berthahenson

Posts Tagged ‘media’

Feet planted firmly on the ground

In News Reports on June 11, 2015 at 11:44 pm

The Middle Ground – quite self-explanatory methinks. It’s the space between two extremes. It’s broad. It’s moderate. A space that isn’t about ranting or raving or shoving people to a point of view. So….it’s neither here nor there? I suppose the idea is to cover many viewpoints, but it doesn’t mean that TMG per se won’t take a position. That position will be based on this principle: We believe in the development of an active and accountable citizenry which needs to be equipped with more, not less, information to make decisions for themselves.

We live in an era of too much information. We are so overwhelmed with information and detail that we can’t tell what’s relevant or significant or what gems are hidden in the sand. I’m always frustrated by incomprehensible news reports. I grit my teeth at unanswered questions or worse, questions that were not even asked. I have always thought that if an information junkie like me, who reads news reports voraciously, can’t fathom the what and especially the why of developments deemed worthy of publicity, then how can most other people?

What is the significance and implications of, say, Medishield Life or China’s threatening noises in the South China Sea or Dr Mahathir’s diatribes on Malaysian PM Najib? Important news, boringly-written, makes the reader go “…again..same/old…same/ old….So why should I care?’’

I’m hoping TMG will be able to cut to the chase and yes, make important stories interesting. I have always maintained that news is exciting; it’s the journalist who made it boring. Hands up those who have been following the City Harvest trial. I confess that I’ve left off reading the reports although it is significant that a megachurch is in court and you wonder if followers in other churches and religious organisations have been similarly, allegedly, duped.

Capturing reader interest accounts for the many different story-telling styles that have emerged especially with the facility of online tools. Therefore, let me give you 10 things you need to know about the City Harvest trial… I’m sure people will appreciate this. But guess what? It means some other people would have to read through all the reports and come up with the 10 points. And you would have to trust those people to get the most important 10 points and not just give you a dumb list. You would also like it better if the 10 points were beautifully written, even funny. That sort of work, however, takes even more talent than long-form, boring but accurate writing.

So that’s one of the things The Middle Ground will do: make the news manageable enough for you to declare yourself at least halfway informed on most things, and fully informed on the critical stuff that we think you should know about. (Yes, it has to be “we think’’ because there must be selective curation and editing of stories or we’ll die typing).

Of course, there will be plenty of space for opinion. By that, I mean, informed views. TMG will have plenty, put forth in a way that hopefully doesn’t grate on too many nerves or sound too self-righteous. Tone is everything. A little wit and humour is good. You can pack a lot in a humorous or satirical line but you’ve got to hope that your readers are on the same wavelength…

If there’s one big section that will mark TMG as different from Breakfast Network, it will be the News-U-can-use section. Here’s where I should elaborate on the other meaning of The Middle Ground. It’s also about the needs of the middle income group of Singaporeans – working adults with school-going children and elderly parents to support. They need help to lead their lives, work at their careers, bring up children and take care of the elderly. These are busy people torn in several directions with varied responsibilities. TMG will try to keep them happy, healthy and wise…

I end here by telling you that I am NOT the prime mover of TMG. I had to be persuaded. Reason: I was torn between maintaining my current relaxed lifestyle and the lure of being in the hectic business of news, views and news-you-can-use. So nice to just be a blogger or even a “social influencer’’ and write what I want whenever I want. But it is not to be…

Tomorrow, you will be introduced to the prime mover of TMG.

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I’m in the middle of something…

In News Reports on June 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm

I have been off blogging for a while because I have been thinking about how to do a new news/views website. I miss Breakfast Network – that pro bono passion project which almost became a business until bureaucracy got in the way.

I like blogging, I do. I like the ability to say anything about anything with no one standing over my shoulder. I like breaking out of the usual news report/column/long form styles that restrict journalists’ ability to play with the language. Content is king, but story-telling can take different forms.

Plus, as a blogger, I don’t always have to draw a line between news and views. I can get self-righteous and indignant and emo. It’s just my take. It’s personal! You can tell that I’ve never really cared about getting eyeballs. I use a free WordPress platform. I don’t ask for ads. I don’t even care about putting up a visual which I have been told time and again would increase the number of eyeballs to my blog.

