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Revival

What makes me think that I can afford to maintain two blogs? While this blog was originally created as part of a college assignment, I guess I could resurrect it and use as yet another ‘creative outlet’ to vent in. If i say it often enough, it might just come true and I’ll regain my mojo back. I am pretty sure I can come up with a good use for this space. So many things I wish to attempt in terms of writing – script writing, lyrics, translations; but so little time. Of course if i quit complaining and actually start writing, half of my problems would be solved … but of course, where is the fun in that huh?

Site Visits

Recently we have been lucky enough to have the chance to visit two media offices namely Malaysia Kini and The Star. It would be a terribly unfair comparison if one were to look only at the physical aspects of the organisations since the best way to describe it would be “macam langit dengan bumi”. To make it more interesting, I shall try to add my own random observations and opinions on the two places.

Malaysia Kini’s office occupied several floors of a shop lot in Bangsar (the not so happening part of Bangsar) and the insides reminded me of me a tuition center except with a whole lot more computers and audio/video equipments. The reception area was basically just a small desk with a computer. Their main gathering hall was on the same floor with a very small AV/studio room. There was a simple black sofa, tables and plastic chairs, whiteboard/screen, and a projector – very basic setup. Their editorial team who are responsible for generating and sourcing content for their site took up an entire floor (not big!) and were divided according to their departments – malay, english, chinese, tamil *at least i think so?* Steven Gan who is the Chief Editor obviously would have his own room somewhere in the building … but i’m guessing it wouldn’t look that much better compared to the rest of the place.

The Star newspaper on the other hand have an entire office building known as “Menara Star” as their main headquarters. Their lobby on the 3rd floor has a very welcoming reception area – glass topped tables, leather sofas, potted plants. The formal conference room was equipped with a screen and AV equipments. It looked like a real board room; easily sitting 20 people around a table which goes around the room with a huge space in between. Touring the establishment, it is quite obvious The Star operates on a MUCH larger scale therefore it is not surprising that they can afford to have a nice office. The fact that they are a public listed company that makes RM 200 million profit a year would also help of course.

One thing that caught my attention however was the fact that a lot of the cubicles at The Star’s office were very personalized and reflected the owner’s identity. An obvious one would be a table decorated entirely with BARBIE DOLLS and its paraphernalias – i was nearly blinded by the pinkness of it all but it was definitely a bold statement. This I suppose reflects how its Chief Editor Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai expects his staffs to operate – very independently and working in a relaxed,creative environment. Most important at the end of the day is the quality of work produced and not how the work is done. I noticed that in his room, there were also mementoes that I suppose meant a lot to him for some reason – a large cross on one wall, and a few old typewriters on a glass rack.

Malaysia Kini despite the public’s perception of it having an “alternative” image (which is actually not true) seemed to be running a tighter ship. Either that, or its team of reporters are simply focused on just doing their job well. Their office has a no-nonsense feel about it.

Despite the Datuk and his very very extremely perky PR  lady’s advice against becoming a journalist if we were looking for an easy job with a good pay – the team at The Star still has it a LOT better in terms of perks rather than the ones at Malaysiakini. It is definitely easier to be passionate about a job that promises a trip to Barbados to interview a superstar rather than a potential trip to the courthouse or worse.

There are I suppose many more significant differences between the two operations but at the end of the day – they are both in the same business of delivering news to the public.

The nature of technology is such that it never stops evolving and lately it has been developing at a very rapid pace. Niki Cheong is a “full-time journalist, part-time theater practitioner, and an eternal child”. Currently the Assistant Editor of R.AGE, he talked about the future of technology in a newsroom and how it has changed the practice of journalism.

R.AGE is a fortnightly pull out for The Star newspaper covering issues and happenings that affects youths. In a quest to keep the publication relevant and current, R.AGE which started as an eight page pull out in September 2005 has since gone through a series of changes. Most recent, it has moved its platform from print to web – publishing its contents online.

Niki said, “We see ourselves growing immensely by reaching out to others, not only through print, but through the internet as well. The online version of R.AGE just opened recently, and we’re already getting thousands of hits.”

There are three main functions of technology in a newsroom namely – news gathering, news dissemination, and discourse. R.AGE’s website is the final product or a consolidation of all three elements and how it comes together as an example of technological advancement in journalism.

There are stories which are published as “online exclusives” – to make up for the limitation of space in the print media. Space issue also dictates that only a few photographs get to be published in the newspaper and thus the rest will be posted online; “the internet is infinite”, he said.

On occasions that text and photographs are not able to fully capture the moment, a website allows for postings of video footages to accompany a story.Niki showed a news broadcast video he recorded on a humanitarian trip to rural areas in Laos with Malaysian international singer Michael Wong titled “Lifting Hopes in Laos”.

The video was recorded on a camcorder mounted on a tripod and it was mostly an independent effort. He noted that the video is “showing a stage where Malaysian journalists are at the moment”.

“10 years ago, journalists were just a journalist”. Present day journalists are able to use technology such as mobile phones to gather and disseminate news; eliminating the need for extra crews such as a camera man.

