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The writer during an assignment to film solo biker Anita Yusof in London. PIX BY ZAHARAH OTHMAN
The writer during an assignment to film solo biker Anita Yusof in London. PIX BY ZAHARAH OTHMAN
The writer (right) with a colleague at the BBC World Service in the late 80s.
The writer (right) with a colleague at the BBC World Service in the late 80s.

JUST imagine this scene: it is a drumroll, nail-biting moment as we wait for the announcement of the winner in an important event.

All around me, smartphones on the ready and fingers on the buttons. As the announcement is made, a loud applause and cheers could be heard from the Malaysian delegation — the winner was indeed Malaysia or a Malaysian!

So, I get my story that would at least make the lead page item or even better, an exclusive because naively, I thought there were no other Malaysian media within a thousand-mile radius.

Wrong! In this day and age of social media, there is no such thing as a scoop or an exclusive.

All around me are friends, workmates, organisers and even family members of the winner at the event. Pictures and even video clips of the moment of victory are already being posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram! And I was still struggling with my intro!

Back home, where the media is not able to present at the event, some news organisations lift such postings from the social media and hey presto, there goes my exclusive story that was originally meant for the print media the next day! The story then appears online at any time of the day or night.

When I became a journalist some decades ago, thumping on the old Remmington, copies made its rounds to the editors, the sub editors, the layout artists and then finally to the typesetters ready for offstone — the moment which an edition of a newspaper is finalised for printing where no further changes can be made.

Oh, how archaic it sounds.

Now, changes and edits can still be made online as the news unfolds, by editors or sub editors working away from the office, on their smartphones.

I am doing this painful reflection of how things have changed in this industry as I see friends and colleagues receive their termination letters after serving in an industry that some say is slowly “dying” — killed by the very new technology that we all eagerly embraced some years ago.

In my career as a journalist, spanning over 40 years and still counting; from radio to print to world service radio to television and back to print and sometimes both at the same time, the changes I see and experience, with the attendant challenges, are overwhelming.

Inevitably too, with the challenges came the casualties. I was one of the casualties when working at the BBC World Service, Malay Section.

In the 90s we were told people no longer listened to the radio, certainly not short wave radio with all the crackles and interference it brought.

But I pulled myself up, licked the wounds and learned new tools of the trade to remain relevant in a world so fast-changing that if you blink, you are deleted and defeated.

From going to assignments with photographers and cameramen carrying big hefty cameras and sometimes, with the luxury of a soundman, now a journalist can work alone with just a smartphone.

But then again, so can thousands of others who have the inclinations and skills to want to be the first with the news.

The advent of the Internet and social media has indeed been a turning point for all news; how news is conveyed, to which audience and how the news is interpreted, almost in real-time on social media platforms is mind-boggling.

A journalist reporting at a scene has to contend with hundreds of others who are able to record what they see and hear, and later post on their walls.

If that is not daunting enough, ministers, chief executive officers, director-generals, their press officers and other hangers-on too would record and post on their walls.

We console ourselves that our stories, once published are more well-rounded — it has more colour and flavour — much more than the 280 characters that Twitter can give you.

But then again, the 280 character account is all that most readers want nowadays. In an era where everything is instant, short and sweet, that is all their attention span can manage.

But it is not the whole picture, we insist. According to a study, social media only “allows people to think they are getting a broad view of information when in fact they are seeing only a narrow slice, and sometimes one driven by ideological extremists”.

In fact, sometimes, social media is not a credible source for the news.

I attended a show recently and I was confident enough to say I was the only journalist, to be exact, the only Malaysian journalist around. It wasn’t an earth-shattering event and I knew my story could wait.

However, when I googled, the story had hit an online media portal with a headline that made me wonder whether we were actually talking about the same event.

One of the organisers, quoted by the online media, had described the event as one that had sent shockwaves in the fashion industry. I hardly noticed a ripple.

At another event, the organiser had boasted of a total sell-out of his products that he brought to London but of course, most of us present knew better. We knew that the products were just bought by close friends, close Malaysian friends, to be exact. No significant exposure to the intended market.

But entries on Facebook about the so-called success of the London debut and promo had brought thousands of likes and praises. How do we compete with this?

The question is do people care? They read one-sided stories on celebrities and the insta-famous and move on. These accounts then are being picked up by the newspapers and even by television stations in their bid to get more ratings.

Newspapers, when they go online, also introduced online TV but this, of course, is suicidal and partly contributed to the sounds of the death knell of the print media.

But I do admit that I enjoy making video clips — it adds flavour to my stories online.

With just the smartphone, which I could carry into hospital wards and to areas where cameras are not allowed, I have even managed to document the repatriation of stroke patient Sahrom from his intensive care unit ward in London and also during the flight home to Malaysia.

Technology has made it easier. But every time I take out my camera to film, I remember the words of my cameraman who taught me all I knew about filming. He said, “One day, you will not be needing me any more.”

More and more of us, are being replaced by technology. Just try and stay relevant.

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