When City People was founded in November 1996, many people didn’t think it will last this long. But 23 years after, City People has remained the only surviving soft-sell magazine that still comes out weekly. It is also the oldest celebrity magazine in Nigeria today. It was set up by Seye Kehinde, who has put in 35 years of active service in the newspaper/magazine industry.
He left The News/TEMPO Magazine Media group, where he was a founding member to float City People Magazine.
The big news is that City People is 23 and the ovation is loud within and outside Nigeria. Let’s tell you more. City People Magazine, for the past 23 years has been disseminating a rich collection of society stories, entertainment, business, technology, lifestyle, pop culture, real estate, fashion & beauty and hot gossips. It covers news 24/7 from politics, to economy, crimes to world events and of course, celebrity. The magazine is into Events and Co-ordinates Red Carpets.
City People is committed to keeping addicted readers updated on the monumental events of the day, covering society stories from a diversity of perspectives.
Following the emerging digital media competition, City People has equally created a formidable online presence, which is fast creating addicted and fast-growing followers on the platform in the online community. There is City People Online website, City People TV, City People Online Fashion & Beauty Magazine, among many other social media platforms that belong to the City People Media Group.
A team of City People Reporters, stormed the Publisher’s office last week to find out how he has sustained the CP brand for 23 years, against all odds. It was quite an interesting session. Read excerpts below.
City People is 23. How does that make you feel?
It has been 23 exciting years. 23 years in the life of a person is a major milestone. For a turbulent business, that has to do with the media, it takes a lot to sustain a publication for 23.
Can you take us through the journey of how it all started?
Without sounding spiritual, I will say CityPeople is an idea that came from God several years before it was actualised in 1996. The idea was to mirror the lifestyle of people, celebrities and society figures. The idea came while I was in 200 Level at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife. I was a student of History, Political Science & International Relations. And everything had to do with personalities in these various fields we studied all the major players. That got me interested in studying about people. I read the autobiographies of great leaders in History, globally and locally. I felt there was need to have a magazine that would showcase the lifestyle of People. Of course, you would say there were existing magazines that do that at that time, but I saw it as an area of interest, and I believed if I set up a magazine it would be different, and it would work out.
So, what I had in mind then was to celebrate people; look at their successes, their mistakes, pitfalls, achievements and all that and give room for readers to learn from all these. That’s the whole idea that metamorphosed into reality. And, of course, as an undergraduate at the University of Ife, it was merely an idea and I was still battling over the best name to give it and I couldn’t find any. I just kept the dream until 1996 when I was able to put it together.
How did you coin the name City People?
That was actually the last thing that happened. For several years, I couldn’t put a name to the magazine. It was very difficult; we didn’t want to copy an existing name, because the thing in the media at that time was, just replicate a name that exists abroad here, like most of the major newspapers are names that exist abroad.
So, it was very difficult suggesting a name until one Sunday afternoon, I was just driving on the 3rd Mainland bridge, going for an appointment. It just occurred to me that we are talking about a name for a Magazine that would cover The City”. What do we want to do actually? To mirror the lifestyles of the People in the City. So, I started playing with the City People concept like People in the City.
And that was how it clicked. Of course, I asked a few of my friends, and they all said it made sense. And that was how the name City People clicked in November 1996.
How did you pick your team when you started?
Yes, that was also very interesting. At the time we wanted to take off, I just said, let me call on one or two persons. I felt we shouldn’t be more than 3 or 4 to start City People. But interestingly before we started looking for people to join us, word had gone round that we are working on a project, because I was part of another media house and we had to resign there to focus on the new one. So, word went round and people started asking questions about it. And before I knew what was happening, I had about 15 persons who were willing to join. They built the foundation of the City People team. At that time the problem was how to take off. I was sure then that once we take off, we will all be fine, but interestingly, most of them said the money wasn’t the issue, but they just wanted to be part of the new team. And that was how we started with about 15 persons.
Was it advert-driven or sales- driven?
