Images: Shutterstock. Graphic: Rishad Patel
From sophisticated megacities to conflict zones, journalists working in Asia must be able to tackle a host challenges in order to deliver compelling stories. Adding to these complexities is the fact that many operate under repressive regimes, with political pressures on media freedom and expression. How do journalists work effectively in this dynamic space?
Splice reached out to journalists working in the region for their advice.
“Learn to shut up, not just when the other person is talking, but just after. Give them three or four seconds of unnerving silence just after they finish saying something in a part of the interview where you suspect there’s more to be said. They are likely to fill that uncomfortable silence with something that their brain has not had time to censor.”
Nicholas Walton is a writer and former BBC foreign correspondent. He’s working on a Singapore book to follow ‘Genoa: La Superba.’ He also writes for the Economist Intelligence Unit.
“1. No assignment is too small. Give it your all, no matter what because your brand matters.
2. You are as good as your contacts. If you can’t call the newsmaker when news breaks, you’re no good to anyone.
3. Don’t be in a hurry to get to the top. Every experience counts.
4. There are no short cuts. Do your homework. It shows.”
Haslinda Amin is Bloomberg’s Chief International Correspondent for Southeast Asia. She’s also the host and executive producer of the ‘High Flyers’ talk show.
“Never make assumptions — keep asking questions, challenging what you know to be true, and to stay as curious as you can. Asking the right questions, or even the seemingly wrong ones, will make you a better journalist, as you will be able to report on an event or issue as accurately as you can, and it will keep you grounded — a routine ego check — as you are always challenging your beliefs, your knowledge, and you submit to the fact that you may not always be correct. In short, question everything, everyone — your sources, your editors, especially yourself.”
Avie Olarte is a Filipino writer who specializes in investigative journalism and research. A journalist for 17 years, her body of work includes stories on politics, corruption, human rights, environment, gender and media and development. She is a recipient of awards from the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism. She’s worked for Vera Files and is currently with CNN Philippines.
“It pays to let conversations wander. Sometimes the best and most valuable information will land in the final, meandering minutes of an interview. If you have the time, let conversations veer wildly off topic once in a while.”
Thomas Fuller, San Francisco bureau chief for The New York Times. He has spent the past two decades in postings abroad for The Times and The International Herald Tribune in Europe and most recently in Southeast Asia. He covered military coups in Thailand, the demise of dictatorship in Myanmar and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s transition from political prisoner to politician, the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, the expansion of the European Union into Eastern Europe, rioting in French cities, the Iraq War, the Arab Spring, the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, choking forest fires in Borneo and the legacy of war in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. He began his career in the Paris newsroom of The International Herald Tribune and has been based in Kuala Lumpur, Brussels, Paris and most recently in Bangkok.
“Always volunteer to do things that are never done before or things that most older journos wouldn’t do like Snapchat, Instagram Stories, Facebook Live and messaging apps. If you fail, at least you learn something. If it succeeds, you get to lead it.”
Janie Octia is a Social Publishing Producer at CNN. Based in Hong Kong, she’s part of a global team responsible for managing CNN’s social accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and messaging apps such as LINE. Octia was Yahoo’s Senior Editorial Operations Manager for India and Southeast Asia. She has also worked for Yahoo Philippines as a global news editor, and as a reporter and production specialist for INQUIRER.net.
“Remove yourself from the story as much as possible, ask the tough questions, and be fair and persistent. Or, as another journalist once told me: “Be a polite pain in the ass.””
Tom Grundy, editor in chief of Hong Kong Free Press, which was founded in 2015 in response to press freedom issues in the city. Based in Hong Kong for more than ten years, Grundy is a British multimedia journalist who has contributed to a range of international outlets. He is also behind the popular Hong Kong news and culture platform, hongwrong.com, and is the co-founder of a multimedia advocacy and legal campaign for domestic workers.
“ALWAYS research your story. Do all the background reading and make sure the questions you want to ask are pertinent and haven’t been addressed before. Never walk blind into something if you can help it. Generally, read as much as you can. Not just news sites. Invest in magazines, non-fiction books and look for research and analyses on the important subjects of the day.”
Marc Lourdes, director of CNN Digital Asia, has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, working at local Malaysian dailies The Star and New Straits Times before moving on to build digital storytelling platforms at Yahoo!, where he was editor-in-chief in Singapore. Now based in Hong Kong, Lourdes leads CNN Digital’s Asia team across editorial content and multiplatform programming for the network’s global audience during that timezone.
“The most important thing is to be mentally nimble. Approach a story with the full expectation that it may turn out to be completely different from what you think it will be. Chase down every lead and tie up every loose end (i.e. fact-check). Treat ALL newsmakers with respect. No one owes you or the news industry anything. You are not entitled to access or quotes. Direct quotes are sacred; don’t embellish them.”
Bhavan Jaipragas is the Asia Correspondent for South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. He says on his LinkedIn profile that he writes deep-dive pieces on Asean nations’ domestic politics, economy, and diplomatic ties with China and the rest of the world. He also touches on subjects like extremism and the sharing economy.
“The first thing is to ask yourself why you are doing this story and why this story is important to tell to your audience. Then you need to find out what others have reported on the issue and what new angle you are going to pursue that will make the most impact. Then, I think you should talk to as many people as possible who are related to the story. And then decide on the multimedia tools you could integrate so that you could tell the story in a better and creative way.”
Rajneesh Bhandari is a multimedia journalist and filmmaker, with work published by The New York Times, CCTV and Asia Calling. He is the coordinator of experiential reporting Media Gufa, regularly runs journalism workshops, and is working to improve digital literacy in Nepal by training young people in rural areas.
“I think it is very hard for young journalists to prove themselves in a newsroom if they are working with some newspapers that are pro-government, because they are not required to cover the hot topics because [the publishers] are afraid the government will sue them and shut down their organizations. But if the young journalists are working with the neutral and independent newspapers, they are brave… and they will become the professional journalists in future.”
Aun Pheap, former Cambodia Daily journalist, has won awards for his work on illegal logging and trans-border smuggling. Pheap and ex-colleague Zsombor Peter were recently charged with “incitement” over their election coverage and could face two years in prison if convicted, charges that come after the newspaper closed amid government pressure in September.
“No story is worth dying for, but some stories are worth taking a bit of risk. Cultivate news awareness; cultivate sources and take every story as an opportunity.”
Syed Nazakat, founder and editor-in-chief of DataLEADS, a Delhi-based media startup that takes a data-driven approach to reporting. With more than 17 years of experience, he has revealed stories about secret torture chambers in India, arms smuggling in Bangladesh, and the trafficking of women from Afghanistan. Syed was among the first journalists to report from an Al-Qaeda rehabilitation camp in Saudi Arabia, and in 2013 he secured unprecedented access to the military detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to report on prison abuse cases.