Starting to nurture a dream and at the same time gaining acceptance is very rare. This is the success story of Ghana’s hottest gist blogger, AMEYAW DEBRAH. He distinguished himself with his unique way of crafting contents around celebrities, coupled with the support of a bossom friend who voluntarily created a link for him, ameyawdebrah.com. Today, the dream has given him a name as well as taken him around the continent. This interview explained more about his journey, travails and joy of service…
What was childhood like for you?
Growing up was fun. I grew up in a family were my parents sort of allowed us to express ourselves and gave us everything we wanted. I couldn’t remember so much of the early stages because at one point, my parents went to the UK and we had to live with my grandparents in the eastern region. So, when they came back, that was the point I remember most of the memories. It was fun. They gave us materials from which we could learn one or two things, story books and materials from British Broadcasting Corporation, BBC which entertained and educated us. Personally, there was a lot of attention on me from my parents because I was very weak, I often fell sick and so, they always paid attention to me. It was difficult for me going to school without falling sick. I spent most time in the hospital. I had to be exempted from some school activities to ensure I went to school from Monday to Friday until senior secondary school when I tried to be a lot more on my own and the sickness became less. Aside that, growing up was fun, wonderful family of four boys and a girl.
Was journalism your childhood ambition?
I think everybody went through that point. When I was growing up with my grandparents, I used to dissect and examine animals, so they were happy that their grandson was going to be a doctor. The next minute, I was destroying their furniture to see the content and they thought I was going to be an engineer. Growing up, I showed a lot of creativity. I was painting. I felt I would be a doctor until I went to secondary school to read biology, physics and mathematics and I felt I was not made for that because I had difficulty in reading. In the lecture room I preferred to listen and during revision everything was in my mind. Unfortunately, biology and chemistry weren’t easy for me because you have to do a lot of reading and it was quite technical too and I lost interest. So, I joined the writers and debaters club, so that was where I started having interest in writing as well. When I got to Kwame Nkrumah University, I saw a course on Publishing Studies, I applied and I was accepted.
So, when did you start on-line writing?
I started after school but in school, I was always on the web and my department introduced a course on E-Publishing. They taught us how to do basic website and I showed great interest. I always had the best and most functional site. I also won an award for best publishing student sponsored by Ovation Magazine. As part of that, they told me if I wanted to do my National Service after university I could come to them, which I did. So that was how I started writing celebrity stories and news for publication. I was with Ovation for a bit. When it became clear Ovation was not going to work forever, I started writing to some websites, especially in the U.S, Pan African websites which was focusing on Africa. I told them I was in Ghana and I could write celebrity stories for them. They were not paying, but I was like for the experience I would do it. I started from there writing for the internet. I saw the feedback was very different from print. Most of the time, people you don’t expect to reach out would reach out to you. After that, I joined a project called Voices of Africa which is in the Netherlands. They give Nokia mobile phones to young journalists to do video and picture stories for them. So, I joined the project and was representing Ghana. My content was on their website which was Africanews.com. Through that, Ghanaweb saw my work and contacted me and told me to be their entertainment editor for the whole website. Then they were based in Holland. They sent me money to set up internet at home. I started working from home and a lot of the contents were growing and I was also putting them on lots of platforms. For instance, I would go to places and put pictures on my facebook page. So, the name started going around and one of my friends who now owns Ghana Celebrities was setting up his website and he was based in London, so he asked me for news since I was based in Ghana which I gave to him freely. At a point he was like, why don’t I get you your own website, we joked about it and I was yeah get ameyawdebrah.com. One day, I was there and he sent me a link and said, look that’s your website. So, since I had some followers, it started growing from strength to strength.
What was your unique selling point that drew the attention of publishers to your write-ups?
I think it was my style, because most of the time, especially when it comes to entertainment and celebrity news, it was often the random boring entertainment news. But I brought in the celebrity angle. The focus was like, okay this person has done this and that, it’s fabulous, let’s say it. That way I was bringing out most of the news people were ignoring and they realized it was attractive and people were responding to that. So, I think that was the selling point. In terms of blogging, it became unique because I used my name and that was the best decision I made.
