What it takes to be a journalist

THE 50th anniversary of The Star brings a nostalgic and introspective journey on what it takes to be a journalist and how we have survived this long in a sometimes misunderstood profession.

After being in this field for a few decades, I have come to live with the fact that we are at the forefront of disasters and triumphs.

We journalists hardly give a thought for our safety and at times put ourselves in danger just to get first-hand information for the waiting public.

I had my first date with the sight of a disaster in November 1981, a few months into the job.

A train slammed into a bus at Permatang Tinggi, Penang.

That early morning train killed 18 and injured 30 passengers plus the driver.

The sight of the mangled mess was enough to make me question if this job was what I wanted.

But after sometime, you desensitise yourself from sad sights and keep a focused mind.

But sometimes it is still hard to bear.

I was once called to a crime scene in George Town and what I saw made my stomach churn and my heart ache.

A woman had been shot with a gun through her heart point blank, apparently by her boyfriend, and there she was, slumped in a chair in a cafe in Burma Road with her chest ripped open.

Those were times when there was no Internet or social media, and exclusive stories — or in journalism lingo called ‘scoops’ — determined the calibre of journalists.

Print media was the prime source of news then and people waited with bated breath for stories on disasters, crime, courts, tidbits and scandals.

The first issue of The Star in 1971. For 50 years, journalists with the newspaper have been at the forefront of many disasters.The first issue of The Star in 1971. For 50 years, journalists with the newspaper have been at the forefront of many disasters.

It was a different time. Just check a copy of The Star in 1971. We had our own scantily clad Page Three girl, something totally unthinkable today unless we want our printing permit revoked or want to raise the ire of advocates against exploitation of women.

While the Internet has become a new source of information now, the pandemic has changed what being a journalist means to me.

We found ourselves ranked as frontliners, allowed to go out during the strictest phases of the movement control order and even entering red zones where Covid-19 infection rates are high.

My colleagues and I visited areas in the south of Penang island at the start of the MCO at a time when standard operating procedures (SOP) were not really in place.

Your journalistic instincts take over.

The fear of infection is muted and all you can think of is how to bring the stories to fore.

There was very little thought of what would happen if we were infected. What about our families and loved ones? We soldiered on.

We saw the antics of politicians, on stage, talking about physical distancing and other precautions but frankly, not all of them followed the SOP themselves.

Their events and press conferences will be packed to the brim in small spaces or rooms. We the journalists have to be stuck right in the midst, reporting the news as usual.

A few continue to call newsmen to attend their events although they can reduce the risk by holding online conferences.

The country’s politics is even in a volatile phase and the pandemic has taken a backseat.

Political parties are scrambling to be in the news, with talks of an early general election on the horizon.

Pandemic, politicians and elections are certainly potent combinations, and we journalists have to be present no matter what, reporting the news.

They call us frontliners but none are telling us when we will be vaccinated, so in the meantime, we wait.

Log on to our dedicated website, 50.thestar.com.my to find out more about our special anniversary activities and highlights for readers.

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