I just want to write.

If blogging was more “professional’’, I would add links to sites so that you will have more information. I would even spell-check (!) and re-write my pieces.  Instead, I am sorry to say that most of what you read are first drafts – and I do wish sometimes that I had someone who can cast a second eye over my work. Every writer needs an editor.

But it isn’t journalism. It isn’t original content. It isn’t pure reportage. It isn’t neutral. Of course, you can argue that professional journalism isn’t “neutral’’ or “pure’’ either, as it is grounded in editorial directions, government policy, corporate interests and the narrative of the day as dictated by ….someone else?

So can blogging and journalism be combined? Can aspects of social media be “professionalised’’?

I think so. Some of the rules of journalism can and should be imported, especially attribution and verification. There is one other principle that online journalism should apply: putting things in context and giving perspective. Very few things are really “new’’ or “astounding’’, yet a rape case or an administrative blunder takes on the proportions of a Titanic disaster (even in MSM) when the truth is, not all women are rape victims and the administrative wheels do run very well most times.

But I think that sticking to pure reporting and pure commentary might be going the way of the dodo. Why? Because most people don’t want to read TWICE – and you’d be lucky that if people read one piece from start to end. So news and views (of others and even the writer) have to be married and the baby would have to be presented in the way that best catches the eye of the beholder.

Social media leads the reading pattern with its click-baits as “headlines’’….such as….I didn’t think I would go crazy until I read this…This is the most amazing thing you’ll ever see in your life…ecetera. Buzzfeed et al think that listicles are the way to go. Then there are sites which believe extremism works best – always get angry and make people angrier. There are also sites which think making a mountain out of a molehill is the way to go – as well as  repeating old news because they worked the last time …so why not again?

How does one even begin to conceptualise a news site then? The easiest way is to set it up as a foil. Just put it against MSM and make sure most of the angles and types of stories are different. Then tout the site as “alternative’’. Better still, as anti-establishment. Or as a useful addition to the parched MSM landscape.

Nothing wrong with it.

But then a person who wants to be fully-informed would have to read both mediums – and make up his or her own mind about what he or she feels about what they have read. Yes, feel. Most times, reading/watching is more about “feeling’’ than about being “enlightened’’. (Tip: Always make sure you end the piece well, rather than let it taper off….)

The other way is to curate or edit effectively, selecting topics of interest to the readership or alerting them to news that they will make them lead better lives. The trouble today is that we have too much news and too many facts – and we don’t know what to do with them. In fact, sometimes we’re so numbed by the news that we become indifferent to happenings elsewhere. A news organization should make sense of the news – especially what they mean.

So what is this new website going to offer? More Breakfast Network stuff? Actually, I have been describing it as Breakfast Network plus plus. The people behind it, which includes me, have decided to name it The Middle Ground. We start on Monday.

To be continued tomorrow…

The art of lying Part 2

In News Reports, Society on October 3, 2012 at 1:25 am

Here’s a DIY list on how to manage court appearances and handle questioning:
a. Remove all traces of yourself online to prevent CSI-types from piecing together anything incriminating about you.
b. Move house.
c. Change jobs. In fact, it’s preferable to remain unemployed for a while.
d. Not enough to delete SMSes. Throw away your phone. Burn your SIM card.
e. Get your other half to come to court. And to smile no matter how bad the going is for you.
f. Stare ahead when you walk in and out of court, preferably behind Fendi sunglasses.
g. Never eyeball your accuser. You might like him.
h. Don’t answer leading questions. For example, “So you admit you had sex with him?’’ Reply: “That, Sir, is a penetrating question. But it is also a leading one.’’
i. Don’t fall into traps. For example, “I put it to you that you were willing to have oral sex with him. Reply: “Sir, I have already said I was very vocal in my objections.’’
j. Get help from a higher authority. For example, “Your Honour, I am the victim here.’’
k. Plead confusion and mental instability when caught out on a lie. Add that you are off your meds for bipolar disorder.
l. Accuse the cops of intimidation. For example, “They turned the aircon up, questioned me for 60 hours without food and drink. Worse, I had Facebook withdrawal symptoms. ’’
m. Blame the media for biased reporting. Add that they didn’t photograph your good side.
n. Get some bodyguards to fend out pesky media and nosey gawkers. Four or five would be good. Taller and bigger than you. With sunglasses. Preferably paid by the state.

