Going to print

Behind the interesting stories and pictures in the newspapers we read every day, lies a journalistic taskforce made up of people with their own unique roles to play. Find out if you have what it takes to plunge into the newsroom.

By Pamela Almeda

Journalism is a calling

If you have a passion for writing, and a concern for the well-being of your society, you may want to consider a career in journalism. Journalists document life. They write about the things that happen around the world. They are there when the world goes to war, when people elect a new president, or when a landslide kills hundreds of people.

Journalists record every emotion: happiness, disappointment, anger, awe, fear, and deliver them to thousands of homes. They immortalise every important detail the world may have forgotten over time. If you see yourself doing these, then perhaps, journalism is your calling.

Being a journalist is not about reporting or coming up with sensational stories. Neither is it about captivating readers nor entertaining them. It is about presenting facts to other people with integrity, while being mindful of the effect that the information could have on people’s lives.

Singapore places heavy emphasis on responsible journalism. This means that while reporters have to cover news that are of public interest, they must also be careful not to stir up social instability. Hence, journalists in Singapore have to be aware of all the potential fault-lines running through our society, and to tread lightly around them.

Perspectives on journalism vary in different parts of the world. In Singapore, there is a distinctly cultural aspect to journalism. The values of racial harmony and unity are usually emphasised, in order to maintain social order and economic progress.

Be a scholar in journalism

In line with the nation’s thrust for national progress and responsible journalism, Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) gives out scholarships to aspiring journalists under the age of 22. Applicants should have an impressive academic profile and co-curricular activities record. Scholars can choose a course that interests them, and apply to any university of their choice, be it local or overseas.

SPH will pay for all tuition fees and compulsory expenses. On top of this, there will also be clothing, settling-in, computer and book allowances, as well as yearly economy return air tickets if you are going to study at an overseas university. Scholars will return to serve a bond of four to six years with SPH after completing their studies.

Ding Lee Yong is one such SPH scholar. She read Economics at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, and went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Applied Economics at the University of Michigan in the United States.

Currently working as a reporter at Lianhe Zaobao, Lee Yong has been a print journalist for more than a year. She writes about issues related to national development, such as public housing. One of the greatest challenges of her job is meeting tight deadlines. It is part and parcel of the job. The media is an ever-changing business and journalists need to constantly keep in line with public opinion and views, in order to produce in-depth, interesting stories to captivate the readers.

Lee Yong points out that a lot of patience is needed when you are working on any assignment. Articles that give her a tough time are those where key newsmakers do not want to share information. Sometimes, they try to evade her questions by giving vague and indirect replies. She has since learnt how to ask questions that would lead to useful answers.

“Journalists need to have an inquisitive mind, a questioning attitude and keep sourcing for different angles and perspective which may be difficult at times,” says Lee Yong. “Its a challenge everyday to try and piece together a good and balanced story that is inspiring, informative and entertaining all at the same time.”

Different career paths

There are many different career paths in the field of journalism. You may start as a newspaper beat reporter and carefully follow a certain subject and report on recent trends. Alternatively, you can be a specialised reporter for a newspaper or for an online-service news agency. In such cases, you may often have to deal with issues that require a lot of study and research. On the other hand, if you are more attracted to working abroad, you can settle in different locations and work as a wire service provider.

If your interests lie in lighter subjects, you can focus on a career as a feature writer or a magazine writer/editor. And if you are someone who always wants to get more from life, why not be a freelance writer, and get a free–and-easy life writing for several newspapers or magazines. Juggling life with part-time jobs can be exhausting, but it can also be very fulfilling at the same time.

There is also a viable career in photojournalism if you like capturing the moment in stills, and have an eye for seeing things through a camera lens. Being a photojournalist can be challenging because you always have to go out of the confines of the newsroom and be at the sidelines of every event. Your job is to tell people what has happened through pictures.

And finally, if you are a creative type, perhaps a career as a desktop publisher or a layout editor will be more suitable for you. These are the people who put text and pictures together into a compelling package that would catch the reader’s eye.

Your first steps

So how do you start a career in journalism? One way to do so is to start as an intern. As a fresh journalism graduate, you would already be equipped with many ideas and concepts about the profession. While such knowledge would be useful at the start of your career, it’s more important to have experience. And you can get such experience by being an intern.

The work of an intern is never glamorous. You may well end up doing menial jobs, such as sending faxes, photocopying, or hours of dreary data-entry. But you’re also likely to be an assistant to experienced journalists as well. By working side by side with them, you get the opportunity to observe how a newsroom works.

Make good use of your time. Take the time to do research. Dare to pitch your own ideas. Ask for small writing assignments and don’t forget to ask for your editor’s feedback. Being an intern is a great way to show what you are capable of. It’s your chance to prove that you are smart enough to handle more. Who knows? Your editor may just deem you worthy of becoming a full-time journalist.

Serve the public’s interests

There are different press models that work in various countries. Understandably, governments consider the cultural and economic standing of the nation before encouraging one model over another. For Singapore, responsible journalism has worked and will continue to thrive. Local journalists are thus professionals who always strive to keep the public’s interest in mind.

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