Helen’s Journalism 101

Helen Ang sent this as a comment to the ‘…bringing the falsehood mongers to their knees’ post. Re-posting it here because I think it is worthy of a closer read on a matter that, in my view, is critical to any civil society attempt to force greater transparency in public space.

Helen has sent me a sequel to this. That will go up in a day or so.


I’ll walk you guys here through Journalism 101, Malaysian syllabus. Forget Woodward & Bernstein.

In free-to-air TV, programme breaks are slotted between the commercials. Haris writes that newspaper revenue comes from the sale of advertisement space. That’s correct. Advertising is King, Marketing Queen. But I’m not sure how far people outside the media/publishing industry are able to latch on to this aspect though to me, it’s as clear as day.

About the cover price of newspapers: RM1.20 will not cover their cost of newsprint, ink & operating expenditure, especially with some of the ‘bumper’ issues that can knock a person out if you hit him over the head with it – it’s that thick with pages & heavy … chockfull of ads & advertorials.

Now which will hurt the papers more? Birdseye’s views are cogent. I’d go with hit their circulation first. The papers are practically anal over numbers crunching. That’s why The Sun rose in a tizzy when AC Nielsen gave that free paper a poorer readership than its two English competitors. Then The Sun fairly eclipsed itself trying to explain away the ratings agency’s methodology as being faulty.

Media planners look at audited circulation figures & readership demographics when they map their ad campaign. So a lower readership is less attractive to advertisers who want their money’s worth in terms of reach.

Paul Warren, you made a trenchant comment: “The question I would like to ask all these so called honourable advertisers is, how can we trust what they claim in their advertisements carried by a newspaper or a broadcast medium that lies to its audience & readers?”

That’s the line to take! Remember People’s Parliament last tango with Pizza Hut where we had visitors posting that they’d stop patronising the outlet? PH sat up & paid attention.

About boycott, note, Animah: “If you boycott all goods & services advertised in the papers, you will” … [be cutting off your nose to spite your face] & Moses Foo: “Think of some of the top 20% payers of the 80% ads revenue”. You’ve both got it right.

So the strategy is: We speak with one voice, loudly, widely in cyberspace (engage blogosphere), with one game plan & target selected big advertisers who think we’re stupid.

One example: CIMB. It obviously paid enough to The Star for that ‘newspaper’ to move heaven & earth for it. On Sept 8, 2006, the paper placed the bank’s ad at its masthead position, i.e. where its red logo usually resides tagging itself “The People’s Paper”. Screenshots has the story titled ‘We would move The Star for you’ & pix at http://www.jeffooi.com/2006/09/

An advertiser, such as CIMB, that believes a newspaper can be so bought (I won’t waste my breath on the other half of the equation – the ones ‘selling’) is definitely in our shortlist. We’ll keep an eye out for which other ones.

Shar 101, you said: “Nonetheless, I’ve met individuals from the Star and M.Mail who are pushing the envelope despite the constraints & let’s not forget NST’s AD’s priceless incisive interview with NA recently. Can we not have constructive engagements with these upstanding journos to chart our mutual future course?”

Shar, pls read my most recent mKini column.

But Shar, you want reform in the Fourth Estate to come from within the system? Reflect on my analogy: Umno can be reformed from within. Realistic?

And do you think AD’s “priceless incisive interview with NA recently” would have been published with its naughty bits intact if it had not got the green light from her bosses? Do you think reporters have any role or any say at this level of decision-making? Or do you allow that the owners & political masters set the agenda?

Haris wrote the above post in disgust at the spin over 10-11. As I write this (four days later), there’s been more spin amounting to a psych war, which tells us what, Shar? (If you like Shar, we can discuss your optimism – which to me seems a tad misplaced – further over a private channel & not bore the others. My e-mail: z.sunday@yahoo.com)

In my comment to Haris’ earlier post “Why I will walk tomorrow”, I mentioned my NST senior, an award-winning environmental journo. This is what I remember of her. She was dedicated, diligent, passionate about the cause (‘greenie meanie’, but a lovely person), had a nose for news & a darn good writer who valiantly, as Shar would say, tried “to push the envelope”.

Immediately after giving her resignation letter, she just walked out. I consider her a friend & know the story but her frustrations are not within my purview to share with this audience.

Nonetheless, what I know about the NST set-up: In the old days (but before my time), the paper’s greats were Indians. With the passing years, its editorial-corporate structure has become so Malay-ised (politics, that’s why NST is known as government mouthpiece) that its performance is similarly NEP-ised.

Recently I had a chat with a dear friend. She’s Malay & my former NST colleague. I asked her: “Who do you think is the Chinese holding the most senior editorial position in NST today?” She gave it brief thought & replied: Probably X (a mutual friend of ours) & we had a laugh, because X is someone from our batch (& we’re not that old!). NST has an attrition rate of its Chinese staff … I don’t have to elaborate why.

However, those who were editors when I was a rookie are today mostly Datuks … I don’t have to elaborate why either, do I?

First published in The People’s Parliament on November 20, 2007

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