To boldly grow old

In Money, News Reports, Politics, Society on September 10, 2012 at 2:12 pm

When I turned 30, I wrote a column about coming to terms with the big 3-0. You know, can’t sign up to be SIA girl, join beauty contests etc…Frivolous stuff. When I turned 40, I found I was spending more money on potions for the face and more time in the gym. Over the past few years, I wish I could stop the family from buying me a birthday cake with its tell-tale candles…but you know what family is like…When I turn 50, I shall contemplate suicide….Okay, semi-retirement.
So yes, Matthias, you youthful 25-year old guest columnist in yesterday’s Sunday Times you, I’m starting to feel old, over the hill and far away. I think that G letter congratulating me on being a member of Eldershield when I turned 40 did the trick. I think most people try to be polite, so there’s old, and there’s old-old. I suppose I am a young-old, because middle aged is just so…old. There was a trend not long ago when people, usually celebs, start pronouncing 40 as the new 30, and 50 as the new 40 etc…Very soon, being 60 will be very sexy too. I sure hope so.
I blame the media in all its various forms for making the old look and feel older. Like how a person is such an “old dear’’. When old people make the news, it’s because they are either dying (alone), terribly sick (and alone) or they exhibit qualities that young people don’t expect, like running a marathon or playing basketball. Then they are described as “sprightly’’ or “spry’’, like everybody expects them to be in a wheelchair. Okay, I know we use the term senior citizens. A euphemism. Face it, we really mean old people. We also use the phrase the Silver generation. Funny that they were once known as baby-boomers.
Did I treat “old’’ people in the same way? Yes, I did and have written “sprightly’’ many many times – like the unfeeling young person I was. Yes, Matthias, it is the case that in Singapore, we climb the ladder superfast, and then topple off, because someone younger wants to get there. We try to make that ladder go higher, or at least put more rungs on it to give a semblance of movement.
Never mind what the G says about raising the retirement age, the perception is that once you are past 50, you make way. You go slow. The world belongs to young people, the digital natives, they should have the bigger say in the country going forward, even though you might live till 90. Maybe you shouldn’t live so long because you belong to that generation who will have to be supported by even fewer young people. You become, omigawd, a dependent. Burden on the state. Strain on the coffers.
Belatedly, I agree that older folk have a lot to teach, by sheer virtue of life experience. There is a gap between generations, then as well as now and probably forever. I boxed them up too. Now I listen hard to what the old-er people have to say, even if they are inarticulate because it is usually informed by experience. As for young people, I have watched too many articulate their views very well, but in a vacuum. I was like that too.
I don’t want to go into what older folk can give to the nation (I dowan to sound like a fuddy-duddy) but I keep wondering why people don’t realise that the older folk might not be quite the burden they are made out to be. They are better-off than their parents, better-educated and might well have a bigger voice than ever by virtue of sheer numbers. But we see them only as people who have to have rehab centres in somebody’s backyard… It’s fortunate that they are not “organised’’ don’t you think? The kind of pressure they can exert….
Sure, there are a lot of activities intended to keep them young and active, but not politically alive and alert.
I don’t know of many magazines or mediums that cater to them. Such a missed market! I recall that when I conceptualised Mind Your Body for ST, my mantra to journalists was “Young people are interested in health; old people are concerned’’. No prizes then for guessing who the target audience is. I would have a mild heart attack whenever journalists proposed “young’’ stories, like how to protect yourself when you sun-tan or the evils of anorexia. Nope, it was cataracts and knee operations for me. The readership figures vindicate the approach every time. The above 40s are loyal readers, in large numbers, and they have more money as well. And yes, they complain about the small type. What to do? Paper run by young people with good eyesight.
Imagine what a medium by older folk for older folk would be like. When it is a glamorous older person gracing the cover of the magazine. When the news is about older people chafing about the higher retirement age, about the latest fashions for the not so svelte, music that they recognise, the latest technologies/science to combat arthritis, expounding on the use of Eldershield, paying higher premiums for insurance…
I mean, women have their magazines, even the expats… Rupert Murdoch! Where are you?
Maybe in the longer term, there won’t be any surprise when a older person runs a marathon or starts a business from scratch, the way it is no surprise when a woman is picked to run a big company. Then maybe I won’t be so scared about being labelled old.
Maybe by then, Matthias, you’ll be old too.

