into journalism?

I am originally from England but my family moved to US in the ‘90s and during my high school as a teenager, I hosted and produced a weekly talk show.  Now that wasn’t my fantasy, I run tracks, relay race; I was a president of different clubs in the school and this really pushed me up to what I do today. For me it was just fun back in the days.

In my high school days, I had a programme with a news channel,  it was a programme for young people and from there they offered me full time job but I was just 17 years old. So I had to wait till my 18th birthday to sign the contract and then I moved to Los Angeles.

I then went to the university and studied political science at UCLA with a focus on international relations.  I have I diverse background and for me I want to understand how the world works that is why I went to focus on political science with international relations and the week after I graduated, CNN called and hired me.

So since 2008 I have been working as a social media correspondent and I have anchored some of the news programme; I also anchored a news-hour from the network's production hub in Abu Dhabi, UAE. During the year-long assignment on the program, "Prism," which documented the beginnings of the Arab Spring.

So what is the importance of the social media week?

It has two fold benefits; in one way, you can communicate your idea to the audience and more importantly, your audience has a face with you to backup a conversational relationship. So the importance of social media week is to help people and organizations connect through collaboration and the sharing of ideas and information. That is to say, to help enlighten people on how to take full advantage of social media.

What is the importance of social media in the journalism as a profession?

The importance of social media is that you as a journalist must be able to listen to people all over the world and you have to start a relationship with your audience and be able to take full advantage of what they say. It also makes you have easy access to people’s opinion across all ages.

What can you say about the response of Nigerians on the social media week?

Nigerians have responded very well to the social media activities and I think with what is happening now, they will be driving the media revolution for Africa in combination with Kenya.

The response is really significant because its shows a couple of technical guys coming together to develop social media platform in a much more comprehensive approach to social responsibility and commerce.

We have seen a group of young people with great ideas that are collaborating to make it work and help the development of social media in Nigeria.

The event of social media is taking place for the first time in Nigeria, with your research so far, how would you rate the growth of social media in Nigeria with other Africa countries?

I will say that Nigeria and Kenya seem to be taking the lead in the social media revolution. It is a very positive sign of social media week in Nigeria and from what I have seen, there are so many different sectors of the society who are participating to find ways to help people raise their business and manage their budget.

From our research, we saw some individuals who have designed their own website on different subject matters in Nigeria.

Are you saying we are original with our web content?

Original in the content and original in the design. The kind of programs I have seen speak about solutions from Nigerians for Nigerians problems.

What is the motive behind showcasing your research on Inside Africa, an international programme on CNN?

My research here is for Inside Africa, which is the show I host and the concept of the programme is for me to travel to the most interesting and fascinating part of the continent. When it was set time to come to Lagos for the first time, I wanted to reconnect with lots of people across all social networks and I also wanted to really make it special because that is what my programme tries to do; to show people sometimes what they don’t expect.

When I finally arrived Lagos, I connected with the very first Nigeria I interviewed when I joined CNN. I also did a follow up on some of my facebook and tweeter followers.

Having a social media week in Nigeria shows Nigeria’s maturity in addressing its problems on the social media campaign. In this line, you also need to have the idea, have the solution and be at the table them with the professionals.  

Africa is traditionally endowed, has social media had any effect on the African tradition?

I think that as far as tradition is concerned, it challenges the Africa tradition which is guided around the young ones respecting their elders. That is, you are not supposed to challenge those in authority or your seniors. There are formalities that must be followed even if a young person has an idea to share and he must be very careful about it.

Social media is kind of putting all that on a test now because it is a platform people share their opinions and say what is really on their mind. In a nut shell, I think social media is slightly affecting the African tradition.

Do you mean that the social media has not really penetrated into the African tradition?

Yes! The culture and tradition of the African people has been in existence for hundreds of centuries and that cannot not be undone within a decade. The tradition here helps keep people close to each other and that is one of the thrust of social media networks.

There are calls for censorship that is, regulation of social media. What is your opinion about this?

