Leading Millennials: Elizabeth Law, Agence France-Presse

"I was taught that if your work improves the life of just one person, you have done your duty in public service."

Elizabeth is a reporter at Agence France-Presse, based in Singapore. She formerly covered the courts and crime beat at SPH’s The New Paper.

She appears here as part of our profiles on the evolving generation of professionals in the service of journalism. Follow her on Twitter or drop her an email at Elizabeth.Law@afp.com.

Elizabeth Law
Elizabeth Law

Tell me about your work at the AFP. What do you report on?

I’m one of three full-time journalists covering Singapore for AFP so my work involves anything that happens here which would be of international interest. Our stories run the gamut from business, politics and the economy, to sports and lifestyle stories.

For instance, in the last week of October, I went from writing about the clarification of rules governing events at a free-speech park, to an interview with the head of the International Energy Authority, to Singapore’s Michelin-starred hawker getting a million-dollar expansion deal. The week was rounded off with late-night tennis coverage at the WTA Finals.

I’m primarily a text journalist but have been dabbling with shooting videos on my mobile phone.

How did you get that job at the AFP?

After three years on the crime and courts beat at The New Paper, I was looking for more opportunities to expand my range. I had heard of an opening at AFP and thought I’d give the wires a shot (most of my experience had been with magazines and newspapers). One very tough writing test and an even more harrowing interview later, here I am.

What are some of the things you do in this job that would surprise people?

That I often go walking around housing estates knocking on doors and hanging around coffeeshops to talk to people. While their stories might not move markets or make the top news, its these stories that offer a look into Singapore that go beyond the usual narrative of sterile yet affluent financial hub.

Also, I am on social media a lot. (All in the name of work, I swear!)

What do you love about what you do? What motivates you?

I love talking to people and learning about their lives while another part of me enjoys telling people about things, which makes this the perfect job.

Here’s a long answer to a short question but early on in journalism school, I was taught that if your work improves the life of just one person, you have done your duty in public service. It’s still a guiding principle for me. Whenever I work on enterprise stories, I push myself to look for one that can help better someone’s life. My innate curiosity drives me find out why things happen a certain way. An extremely competitive nature also means I’m always looking for the best way to tell a story.

I ask myself, is this good enough for Facebook? Will it work on Instagram?

Where do you struggle most?

Having to adapt to working in a much bigger newsroom that crosses borders. Also as a young reporter excited for new experiences, there’s a tendency to want things to happen immediately. My instinct is to jump when news breaks locally so I often have to be reminded: what does this mean for the region and the world?

On a day to day level, numbers and jargon, which I come across a lot more now that I do business and economic stories.

No one ever said “I’m going to journalism school because I love numbers!”

What’s one thing you would like to do better in 2017?

Tell better stories. Also, I’m looking to improve my multimedia skills.

What is the biggest thing you know today that you didn’t know a year ago?

Running a social media page is REALLY hard work. Everyone throws around the phrase “data analytics” but how you translate that information into clicks and views requires a different level of expertise.

What do you think the next 3 years look like for you in terms of learnings and growth?

I think I’d still be with the same company but working towards being in a different part of Asia. Hopefully much better equipped to move seamlessly between various media and with a better understanding of social media.

How do you create opportunities to keep learning?

I volunteer myself for assignments. Sometimes I ask to tag along. Other times I badger our bureau chief until he gives in. Case in point: the AFP Singapore Facebook page that I now manage.

What you do know about motivating young talent in newsrooms that many managers probably don’t get?

Show us that you care. It’s overrated but millennials appreciate a manager who in concerned about your personal development rather than treat you like a cog in the machinery (even though that might be the truth).

What kind of a boss would bring out the best in you?

Someone who would throws you into the deep end of the pool but knows exactly when to rescue you. The throwing is easy, it’s knowing when to swoop in for the save that’s crucial.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from a boss?

The right way is rarely the easy way but remember that in journalism, your reputation is paramount.

If someone came up to you seeking advice on whether he or she should get into journalism, what would you say?

Why are you doing this? Is it because you “love to write”? If so, get out as quickly as you can and stay away. If it’s because “I’m inquisitive” or “for the quest of the truth”, then you might stand a chance. 90 percent of my time spent on a story is either on research, talking to people, or trying to convince people to talk. Writing is the final step in the complex dance that is journalism.

Also, don’t be taken in by romanticized ideas of journalism. It’s hard, hard work, people will doubt you, and you too will doubt yourself. But if you can be intellectually honest and are willing to defend what you write, welcome home.

As a media professional, what concerns you most about the future of the industry?

That lost of trust between readers and traditional media, as well as the lack of willingness to pay for news. Good journalism costs money. But people seem to be less concerned about the truth, which worries me a lot.

If you could choose one problem to solve with tech, what will it be?

Non-news related: The traffic situation. We need fewer cars on Singapore roads!



Leading Millennials

We’re looking for people with an elasticity in their views of media and journalism. It’s rare.

The faces of people in the service of journalism are often found on stage. They are often the heads of their newsrooms. They are often men. There’s little space on stage for the younger people sitting further down the hierarchy of these newsrooms. I want to tell their stories because some of them could one day redefine this industry.

So if you want to be featured here (or know of someone who should), drop me an email. I’m alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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