Cilisos, Malay Mail Online and Projek Dialog Honchos Debate Quality of Fast-Paced Journalism and Role of Social Media
“I don’t think length should be compromised,” expressed Cilisos founder and editor-in-chief Chak Onn Lau before playfully adding, “I know it’s a very strange thing for a Chinese man to say.”
The Daily Seni was at the ‘Too Fast Too Furious? The Pace of Journalism Today’ panel discussion which was held in conjunction with the Poskod Journalism Campus. It was part of Dangerous Ideas, a programme organised by this year’s Cooler Lumpur Festival.
“However, if you have a hundred bits of information and you put it all into your piece but nobody reads it then there’s no point,” Onn Lau continued.
The conversation was revolving around the length of editorial pieces in an era marked by the rise of digital news media. However, current executive editor of Malay Mail Online, Leslie Lau doesn’t think it’s a word count issue.
“The most important aspect has to be a good story,” he stated.
“I read the New York Times which I think is one of the best newspapers of the world as well as the Guardian. I read their articles all the way through because they’re really well written and relevant.”
“The big challenge for news publications in Malaysia is finding good writers… who can spell,” added Leslie humorously.
The panel discussion, held at PUBLIKA‘s Black Box, aimed to discuss on whether or not journalism should slow down in an age of non-stop information, for worry of skill and ethics being undermined in the process.
According to Onn Lau, the chase for subscribers and viewers is not something in the Cilisos bible.
“You have to question why your media outlet exists. For us, it’s not about the pageviews. Our goal has always been information dissemination but we also have to make it attractive.”
One of the major problems addressed by the panel was the need to publish newsworthy articles in a way that grabs attention, and to do it before any other news outlet goes for it.
“I came from a magazine background, which is very different from Leslie. I used to have a monthly publishing schedule,” asserted Onn Lau.
“This is the most stressful job I’ve had my entire life. It’s a very high pressure environment compared to what I did before. We publish one article a day, and that’s how we chose to approach the market.”
Editor-in-chief at Projek Dialog, Ahmad Fuad Rahmat, observed that “quality and substance is compromised for more sensational headlines and summarily written information.”
“What you get are basically soundbites in the form of news reports,” Ahmad further stated.
He is particularly concerned with what constitutes news of late and the role of social media platforms as news outlets.
“What we see right now is that a lot of news reporting is just a mass shaming. We need to remember, when we are participating in this discourse we are basically ruining someone’s reputation.”
“For the most part, we are just wasting our time in shaming somebody, not getting to the bottom of things, and forgetting it all within a week.”
These statements came in light of increasing importance of social media platforms in information distribution.
“Social media was not designed for privacy. It was designed for connecting, and we are only just realizing the ugly side of things,” Ahmad continued.
Opposing his view was Leslie, who believes the merits outweigh the cons.
“I’m one of those people who share pictures of what I eat,” Leslie began, to the disdain of Onn Lau, adding, “I also share pictures of what I cook.”
“Social media provides some accountability, and not just on an individual level — it has provided a sense of accountability we can demand from the government and authorities. There’s something to be said about personal responsibility. Think before you post and take a deep breath before you say something.”
Leslie believed that the Malaysian government is coming round to the fact that social media is a very powerful tool and have started responding on relevant platforms. He half-seriously notes however that there is still a disconnect, as evident through government leaders who prefer using social media to share Instagram photos of one another.
The panelists also used the opportunity to strongly discourage the sharing of unread articles over the net.
Ahmad noted that other entities pertaining to the discussion are “news publications” Siakap Keli and Amran Fans.
On the matter of Facebook usage in Malaysia, Ahmad mused if Malaysians just prefer the user interface over other platforms.
“I’ve always wondered if there’s any cultural preference for the Facebook format. If this is true, then for that reason Facebook will always be relevant.”
Siakap Keli, which promises “sebaran berita sejurus ia berlaku” has 1.5 million followers on Facebook, while Amran Fans, which has amassed over five hundred thousand fans, publishes hazily-satirical, occasionally controversial statements on latest happenings.
To this, Leslie stated, “The media is a business and it will try to do anything to catch your attention. It’s a creature that was created by you, the readers.”
In fact, an Amran Fans post about throwing firecrackers at dogs obtained over 12,000 likes on Facebook, while one which shamed SEA medallist Farah Ann and compared her to Muslim gymnasts from the Arab world received more than 16,000 likes and 200 shares.
In closing, Ahmad made a powerful observation.
“The more we rely on information from tablets and cellphones,” he inferred, “the more it becomes entertainment.”
“Here we are, saying that social media is heralding a new age of information. But it’s only as good as the community using it.”