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Journos don’t know their stuff, say editors

Mon 2014-May-5 @ +08 13:19:22 pm
Source: Reporters Sans Frontières

Source: Reporters Sans Frontières

The quality of Malaysian journalism came under scrutiny at a press freedom forum last week; what the editors said prompted these thoughts and questions:

• Do Malaysian journalists know how to ask tough questions? Do our journalists take the effort to prepare beforehand and know the subjects well enough before asking questions?

• Should researchers be employed to take the burden off the journalist — or is it the responsibility of the journalist to know his subject? Why do Malaysian and Asian journalists prefer to collar the minister at the end of a press conference to ask questions, rather than during the event? Timidity, or culture?

• Should we blame only reporters? Shouldn’t editors and their minions at the desk take most of the blame, for not encouraging and insisting on better quality reporting and writing, and showing them the way?

• Or is it that the lack of press freedom in Malaysia, and the repressive press controls and ownership, turn Malaysian journalists into apparently subservient and timid creatures?

After all, why bother to ask the tough question when you know your editor will spike the copy — or ask for it to be rewritten. Or if you know the rewrite desk will turn a meaty story into politically acceptable porridge?

• Is it totally the fault of the reporter in the field — or have they been conditioned into timidity by backroom editors and rewrite desks, who also face pressure from angry politicians and their press aides?

• Shouldn’t editors bear most of the responsibility — or are they evading their responsibility by shifting the burden to reporters, and a supposed lack of training — when in fact, it is the daily on-the-job attitudes and preferences of the bosses that shape the reporter, rather than formal training?

Any number of reporters can be sent to attend formal training programmes — but is it of any use when the reporters know that what the trainer says will be countermanded by their section editor?

Or is it that reporters know that editors want them to be better at producing “spin” and that “better quality” stories only mean stories that merely look and sound nice, to better please the politician or owner?

Time after time, reporters and sub-editors at training sessions I have conducted, have told me: “You should really talk to our bosses, they need training; why bother to teach us these things when the bosses themselves usually say ‘never mind what you learned, that’s not how we do things’; when they themselves need to be trained, or are not prepared to live up to these standards.”

» What the editors said

condensed from Chua Shaua Fui‘s report for FZ.com

Malaysian journalists don’t do enough background work before attending press conference, editors suggested, explaining the poor quality of questions asked during MH370 press conferences.

Two editors suggested that researchers be employed, as in some countries, to provide journalists with the background — and to prepare questions for the journalists on the ground to ask.

Pichai Chuensuksawadi, editor in chief of the Bangkok Post, Balan Moses, executive editor of The Sun, and Datuk Yong Soo Hoeng of Bernama at a Universiti Selangor world press freedom forum

• Balan Moses of The Sun suggested that the absence of researchers to assist reporters could be the reason for the poor quality of questions.

“In Indonesia, they are progressive, each TV station has 40 researchers backing one journalist asking a question. Do we have that?”

• Yong Soo Heong of Bernama: “You need an army of people backing you up. CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg Television, they have armies of researchers backing them up…we need journalists writing the backgrounder for the frontliner to ask the question”.

Balan Moses said he cringed every time a local journalist asked a question at the MH370 press conference — they lacked a facility for languages or were not armed with facts.

• Prof Mohd Safar Hasim, of Universiti Kebangsaan, Malaysian journalists were timid and subservient, and willing to be dictated to by civil servants and public relations officers — he linked this to psychology and not press freedom but did not have an answer on how to make local journalists bolder.

• Pichai Chuensuksawadi of the Bangkok Post newspaper  said that a lack of language ability and lack of preparation on topics made not just Malaysian but other Southeast Asian journalists as well.

At Asean ministerial meetings, Pichai said western journalists would usually be first to ask questions while Asian journalists would approach the minister after the news conference.

“…is it a cultural thing? I do believe it is. It is a language thing, definitely English is not their first language, also I don’t think they do their homework, they don’t know the issues, a combination of things”.

Pichai: Thai journalists blamed universities for producing poor quality journalists, but universities said journalists did not do their job properly.

Balan: journalism courses should be taught by senior journalists or retired journalists, not ivory tower people with no real experience. Journalism schools should produce “thinking journalists rather than stenographers”.

» FULL REPORT‘Lacklustre’ local reporters may do better with help of researchers, says editor [FZ.com]

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4 Comments
  1. Hamilton Bacon permalink
    Mon 2014-May-5 @ +08 15:02:14 pm 15:02

    Researchers are a luxury more for those who have to present news live. Our local reporters are not asking the right questions simply because they don’t care or are not interested. For every issue, there will be dozens of potential questions if one bothers to think through enough. Most of the time, our local reporters don’t. They are happy just to be fed information and then report as given. Their curiosities don’t get the better of them. This is the simple reason for their indifference and as a result, incompetence.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Mon 2014-May-5 @ +08 15:18:44 pm 15:18

      Personal indifference and personal incompetence is not exclusive to Malaysian journalism. Indifference and incompetence brought about by the system is another thing. Does the system – regulations, ownership, political and commercial pressure, and “play safe” editors and owners – does the system encourage or punish critical thinking? Will independent-thinking reporters and writers survive long?

  2. Hamilton Bacon permalink
    Mon 2014-May-5 @ +08 16:01:58 pm 16:01

    In this age of the internet, discerning readers will be drawn to reporters and writers who do not insult their intelligence. And lazy readers will be quite happy with reading the work of lazy reporters and writers who give just the minimum information, leave many questions unanswered but are not taken to task for that.
    In Malaysia, you know more or less what to expect from each newspaper, online news site and TV station. They may be biased, which is sad, but they make no apologies for their stance, and they serve their specific groups of readers. That’s the system here. But it doesn’t mean that reporters and writers can’t improve in their quality of their work. That’s what i am talking about.
    Many respected newspapers and TV stations around the world cater to certain markets, but the material on their pages and programs have substance and are well-edited. That is what we don’t find in our local papers and TV stations.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Mon 2014-May-5 @ +08 16:10:38 pm 16:10

      That’s just a technical solution: we’ll give you the same old crap but better written.

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