Career Conversations with Arit Okpo, Host at CNN.

As a versatile media personality, you’ve worked in various roles, from hosting to producing. What motivates you to wear different hats in the media industry, and how do these roles complement each other?

A wonderful life for me is one where I can do many different things at different times – I would be very bored otherwise. I am very curious and really enjoy discovering and celebrating the things I can do, so it makes a lot of sense to me to meet a new skill, learn it and make it mine. That has been part of my journey so far and it has evolved in a very original way through my career.

Many of my skills are beads on the same string, or parts of the same orbit – presenting on TV, hosting an event, moderating a conversation, making a documentary, doing a voiceover – those have allbeen aspects of my skill and passion and curiosity about storytelling and what it can do.

In your role as a media personality and producer, what do you believe is your unique contribution to the media landscape in Nigeria and Africa as a whole?

Myself. I am a unique contribution to the media landscape. It’s in the person that I am, my journey there, the work I have done and its spread across fields, the stories I have chosen and the ways I have shown up. I tell stories with heart and presence, in ways that sit comfortably beside excellence and professionalism – there is actually no one quite like me in the media space. The things I have done/do are part of the larger picture that is me, and they exist because of how I exist. My impact is quite wide, as is my footprint.

You have a strong online presence and engage with your audience on social media. How do you navigate the challenges and opportunities of digital media, especially in the context of contemporary African culture and society?

This is a work in progress for me, but also, social media is an ever-changing beast – so adaptability is also part of its culture. Social media has huge scope as a tool for community organizing, accountability building, making space, finding justice, finding community etc these are valuable, powerful things that it is essential to protect.

I think of social media as a huge meeting placeeveryone has a reason or desire out of their interactions. Linked to that, I am responsible for the things I say and the things I interact with. I cannot choose what people share, but I can choose what I do about it. I can also do my best to remember that even strongly stated thought is still thought. A thing isn’t true because it has been reposted many times.

I also try to remember that a life is made up of many things, and social media is one thing, but not all of it.

As a woman in the media industry, have you faced specific challenges or opportunities, and how have these shaped your career and your perspective on gender equality in media?

I’ve worked with a lot of incredible women since my entry into the media industry – and we are currently in a time when women are holding a lot of power within the industry – as film makers, as policy makers, as story tellers etc. Most of my work has been headed by women or led by women – fearless human women who just keep going. These women are not only telling stories, but they are also making decisions, moving money, employing people, commissioning stories – a fundamental part of evolving and building culture. I like it very much.

You’ve covered various societal issues through your work. How do you balance objective reporting and advocacy for important social and cultural causes?

I don’t think that they always stand in opposition, and sometimes “objectivity” as a term is used to describe a lack of care or a determination that all sides should matter equally. So maybe I am not always objective. That has been important to me to realise and I’m quite OK with it. People who tell stories are often expected to do so as if they have no personal relationships or thoughts about the things they share. I have a different leaning – that it is important to be aware of the things that matter to you, because if you don’t, it shows – sometimes in what you don’t talk about, or how you tell the stories that you do.

My work is important to me, because I am in a unique position to tell stories, often on huge platforms or to a wide reach. The position for me often is – if this matters, and I can tell it, then I will.

What are some of the trends and changes you foresee in the African media industry, and how do you plan to adapt and contribute to these developments?

Media is becoming more and more decentralised. Storytelling across the continent is becoming incredibly diversethe internet, globalization, history and current affairs are making a huge impact on even the stories we’ve always known,and there is a world of creators who have found their niche at this time. I’m looking forward to seeing how this changes media, storytelling, newsand information culture across the continent.

People are people, they aren’t just numbers or events or clicks. Sometimes, when you are the person “breaking” a story, it’s easy to forget that. I like that there are more people/communities/groups – taking control, rejecting outdated or foisted on narratives, refusing to be flattened. It’s bringing up a lot of questions for me –

What happens to narratives? What happens to responsibility? How do you meet audiences? Who decides the context of how a story is told? Whodecides what is important? What is news? What is worth telling?

I don’t plan to adapt to the developments. I amevolving in my work and where I would like it to show up next. Media is important to me and yet I don’t know for certain that it will continue to be my main focus in the future. It’s probably more accurate to say that I look forward to seeing where and how these developments and I meet.


Lastly, what is your vision for the future of media in Africa, and how do you aim to contribute to the growth and transformation of the industry?

I am excited to see stories become more centered within the reality of the people they are about and to see what this does to prevailing narratives. I am excited to see what happens as young Africans –who in many ways do not have a lot of the baggage of past generations – question and challenge narratives, history and the way things are. We are not just the ones the lens is turned on; we are holding the lens – and the mic – and telling the stories in our words and our language – that is a very powerful thing.

Turning back to myself; I have spent the last 10 years contributing to the media industry, I’ve worked really hard and given a lot. I also turned 40 last year, and a place where those timelines intersect is that I can own the places where I have attained mastery.

With those in mind, I’m excited about mutually beneficial, industry wide relationships that honor my journey and my skills. I aim to play more of a part in ecosystem building and to work on continent-wide, global facing projects. I’m excited for opportunities to share the wealth of experience and knowledge I have gained, in ways that are beneficial, enjoyable and culture transforming.

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