I will say censorship is a reality in some part of the world but in most parts as regards social media, it will be difficult to achieve.

Social media is just like every other media, like newspapers and it’s something that takes place not only in Africa but in the whole part of the world and so censorship cannot be completely achieved as there are those that will definitely come on line without passing through censorship.  

Do you think the vibrancy of social media in the world now will lead to the extinction of traditional media?

I know a lot of people who love their news paper and they will always want to have a feel of the paper and the embellishment of the ink, there is a relationship people have with the news paper. I think people spend more time with the news paper than they do on the website.

Certainly newspapers will have to step up their business as regards how they reach the people with their circulation. A lot of them have even gone into the online space to launch online version, which has also helped in strengthening their businesses.

In my opinion, they will all work hand in hand to create a very effective and balance media system across the world.

What’s your view on gender acceptance of social media, especially in curbing social vices?

I didn’t really notice any difference in the gender issue because we spoke with some women who were taking part in the social media week and there was no discrimination in any part.

There is this belief that Social media is corrupting our youths in the sense that our youths do spend quality time on the internet by doing all sorts of irrelevant things instead of them studying things that will empower them better?

The bottom line is that when it comes to young people, parents are absent from whether they are going on doing what they want at school and on the social media. It is the parents’ job to be able to monitor the activities of the children both online and offline.

It’s the parents’ job to be present in their children’s life; give them the moral foundation to behave well. So young people who make mistakes, perhaps it can be attributed to their parents’ lack of attention on them.

So on the issue of youths being affected negatively by the use of social media, the parents are supposed to be able to know what their children are doing on the net and that’s why the parents also should know about social media, because if the parents don’t know what social media is they won’t be able to monitor and curb the excesses of their children on the internet.  

To what extend is CNN leveraging on social media in Africa and other parts of the world?

We are completely engaged across board on the social media platform. I have a facebook page; Inside African and CNN also have facebook pages where we respond to people’s comments.

We try to really engage with our viewers and our audience because we want them to know that they are part of our channel story and we listen to them. When I posted on my facebook page that I was coming to Lagos and people were sending tweets to me on how to go and when I went to Falomo bridge and took pictures and they were like what is ERROL doing under the bridge and so they tweeted me immediately and some people around came close;  it was fun.

So we really engage with our viewers and we want them to know that they are part of our coverage and also make them feel us very close to them.

So how would you rate Nigerian in the usage of the social media?

I think for the first time, investors are seen participating massively on the need leverage the potential of social media in their business. Now is the time for people to get in and boost their usage on the social media platform.

This is the most populous Africa country that you also have the demographic projection in the next decade that 41% of young people on the planet will be Africa. Other countries in the world have an exploding elderly people in their population. So it is going to be Africa that will champion the next generation with a crop of young people who are going to be leading the way.

How far is social media promoting e-commerce in Nigeria and Africa in general?

In Kenya, the platform is indeed promoting mobile banking and this is applicable to Nigeria but the issue is that you have a larger population here and so it will take more time for it to fully be effective as we have in other more successful areas.

While in the Lagos traffic, you saw people hawking some items, did you do any shopping by that means?

(Laughs). Yea I bought a bottle of chilled water. It shows the spirit of Nigeria’s entrepreneurship; when there is an opportunity, somebody dives into it and make cool money from it. I saw the newspaper vendors and those selling mentors as well as those with chilled soft carbonated drinks and snags. It is a fantastic experience.

Apart from the Island, where else did you visit?

We tried visiting other places but the traffic was really disturbing but apart from the Island we went to Ikeja, and we also went to computer village to see the market that services a lot of technology and computer issues. It is amazing to know that

The growth of the computer market is credibly significant as people from other parts of West Africa come to the computer village to buy and order for their computer accessories.

What was the most fantastic thing you saw in Nigeria and will you love to come back here?

I can’t really say because we visited places and we had fun and we also saw a lot of interesting things and yes I will love to come back to Nigeria.