Journalists simply have to do more: Editor
Published on: Tuesday, October 29, 2019
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“Today, journalists have to contend with social media which has changed media consumption habits in a big way….,” said James.
Kota Kinabalu: Journalists regardless of whether in print or broadcast must be willing to do more than what is required of them if they wish to stay relevant in a media landscape that keeps changing, a session at the recent Word Power event held here heard.

 “Already the public is regarding social media where they get much of the latest news now as the alternative media. 

 “We have to make sure it stays as the alternative media but not become the substitute media,” warned Daily Express Chief Editor James Sarda, JP.

 James said competition used to be among peers until CNN pioneered 24-7 reporting with the first Gulf War in Iraq in 1990.  Soon others followed as people expected to be briefed hourly on the latest happenings.

 “Then came Cable TV and Satellite TV broadcasts until the Internet again changed the parameters again.

 “Today, journalists have to contend with social media which has changed media consumption habits in a big way, resulting in many newspapers worldwide downsizing or going out of business due to failure to evolve and stay ahead of the changing trends,” he said.

 He recalled his visit to the Sharp Corporation headquarters in Japan in 2000 and the Chairman proudly telling the visiting journalists how the company’s employees get to know all the latest news on a digital screen installed inside the lifts while waiting to take them to their respective floors every morning.

 “That was in 20 years back and handphones were 2G and had not yet transformed into smartphones. Now hand-held gadgets offer a window to the latest happenings and many of you here must be  right now as I speak aware of what’s happening locally and abroad via watsapp, facebook, twitter, etc.

 “Information is king. We (traditional media) used to enjoy that role but it has been taken away from our hands,” he said.

 James likened what the traditional media experienced post-2000 to the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg that began producing Bibles by the thousands so much so that priests in churches in 1800s lost their monopoly over the Word of God.

 “People realised they knew what God said, including about two nudists being expelled from the Garden of Eden over an apple incident, without having to attend Sunday Mass.

 “Similarly, we have lost the monopoly over information to social media,” he said. This has given rise to a new phenomenon, i.e. that of Citizen Journalists who need no journalism training except to be at the right place at the right time armed with a smartphone. 

 “What happened next is that terrorists took it to the next level by deciding to live-stream their acts as in the bombing of churches in Sri Lanka and the mosque massacre in New Zealand,” said James, who has a Masters in Journalism from Cardiff University and is a Chevening scholar.

 “Thus the information including images went straight from the perpetrator (terrorist/s) to the consumer via Facebook without needing a journalist to interpret and say what happened,” he said, adding this begs the question of whether journalism degrees from universities are relevant or useful anymore.

  On the bright side, James said the traditional media has been regaining lost ground due to the fake news phenomena that have become a headache for governments and authorities worldwide due to the public’s desire for cheap, unsolicited and unverified information.

  “It (fake news) is now seen as perhaps the best thing to happen to journalism as it makes the public appreciate the role of bona fide journalists even more”.

 In fact, he said, even what constitutes fake news is not fully understood and its meaning differs to different people.

He said much fake news only comes into play during elections and cited the victory of Donald Trump where fake news originating from Serbia helped Trump secure millions of crucial Christian votes by falsely reporting that the Pope approved of his candidacy.     

 James said because of these recent developments in the industry, he would not advise youngsters to make journalism their first-choice career unless they really think it is their calling.

  “It still remains one of the few professions that offer a fantastic opportunity to contribute to society meaningfully. This alone should be a motivation for those who wish to do so.

 “But once you are in it, become the best journalist that you can ever be. Reporting not only on given or scheduled assignments but undertaking research-based work on your own that help the community understand themselves better or research into events that had an impact on their lives.” 

 He said there are lots of opportunities to do this in Sabah because there is a lot about the State that even Sabahans don’t know about because it is not in the school syllabus.

 He cited the Malaysia Agreement, Kinabalu Guerillas which was the only local untrained armed resistance in Malaysia to take on the Japanese and defeat them temporarily in Jesselton (now KK) during World War Two and the Death March where close to 2,000 Allied soldiers died after being forced to march barefoot and without food by the Japanese from Sandakan to Ranau as examples. 

  “These are stories that are still not fully told. The information is all out there if you can find it and the Daily Express never misses an opportunity to do so,” he said, citing the Archives page that appears every Saturday which highlights events that matter to Sabahans who were not born then.

 “Journalists can take on the extra role by recording the stories of those still alive so that even if the history books and government failed in their duty, the information will not be lost,” he said.

 He said similar work which the paper was involved in was researching and producing evidence about Sabah’s Kinabatangan being the subject of the world’s very first wildlife documentary following visits by pioneer Hollywood couple Martin and Osa Johnson in 1920 and 1935.

James has won many journalism awards including three coveted national-level main prizes for reporting by the Malaysian Press Institute (MPI).


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