A conversation going nowhere

In News Reports, Politics, Society on September 7, 2012 at 11:54 am

I had a look at the National Conversation page that Mr Heng Swee Keat put up inviting all and sundry to say what sort of Singapore they want to live in. But besides having it written in four languages, I don’t see anything new in what he said. But never mind that. There should at least be a structure on how this conversation is going to take place. I can already see frustration building up. Some netizens are already asking for some kind of structure – by policy perhaps? As it is, so many posts are building up on a wide range of topics but there’s little follow-through. Not much in terms of reaction from fellow netizens and none from the G. In any case, who is taking part in this conversation? Is this a conversation between Government and people? Or people-to-people? Or is someone waiting to see what will happen “organically’’? Is someone taking notes so that at the end of the 1,000th post, we’ll know what are the top issues etc. If that’s the case, pay for a scientific survey!
Seriously, it’s about time Mr Heng and his team (whoever they are) get down to telling us HOW this conversation will take place instead of simply suggesting “dialogue’’ and “forums’’. We’ve been dialogueing and forum-ing for quite some time. I think people are actually quite excited at the prospect of engaging in the conversation – but if there’s no sign of some coherent structure, it’s gonna flag.
The last time something like this happen, Remaking Singapore, topics were put in terms of trade offs – like how to deal with the expectations of the young and needs of the old. That was a good way, except that it was confined to just some hundreds of people invited to form committees etc.
I believe the population unit’s current discussion on population policy is framed in terms of trade offs as well. Perhaps, different FB pages could be spun off so we have a more constructive way of engaging each other, and with the Government. How civil servants can help is to provide background information along the way at certain points of the conversation so that it can be informed.
How about it, Mr Heng?

Training the untrained

In News Reports, Society, Writing on August 18, 2012 at 2:37 am

The thing about being employed is, well, you have to work….So here I am (physically) at Tembusu College in U-town on a Saturday, in a nice studio apartment, hammering at the keyboard, facing some trees. Not Tembusus though. And I forgot that on Saturdays, the residential college’s dining hall doesn’t open and had to contend myself with an expensive breakfast at the nearby 24-hour Starbucks. A breakfast that costs more than $6 is expensive in my books…

Yep, Starbucks is at U-town, so is Fish&Co, Subway, an Italian restaurant, a Korean one and Old Hong Kong. Cheap and good by working adult standards though I am not sure how many undergrads can afford a coffee at Stabucks everyday.

I am waiting for the start of Family Day or actually, waiting to see how a group of aspiring journalists will go about covering the event. This is assignment No, 2 and I am already thinking to myself: What did I let myself in for?

Assignment No. 1 took place on Thursday, a forum with four experts on that gigantic topic known as Climate Change. Truth to tell, I have never been too interested in this issue in my past life. Carbon credits, sustainable development (so glad I was to hear one expert describe it as mere rhetoric!), and all that diplomatic-speak about frameworks and conventions…sheesh. Just keep Singapore clean lah.

But, man, I had to be an instant expert on this. The great thing about journalism though is that, whatever the topic, the principles of reporting and writing are the same. But after being so long in newsrooms among trained people who share them, it was a bit of a shock to find out that I had to start from scratch with the un-trained.

I was glad to have good students; ready and willing to take advice and who would ask me questions. One told me that I had rocked all the assumptions about journalism she learnt in school when I suggested a different way of writing an article. “But is that a news story?” she asked. “Or is it feature?” Frankly, I never bothered about such distinctions in my former professional life. Every article is about story-telling, after all.

Another who was all wound up to interview the Forum’s chairman, Prof Tommy Koh, rang me before the forum started with what he said was a “tragic update” (very journalistic I thought). The Prof wasn’t turning up, he said. Never mind, I said, his article (to commemorate the 20 years since Prof Koh chaired the first Earth summit) was still good to go.

