During their three months in Singapore, the 2014 Fellows got a chance to reflect, rejuvenate and retrain. A key goal was to keep up to date with changes in the industry and in the craft of journalism. They visited newsrooms such as The Straits Times, CNBC and Reuters, and attended workshops on social media and data journalism, for example. But they also stayed focus on journalism’s timeless essence, as a profession dedicated to storytelling in the public interest.
[Participants of the Asia Journalism Forum event at Riverview Hotel. Photo: Yeo Kai Wen]
The world will collapse without journalists, said Aidan White, director of Ethical Journalism Network at the welcome dinner to open the Asia Journalism Forum seminar on Sustainable Independent Journalism. But with media organizations downsizing or closing down, the key is remaining sustainable so that journalism can survive. At the conference, participants learnt the guerilla-type survival skills of alternative media – such as Malaysiakini, Thaipublica and Ujyaalo Network from Nepal. They also heard from Google and Storyful on how to tap on digital media for greater reach.
Dealing with diversity
Journalists have to start with assumptions and stereotypes, but shouldn’t end there, said V. Gayathry, executive director, South East Asia Press Alliance. They should always test and verify, and look beyond the obvious. For example, what looks like an ethnic conflict could really be about economics. The diversity workshop has become a staple of the AJF programme.
Edson Tandoc spoke to the Fellows about how web analytics is influencing editorial decision making in US papers. Real-time feedback on how readers are responding to stories (and even different versions of headlines) allows editors to pick and place content according to readers’ tastes – if they wish. But Tandoc also pointed out that journalism shouldn’t just be about what readers want – it is also about what the public needs. Tandoc, a former Philippine Enquirer reporter, is now an assistant professor at the Wee Kim Wee School.
The view from the trenches
[K D Suarez shows the equipment he uses for his multimedia reporting. Photo: Cherian George]
At one of the weekly meetings, Fellows exchanged inside stories of how news organisations were adapting to media convergence. Singapore Fellow Serene Quek spoke about how her print colleagues at Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao are voluntarily experimenting with short videos and multimedia content including a popular Chinese “Character of the Year” readers’ poll. Filipino Fellows Arlene Burgos of ABS-CBN and Kris Danielle Suarez of Rappler related how social media had been used in disaster relief and other crises in the Philippines.
Tapping social media
Fellows learnt how to make proper use of social media tools. Asha Phillips of Storyful, an organisation that sources for stories, news pictures and videos online, shared tips on how to verify content before using them as part of news coverage.
From pens to lenses
[Photo workshop for reporters, conducted by Phocus Academy. Photo: Thao Nguyen]
These days, writers are often called on to shoot photos to accompany their stories, or produce short video reports for the web. AJF organised introductory courses in photography and video for the Fellows for Fellows who are more accustomed to working with the printed word.
Newsroom visits provided the opportunity for Fellows to find out how different news organisations are responding at time of great change.
[In the Reuters lobby are two giant volumes containing profiles of journalists who died in the line of duty. It was a reminder that, for all the advances in technology, the dedication of the individual journalist on the ground is still the most valuable “app”. Photo: Cherian George]
Narayan Wagle on fiction
Nepali Fellow Narayan Wagle was our celebrity author at a special AJF tea session at Gurkha Palace restaurant, also attended by members of the Singapore Nepali Society. Narayan, who has written two bestselling novels set in his tumultuous homeland, explained why he turned to fiction despite already being an influential editor and journalist. “I can interview everyone from a prime minister to a rickshaw puller, but I can’t enter some levels; I can’t enter one’s mind.” Journalism limited itself to facts and figures, he noted. “But can we measure one’s pleasure? Can we measure one’s pain?” However, he added that he hasn’t given up on journalism; he is inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who considered himself a journalist till the last, even after being heralded as one of the greatest novelists of his era. Narayan said he has come to realise that the gap between literature and journalism is narrow. “Both require imagination based on facts.”
Celebrating media freedom
May 3 was World Press Freedom Day, a day that is met with mixed feelings for many Fellows who work under all sorts of constraints – from political to commercial pressures. For Pakistani Fellow Fazal Khaliq, the event was especially poignant as he remembered his colleagues back home, some of whom do not even sleep in the same place two days in a row for fear of being rounded up by government or Taliban agents. The other speakers at the event were Michael Vatikiotis, regional director of the Geneva-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue; V. Gayathry, executive director, South East Asia Press Alliance; and AJF director Cherian George. The Fellows were guests of the Asia Media Information and Communication Centre, AMIC.