The day Joy FM journalists were given envelopes

I left the iconic Joy FM building grinning from ear to ear. It was not because I had received any hamper or padded envelopes that occasion a festive mood like Friday December 20, 2013.

It was because the whole year’s work had been distilled into flat envelopes of appreciation shared generously in the Joy Newsroom.

This is the Newsroom that was accused of promoting regime-change, a tag that has become raw material for our office jokes. One thread that runs through the ambitious, aggressive, highly opinionated young men and women in this newsroom is talent, talk and thick skins.

Managing this aggressive, controversy-prone team is Elvis Kwashie, the Managing News Editor, unfairly called Mugabe.

Let me tell you something about Elvis
The Joy Newsroom tests your leadership skills if you are the managing editor. And if you are not good enough, everybody will know – including letting you know you are not good enough.

And after a couple of years on the job, Elvis Kwashie passed, at least that was what Evans Mensah, 10 years at Joy FM, said. And that was what Azure and Alex said too. 

We call him Mugabe not because he is a dictator but more because you can’t always get away shoddy job. Dictator? Which dictator negotiates your punishment with you? But that is exactly my encounter with him the very week the envelopes were shared.

He came to the office; “Alhaji” he called. (Why he calls me Alhaji I don’t know).

He offered me a seat and then closed the door – an action I thought forebode trouble. “Am I safe?” I asked. “Oh you are,” he supplied. I had committed some rather ‘treasonable’ offence and we were coming to talk about it. He took his seat across the desk, starred at me with a smile and said, “Alhaji this thing you did I can’t let you go. As the leader of the [online] team if I let you go, we cannot hold the others accountable. If Edwin [Appiah] or even Jerry [Mordy] had done this thing, I would let go but you, I shouldn’t let you get away with it.”

The smile disabled me a bit but I managed a defence. “If it is your decision to punish me I won’t challenge it. I have already taken responsibility for what happened. Beyond that I am not noted for being reckless and I believe the lessons have been learnt – I don’t know what purpose any punishment will serve – but if that is your decision, I have no objections but I will be disappointed if you punish me,” I submitted in my defence.

“I am not punishing you; I am punishing what you did. You may have learnt the lesson but your juniors will say that ‘even when Malik did this thing, he just came and said I accept responsibility and that was it.’ There is nothing they can look at and appreciate that a certain behavior has punitive consequences,” he argued. The more he argued his case, the more my own argument foundered. (This is taking egalitarianism to absurd limits – you may say – but it is something I believe Ghana must learn from this institution).

This was the man who walked into the office Tuesday morning and said “There is going to be a meeting in the newsroom on Friday. It is compulsory for everybody.”

Friday came and every reporter at Myjoyonline and Joy FM congregated in the newsroom. We all expressed our opinions on things we are not doing right and how to improve upon our job.

The man from Bongo (Azure) would not stop dragging his point that we often scratch the surface of issues we report on and that we should do more in-depth analysis of our stories.

“Big stories are not from big men. Let’s do more features. Not every interview should be live”. This motor rider went on and on and on.

Consistently Mugabe said, “I don’t really want us to drag this,” but the boy from Bongo continued to do just that – drag it.

Francisca Forson gave Myjoyonline some English lessons. Looking nowhere in particular, she recalled how she spent her leave reading the news than listening to it. I hear that is what middle-class people do these days.

Her conclusion informed a Mugabe-inspired resolution to surcharge reporters who make negligent mistakes. And like an over-enthusiastic secretary I’ve procured a notebook to keep records of offenders.

Elvis positioned himself to make a speech. “Leadership is a lonely place to be”, he confessed. Mahama says that too.

“You are all great people. Yesterday I went home proud that have such a formidable team. We can’t get it right all the time but that is ok. We are the best at what we do and I think we should clap for ourselves.”

After commending the whole, he picked certain individuals and eulogized them, speaking to their specific strengths and contributions that made them stand out.

He started with Alex Kobina Mensah and then the vivacious Araba Koomson, the ever passionate Evans Mensah, the GYEEDA Manasseh Azure Awuni (who refused a car bribe and rides a wretched motorbike), the predatory Joseph Opoku Gakpo and then the famous Dzifa Bampoh. (Why she dropped a famous name like ‘Gbeho’ for ‘Bampoh’ is still a mystery).

While he eulogized these great guys for their dedication to duty and handed them sealed envelopes “from my heart,” I gathered my thoughts to raise an objection; I thought he had left out Myjoyonline’s own Nathan Gadugah; a dear friend and colleague whose dedication and commitment to his work is unmatched. His writing style is endearing. Elvis turned to his right and said, “This goes to Nathan. I like Nathan because he is passionate about his job.”

Elvis asked that we hold hands forming a circle. “Everybody should say a personal prayer,” he appealed. ‘Reverend’ Elvis Kwashie prayed passionately for the business, our families, our careers, aspirations, the nation, its leaders, and so on. It was a long Pentecostal prayer like one of Mugabe’s unscripted tirade against the West.

So yeah, there was something to grin about as I walked home. At the Joy newsroom, nobody is told what to do, what to write and what to think. Your personal motivation should do that.  Feeding Ghanaians the news, is a thinking-intensive job. And nobody gets pampered.

But occasions like that Friday end of year evaluation knocks it into your head once again that there is a time for everything – honest criticism and heartfelt appreciation.

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