Photo: Bryan Chang

The inaugural Poskod Journalism Campus commenced on Friday 21 June, the first day of #Word: The Cooler Lumpur Festival. With the aim of exploring the state of Malaysian journalism and its future challenges and opportunities, it was a one day industry event held at MAP, Publika, where young professionals and students got the opportunity to learn from experienced journalists and editors.

About 100 people attended, including press from Al Jazeera, CATCHA, The Sun, The Nut Graph, The Star and Time Out KL. There were also a range of students and lecturers from IACT college, INTI International University, University of Nottingham Malaysia and UiTM.

Rehman Rashid at Poskod Journalism Campus. Photo: Bryan Chang

Rehman Rashid: Lu Siapa?

Rehman Rashid, former editor of The New Straits Times, kick-started the day with his dynamic keynote speech, titled “Lu Siapa?” With a bohemian aura and a tongue in cheek delivery, Rehman reminded aspiring journalists to be humble: “Every homeless person, beggar, street sweeper, CEO, businessman… everyone has a story to tell that is more important yours. Everyone can teach you what we need to know.”

Rehman invited the audience to ask themselves why they want to be journalists, to question their motives behind this noble profession. A veteran journalist and editor, he told students to write what they know rather than what they think, dismissing the current culture of opinion-driven writing. He concluded by inspiring future journalists to write for history, not to write for now.

From left: Steven Gan, Jason Tan, Wong Siah Ping, Jahabar Sadiq. Photo: Bryan Chang

Across the Digital Divide: The Future of News

The first panel discussion of the day invited three speakers to talk about the future of news from online and print perspectives. The speakers were Jahabar Sadiq, CEO of The Malaysian Insider; Steven Gan, founding editor of Malaysiakini; Wong Siah Ping, the COO of Digital Business at The Star. The panel was moderated by Jason Tan.

Stephen Gan talked about Malaysiakini starting as a news portal in 1999 and the challenges it has faced since then. He raised concerns of competition in online advertising from giant advertising moguls like Google and Yahoo. He noted that online news portals cannot solely rely on online advertising revenue. Malaysiakini currently runs on about half advertising and half reader subscriptions.

Wong Siah Ping, COO of Digital Business, The Star, noted that journalists these days have to learn to tell stories across different mediums. Editors have to be aware of how news flows across desktops, mobile devices and tablets and that these platforms have to compliment each other. She added, however, that advertisers are still willing to pay more for print space than digital space.

Jahabar Sadiq, who was formerly a correspondent with Reuters, predicted that future of news would strongly visual: fewer words accompanied with photos and videos that cater to the Twitter and Instagram generation. Incorporating new kinds of digital media would be led, he joked, by “the kid in the office who says, ‘Boss, this is going to be huge.'” He pointed out that he already does the bulk of his work from his phone.

Janet Steele at Poskod Journalism Campus. Photo: Bryan Chang.

Janet Steele: Global Journalism and Local Media

The second keynote of the day featured Janet Steele, an Associate Professor of Journalism from George Washington University. As a researcher of journalism in Southeast Asia, she shared her thoughts on media and democracy, drawing on the history of Tempo, an independent Indonesian magazine.

Janet was present during the groundbreaking moment when former Indonesian president Suharto resigned from his post, a move that followed the Asian Economic Crisis in 1997. Since then, Indonesia has experienced more media freedom, which was long suppressed by Suharto’s New Order.

“Press freedom comes from the bottom up,” Janet said. The public has to understand the importance of press freedom in a democracy. In Indonesia, she pointed out, the initiative for press freedom in Indonesia came from journalists and civil society working with the public.

Janet’s overarching theme was that journalists have a duty to be the best journalists that they can be: even in tightly controlled publications, there are good people who are holding themselves to a high standard. She pointed out that members of alternative and independent media often receive their training from the mainstream press.

Lessons from Media Frontlines

The last panel of the day featured Jason Tan, editor of The B-Side; keynote speaker Janet Steele; and Wong Chin Huat, political columnist with The Nut Graph and FZ.com. The panel was moderated by Poskod.my’s editor, Ling Low.

The second panel offered a variety of discussions based on lessons learned by the individuals through their unconventional paths in journalism.

Wong Chin Huat, a steering committee member of Bersih 2.0, is a political scientist as well as a political commentator. “Everything is political, even the time,” he began, using the example of the sun rising at 7am. While we might take this to be a fact, Chin Huat pointed out that the time is set at 7am because of a government policy to unify West and East Malaysian time.

Chin Huat said that he did not think journalists should or could be objective, and that it is imperative to be politically engaged and aware. He claimed that there has been a conscious de-politicisation in society since 1969, which means fewer journalists will stick their necks out for a sensitive story. “Politics is only as dirty as we are,” he concluded.

Jason Tan’s discussion also spun off on the theme of journalism and politics, with a riff on the incoming haze from Indonesia. He spoke about how journalism is a way to tell stories about who we are and where we come from. Only then can we understand that events are a result of our collective lifestyle choices – even events like the haze, which we might assume has nothing to do with us.

Janet Steele talked about her experiences of doing research as an American woman in Indonesia and Malaysia, and particularly her encounters with trying to understand religion in both countries. She also touched on the effect of technology and globalisation: on the one hand it has encouraged readers and writers to be more lazy, but on the other hand, 80% of shared media still comes from newspapers. She said this reinforced the need for good writing.

Poskod Journalism Campus was produced by Poskod.my and supported by FZ.com, British Council Malaysia and US Embassy Kuala Lumpur, with beverage sponsorship from Ben’s Independent Grocer. Poskod.my hopes to continue promoting good journalism and the exchange of ideas at more events in the near future.

Disclosure: The Cooler Lumpur Festival was produced by PopDigital. The same parent company publishes Poskod.my.

Sherry Israel is currently Poskod.my’s Writer in Progress trainee.