Another wanted some basic tips on how to ask questions – Go up to the mike, introduce yourself and ask the question, I said. What question do you want to ask anyway? Turns out he had some general idea but hadn’t framed anything yet.  (I find this a common problem – nobody knows how to ask questions anymore, and if they do ask one, it’s a general question like How do FEEL or What do you THINK?) Anyway, we formulated a proper question for him. I caught him rehearsing his one question in the college lounge before the forum started. I was pretty chuffed to see that he was the first one at the mike at question-time. Wow. Thick skin, I thought.

Most of them didn’t have thick skins – a basic pre-requisite for a journalist. Or maybe they didn’t prepare themselves well enough for the trauma of speaking to someone they don’t know. There we were in the multi-purpose hall with the speakers already present.  There was still time to “get” them before they went on stage, I said. Go, go, there’s the woman you want to get. How? How to do this, was the reply. Guess it is not in everybody’s DNA to just go up to someone, introduce themselves and make small talk.

So I got up instead, hoping that the rest will follow. They didn’t.

Nor was it easy for the less thick-skinned to do a door-stop methinks. Go get a copy of that fellow’s slides at the end of the forum, I said. In the end, I got up myself because the expert was about to exit the building. The good news is, they followed and had their own interview with a couple of the speakers. I gathered that another student cornered an expert outside the hall on his way to the car. Way to go!!

They might be shy and not fast enough on their feet (not by my standards at least), but they sure are bright. They pointed out contradictions in the speakers’ speeches, and wondered whether some ideas made sense. I heard plenty of opinion, which is very good. If the College aims to raise the level of intellectual discussion, well, looks like it has collected enough mental matter to make it happen.

But hey, this is reporting, I said. You have an opinion, you write a column. You don’t like what he said, I don’t care. Is it worth reporting? Yes? No? What’s the most critical thing here? What? Will anyone WANT to read something like that? Then there was a general lament over my two-hour deadline for submission of reports. By the time we were done, it was already close to 10.30pm. And there I was thinking that undergraduates do not go to sleep especially if they live on campus….I mean, that’s how I lived my own undergraduate life.

Ex-colleagues who were interested to know about how the first assignment went have chided me for being too kind, soft and mellow. “Favouritism! You would have torn us a new one!” one of them told me.

But, hey, I am having a blast!

PS. My apologies to those expecting some kinda critique of current affairs. Sometimes I get into a self-indulgent binge.

A moral mess

In News Reports, Society on July 26, 2012 at 12:29 am

What in heaven’s name is happening to our doctors, teachers, lawyers and civil servants? Everyday, we’re reading about these professionals being accused of or pleading guilty to a whole barrage of crimes: having sex with patients, underaged girls, students in return for doing favours or just for kicks; prescribing illegal stuff; favouring supposed friends; sleeping on the job; being loco etc. And I am not even talking  about religious leaders aka known as the City Harvest people who can afford high-priced Senior Counsels.

Okay, I don’t care who defends who – and some have yet to be proven guilty. And yes, they make for great reading and you start thinking, hey, maybe this is a sign that, never mind the Woffles Wu puzzle, the rich and famous do NOT get away with doing illegal stuff.

Except that, there seems to be too many of them….Or maybe it’s just a coincidence that everything is happening in a clump.

What has happened to the ethical codes that underpin all these professions? What are their leaders doing about imbueing them in the members? I don’t think it’s enough to say, we caught the bad hats, we weeded them out and you shouldn’t tar all of us with the same brush. Some introspection is surely expected.

Of course, there would need to be system changes, especially in the civil service. You’ve got a foreign service officer accused of fraud and now the NParks guy who bought expensive bikes. And every year, we’ve got to read reports from the Public Accounts Committee, Accountant-General etc lambasting some agency or other over its sloppy procurement procedures. I believe some suggestions were made to improve this process earlier this year. Has it been done? Is it an improvement over the Finance ministry’s explanation about how those Bromption bikes were bought?