Well, both. It was both in the sense that, at that time, for the print to soar, you needed to depend on Sales. The money for the advert was more secondary. It was like a saving. So for us, it was more of street sales. There wasn’t any advert coming in, and most people we went to, didn’t understand where we were coming from. Some people didn’t just understand how a Serious journalist would say he wants to do unserious media work. That is how they saw it. Of course, I lost a lot of friends. They felt I wasn’t sure of what I wanted, but today some came back to apologise and we are fine. For me, I had a clear picture of what I wanted to do. Many people do not understand why you wanted to do a black and white magazine when those you were to compete with were doing colour. For some people, it was like suicide. Why would you want to do black and white when you had existing magazines doing the same thing in a more attractive colour and look?.
Why did you choose soft-sell ahead of the hard-sell reporting you started with?
Well, people say that, but I don’t see myself as either a Hard or Softsell writer. I see myself as a journalist who loves People-Oriented Stories. Even when I was the so-called “Serious Reporter”, people still formed the nucleus of whatever I wanted to report. I have always come from a position of Human Interest. For me, that is what thrilled me. Of course, I also believe there is no difference between serious and unserious. The important thing is that you have a story to tell, and you have a story to sell to the people. That was the same concept of The News Magazine that everybody talks about today. It also came from that genre of world view. If we are talking about 2020 Budget, my concern would be how the 2020 Budget would affect the cost of bread on the street. How would it affect the cost of buying fuel? That is how an average person would want to view it. So if you say, you want to be throwing figures in the air, you will not attract the interest of the majority. It also has a lot to do with the course I studied in school, which was political science, history, and international relations. It has a lot to do with people’s stories. I used to read about achievers, how they made it in life, those who failed, how they failed; those who stumbled and all…
So, that was why the vision of City People remains “Mirroring the lifestyle of celebrities”, and that could be done in a million and one ways.
How much was a copy of City People when you started 23 years ago?
It was 40 naira, and at that time, for me, that was the best you could do. It was a 16-page Black & White society magazine.
What was the acceptance like despite coming out as Black and White?
It was fantastic. We stood out. There is somebody I respect so much in the industry. I sounded him out and he said, Come, let’s talk. What would this magazine look like? Mention an existing magazine that looks like it? And in all honesty, there was none. So, I said well, I don’t have an idea of anyone that looks like it, but I can explain what it will look like. So, I took a piece of paper and I tried to explain how it would look. He asked if it would be Colour or Black and White, and I said Black and White. He just said it in Yoruba “Kole work” (It can’t work). I learned a lot of lessons there when he said “Kole work”. I didn’t lose interest, because I could see this thing working. I just said thank you sir, and I left. The person came back to me a year later and said he did not see what I saw at that time. So, I learned a lesson at that time that you should not let someone else interpret your vision for you. As an encounter with God, I saw it as God showed to me that it would work. And I was the one God showed the vision, not the person who was trying to advise me. So, he won’t see what I have seen or how I saw it. So, it took us about six months before we started introducing colour. Not even full colour. And the main reason we didn’t do colour was because of money. Colour was more expensive than black and white. That was just the reason we started off with black and white.
When the first edition hit the street, what came to your mind?
I was so happy. I was happy that we transited from Idea to Reality. We did 500 copies at that time and it was sold out. Everyone was looking for it because we created awareness for it. It was advertised in The Guardian at that time. We did a small advertorial and asked people to Watch Out.
Which stories were in the first edition? Can you remember?
The fact that we could do the story of those who were reigning at that time, the likes of Akeem Belo-Osagie when he bought UBA. The story thrilled everyone. And also the story Fola and Tayo, who just set up GTBank at that time. Everybody was just wondering. So, what we used to do was to tell their stories. We talked about who did what. We talked about Alhaji Folawiyo, who was unarguably the richest man at that time. Mike Adenuga, who just struck oil business at that time. People were just asking questions, who are these people? Those are the kind of stories that we did and it gave me a lot of excitement. One of the things I like about this job is, you start from ground zero, and you build something out of it. At the time we wrote about Mike Adenuga, no material existed, no document existed, but, of course, talking to people, talking to people who know him, you create a story out of it and you unveil the subject.