How will you compare the Ghanaian entertainment industry and that of Nigeria?
Obviously, the Nigerian entertainment industry is much bigger. There are more people and of course there is a lot of money. What makes the Nigerian business attractive is the fact that there is a lot more money to be made and that is something the Ghanaian entertainment lacks. I think in business whether it’s legit or not, Nigerians will make it look legit by investing and pushing it to become sustainable. Nigerians embrace what is theirs, they would defend their artistes. They may laugh or mock them, but they are proud of things that come out from Nigeria. Ghanaians don’t do that, we like foreign things more than our own.
But why don’t Ghanaians value their own ideas and talent?
I think it a cultural thing. At a point, a lot of things were coming from that side. But Nigeria is not like that; even the rice we eat is different. It’s imported rice, Thailand rice and all that. I think in Nigeria there are rules in terms of the percentage of foreign content on TV. A big percentage must be local content and that helps grow that culture. Unfortunately for us, we haven’t had that yet. But I think things are growing, even the celebrity culture I am talking about, it’s only now that it is taking effect. Social media is part of the growth. People now want to belong and hopefully, it will evolve.
Don’t you think on-line reporting can make hard copy news become a thing of the past?
I don’t believe that will happen. Even in the States where social media and on-line space is bigger, it’s side by side because for some people, the convenience a newspaper gives you is quite different from the convenience of reading on-line. So, I think they should exist side by side. I don’t think one will replace the other. Also it depends on how convenient it is for people to go on internet in terms of cost, speed and stuffs like that. But most of the traditional people and companies still want to see their adverts in traditional media not on line anywhere. So, print people will still be in business, they serve a different purpose and audience. For some once it’s in a newspaper it’s true, but if on-line it’s a bit doggy. But culturally, I don’t think we will ever get to a point where newspaper will be completely wiped out because they both serve different purposes.
What is your definition of a successful reporter?
It comes in a number of ways. When I look at my journey, I’ve had lots of highlights and most of them represent different success stories at different stages. When I started, there were a lot of hustles, going to events on my own, not making money. Success came at one point where I could afford to buy my own car and my own tickets for shows. And another success came when I interviewed Amber Rose and because it’s on video, the interview was featured on all their popular American blogs; Paris Hilton, Nicole Bitchy and even BET, that’s another success for me. When I wake up, people are on social media getting in touch with me because they heard something and they want to confirm from me if it’s true. They feel I am the only one who can confirm it.
So, what does it take to be a successful writer?
Dedication is important. And you must be known for something. A lot of people say on-line reporters must be opinionated, but I say you rather believe in something…For instance, I believe in creating celebrity culture and I have consistently pushed that. So, you must stand for something. And once you build that believability, people would know that is what they get from you, then it’s easy for the rest to follow.
But why are you so humble despite all these?
I think it will be the way I grew up. My family members are very humble people. And we open up to people, no matter who you are. I think I picked up a lot of that and it transformed me. Like I told you, growing up I had a lot of physical challenges and that kept me to myself a lot. But now that I am grown, no matter what has changed in terms of personality, I am still who I am.
So, what can Ghanaian celebrities do to project a better brand to the world?
I think it is a cultural thing. It’s an understanding that if you are in the business, you have to do certain things to catch attention from within and without, and a lot of people don’t understand it. But now, I see people employing PR people or publicists to manage them and even look for media spots and opportunities outside Ghana. It’s that understanding that a lot of people don’t have and most of the time they are not making good money, and when they make little they are happy rather than going to pay somebody whose job is just to advise you to do this or that. But I think the more we grow a lot more people will understand.
What do you like most about Nigerians?
There is something special about Nigerians. I have too many of them as friends now. They are go-getters, they want to stand and be counted, whereas Ghanaians are more in our corner, we are reserved, laid back. But in Nigeria, even if they haven’t made it, they will sing their praises so that it echoes. That is why most Nigerians are up there, they want to be seen and felt.