“Journalism doesn’t always have to be about hard news”. R.AGE blog allows their journalists to “extend the process” and report the before and after stories. This is a process uncommon to print journalism. Other forms of technologies such as blogs, websites, online repositories, search engines and social media have also been used in the process of news gathering and dissemination. A current trend is the use of Facebook and Twitter that allows for almost instant communication with people who are online.

“Media is no longer one way, but two ways…about you guys giving back”, he commented.

“People like you who will come up with different ways of using it . . . then people will come up with ways to help you use it.”, he further added.

Prior to R.AGE, he was part of the team involved in training teenagers aged 16-19 in the basics of journalism under a program known as BRATs. Started in 1993, the program also reflects the changing trend of using technology in a newsroom. “They used to write their stories on pieces of paper and type it on monochrome computers … you know the green on black ones …” he recalled.

“It also mirrors the kind of work we (The Star) do”, he added.

Technology may have change the way journalism is practiced but the passion behind it remains the same. Niki Cheong is a classic example of a journalist who has embraced the change brought on by technology and used it to improve himself and others in his career.

Al-Jazeera

The Petronas Twin Towers has always been about shopping at KLCC to me. Its either that..or taking random relatives around the grounds to snap tourist-y shots with the towers in the background. So it was a very nice surprise when I discovered that the al-Jazeera news network KL Bureau was located on the 60th floor of Tower 2, Petronas Twin Towers.

al-Jazeera is a news channel which first started in Doha,Qatar; as a pet project of the Emir of Qatar who wishes to educate the masses via the media and also to present an unbiased reports of Asia to the world. Since its establishment 12 years ago, it has expanded its reach to other parts of the world – with the creation of al-Jazeera English 4 years ago.  It now has main offices in Washington, London, Doha and Malaysia, plus smaller bureaus in many other countries.

When we first stepped into their office, I was struck by the simplicity of their reception area – giving it a very professional look. We were ushered to a larger meeting room and  the first thing that I noticed was the amazing view. Being so high up, we can practically see the whole of KL and beyond.  Mr.Jayaganesh Sabapathy, Head of Technical Operations were to be our guide for the day.

The entire operations took up one floor (quite a small one i think) but it was very well organized according to the different departments.  Technical operations department was the most interesting as it was the main center of activity. Live video and sound feeds were coming in from various locations like Doha and London; there were if I was not mistaken only 3 people manning the main control room and they have to be in charge of processing all the feeds that comes in.

As amazing as it was, I am not really a techno geek and so the area that interests me most was actually the department with all their reporters and news researchers. I have always imagined a news room to have a more chaotic feel to it; thus walking in on people all staring at their computer screens and talking into headphones was a bit unnerving. They also seem to be very smartly dressed for journalists in an office.

After touring the facilities, we returned to the meeting room for a briefing and Q&A session with Jayaganesh Sabapathy. He mentioned that al-Jazeera mostly employs foreign workers (he himself is a Singaporean) due to our own journalists’s lack of exposure and focusing on mostly “reporting” instead of “investigating” news.  Other things which caught my attention was his emphasis on al-Jazeera as a channel which reports the “truth” and not being biased to either the Muslim or Western world; contratry to popular belief.

Overall, it was definitely an eye-opening trip as I got to learn alot about the processes that goes into broadcast news production.

Last weekend I had the chance to be in Jakarta for the annual “Jakarta International Jazz Festival” or better known as Java Jazz. It boasted an impressive line-up of local and international acts; headlined by major names such as Jason Mraz, Brian McKnight, Moon Arra (India), Quasimode (Japan), and Yopie Item (Indonesia). Organized by PT. Java Festival Production, this three day music extravaganza was held at the Jakarta Convention Center, Senayan. 

Jakarta has always been one of my favorite cities to visit. Not only because I get to spend time with my family members, it is in my opinion one of the most interesting cities in terms of culture because its 15 million dwellers comes from all across Indonesia and brought a little bit of their uniqueness to the city. The awesomely cheap shopping and excellent food is of course a major plus point. Its not that often I can say I have hundreds of thousands in my wallet or spent a few thousand on a blouse so I enjoyed the feeling while it lasted.

Some of my favorite haunts whenever I am in town would be Blok M Plaza. It is a haven for anyone who is looking for clothes on a budget. There are also smaller boutiques locally known as “distro” and Bloop Endorse located in Tebet is definitely where I would go to get some original designs by local designers. Pasar Tanah Abang used to be a large sprawling market known for its cheap traditional garments. It has recently undergone a transformation and much of the original building has been upgraded to make shopping there a more pleasant experience.

A fashionable boutique for those looking for original designs at affordable prices

A fashionable boutique for those looking for original designs at affordable prices

In terms of food, Jakarta has a whole lot to offer for anyone who is keen to go on a culinary adventure. Terang Bulan is a dessert that tastes as good as its name. It is basically a very thick apam balik filled with chocolate, cheese, peanut or a combination of any of the three. Nasi Gila on the other hand does NOT taste as funky as its name. It is actually the ingredients for fried rice (eggs, chicken, soy sauce etc.) cooked separately and poured over white rice.

A favorite local snack sold by the roadsides

Terang Bulan: A favorite local snack sold by the roadsides

Nasi Gila

Nasi Gila

There is a whole lot more that Jakarta has to offer and since it is Visit Indonesia year 2009.. there is a whole line up of events planned out for tourists who plans to visit the country.