With so much de-moral-ising news, I always find the Bouquet column in ST’s Forum Page a joy to read. It’s short, snappy – and grateful. People remembering to thank others for doing nice things. I wish there were more of them to read to balance the daily diet.

PS. ST named the NUS law professor for his supposed sex-for-grades stunt although he hasn’t been charged. I suppose this puts it one up on TNP which first broke the story? Can’t  be. I guess the stable of newspapers have different standards on naming people….Hmmm

Solemnity at breakfast

In News Reports, Politics on July 8, 2012 at 3:59 am

I was at breakfast this morning in my Phnom Penh hotel with two Vietnamese and a Myanmarese. One V lady is from the state television, the other from a newspaper and the M represents a company that has both web and print editions. They were among 11 other journalists – from Indonesia, the Philippines, Timor Leste – who have been brought together by a German programme to train Asean journalists covering the Asean ministerial meeting that was taking place.

I like talking to journalists from the region. I like asking about how their media operates. The V told me very matter-of-factly that whatever she or her state TV colleagues put on air is what the G sanctions. Other media (and there were two others in the team) had to follow suit. So V opens up economically, but its still tight control over what the media says. Especially on reports on its claims over the South China Sea. “The officials never give interviews,” she said not at all perturbed. There was no point running after them to get the latest facts on the meeting of Asean foreign ministers. Nor was there any point asking for views from the officials or any other Vietnamese either. They won’t talk, and even if they do, their words would never see light of day. Put a foot wrong and you risk a fine. Jail? In the past, yes, they said.

She continued stirring her coffee. Her compatriot made a face. “Yes, yes,” she said. “I have to see what she says and then I have to copy. And then I have to see how to make it different.” Then she asks me for names of people she can interview…and then she says whatever she writes might not even be published. She eats her toast.

The night before, they had hesitated joining the rest of the team who wanted to stake out the Peace Palace, where the meetings were going to be. The Indons and the Filippinos wanted to get to their Foreign Minister. The V though said there was no use them going with them and would rather stay with me to pick up pointers on how to report and write.

I didn’t know what to say at first. You’re a journalist, you go where the action is. Even if nobody talks to you, go and see what’s happening. Record. Listen. Watch. Take notes.

I was glad they changed their minds. Except that the pace of reporting seemed beyond them. One V caught the group bus on time, the second V had to run after it as it was moving away,the third got left behind and took a tuk tuk to catch up with the rest.

But the three V ladies are really full of spunk. Never mind their difficulties with the English language, they did their level best to make themselves understood to the rest of the team. And they had plenty of opinions, on superpower rivalry, on China’s tactics vis-a-vis Vietnam, on a possible arms race in the region and the pace of Asean economic integration. Slow, slow, said one. I look at them and I think, what clever minds they have. May they have the room to grow, exercise their instincts and not be disheartened by the state of media play.

The M is a gem. His English is pass-able but he makes himself understood. I have always found that language really is not a barrier for the intelligent. Somehow a basic grasp is enough for them to convey concepts. He says the country is opening up both economically and politically. The fear was the pace of change. The media? It’s relaxed on paper but not so. Even if legal tools controlling the media are not available or have been disbanded, the informal tools can be just as tough…He finishes his porridge and remarks that his G had just arrested 20 student activists.

Talk turned to The Lady. Enviously, they noted that the western press was so fulsome in their praise of her. But both the V and M media reported her by-election victory matter-of-factly. As they were told to do. Well, too much praise for the Lady might not be good for her either, I responded lamely.

Solemn stuff.

The journalists are trying to adjust, balancing state control and freedom to report if not the truth, then the facts. I try to help them along by showing some things that were still do-able – within the bounds of journalistic integrity as well as the constraints they face.

Of course, they ask me about the media in Singapore. I tell about the newspaper laws – they nodded sagely. I tell them that it is natural that any G of the day would want to be able to control or influence the press. Even the Gs of the glorified Western press. They nodded again. I tell them that the Singapore media has a lot more room to report, compared to 20,30 years ago. I live in an open country, with so many foreigners and foreign business. It won’t look good for the G to do anything terrible to the media. And no, I have not been jailed. They nodded in unison.

Yep, solemn stuff.