“IS there anyone here who is interested to be a journalist?”
About five hands shot up. The other 45 just looked at each other and smiled meekly.
You see, this week marks the beginning of my university’s new semester. And, that was the question I posed to the first-year students who were in my News and Feature Writing lecture, last Tuesday.
The class is compulsory for students who are pursuing a degree in Media and Communications, most of whose ambition is to be television host, newscaster or making it big in the broadcasting or film industry.
Based on my past experience, many students could not see why it was important to learn about news writing, when their profound interest was on composing great angles for their future career as a film director.
Little do they realise that the art of writing is the basic tenet for a lot of things related to media and communications.
And, it is the cleverly written words that are, after all, powerful tools in creating awareness and social change.
Last week, the Malaysian healthcare system was under scrutiny, when an article about a Singaporean youth, who died in an accident in Johor, was published by a news portal.
The accusations made were debunked by a press release issued by the Health Ministry.
The press release, which gave an opportunity for Malaysia to dispel the assumption on the inefficiency of our healthcare system, is a standard procedure in crisis communication management.
But, what amazed me was how the Director-General of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah used his social media accounts to write and create awareness on this issue.
For instance, his Facebook post on Sept 2 titled Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA): The Untold and The Unsung Heroes, was wittily composed and laden with facts and figures about the hospital. The writing was a personal account of Dr Hisham on HSA but it was creatively composed and attracted a lot of readers, which consequently helped in disseminating useful information.
Aside from that, media organisations have long been writing exposés, which unearth real issues, but not many dare to speak up.
For instance, NST news editor Farrah Naz Karim and journalist Aliza Shah wrote about bauxite mining in Kuantan that led to the imposition of a moratorium by the Federal Government.
Together with NST associate editor Haris Hussain, they highlighted how contaminated mining water was channelled into Selangor rivers and distributed to two million residents.
While the trio won Malaysia’s most coveted award in journalism, the Kajai Award, for the expose, there are also brave journalists who faced tragic deaths as a consequence of reporting on highly sensitive issues.
The most recent was the death of a prominent Indian journalist, Gauri Lankesh, who was reportedly found lying in a pool of blood near her home in Bangalore, India.
Mexican journalist, Javier Valdez, was killed in Sinaloa, Mexico, in May.
He was known for his reporting on drug and organised crime.
The compelling pieces they wrote, probably touched some nerves, but without brave souls like these, we would be oblivious to important issues happening right under our noses.
With the availability of social media platforms, many people can now share their thoughts and unearth issues, which they feel should be highlighted.
A lot of issues became viral through social media under the pretext of citizen journalism, but I find that most of the issues were written out of spite, anger, dissatisfaction and often tell only one side of the story.
This is why it is important to learn the art of writing, especially news.
Because, if you do, you will know that while it is important to create interest and hook people to read what you have written, it is equally important that you validate and verify your contents and try to gather information from all parties involved, to avoid being biased.
I believe, these are important knowledge and skills which will create individuals who are meticulous and mindful, when disseminating information and clicking the share or repost button.
Most importantly, even if you do not plan to be a journalist in the future, you would also learn that an individual must be accountable with what he/she has written, and be willing to apologise and retract the piece of writing, if it is found to be inaccurate.
DR SABARIAH MOHAMED SALLEH was previously a journalist who once harboured hope to win the Pulitzer Prize. She now shares her experience in the news industry with students at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.