Pressing Ahead 2017: The Community Through The Journalist’s Eye

By Ashley Tan (18A13A) and Zacchaeus Chok (18S03O)

Student journalist – not exactly the most prestigious job around, or even one that is frequently sought after. Nor is it an easy job, with frequent late nights on Google Docs, scouring for website-worthy pictures and harassing subjects for interviews. While student journalists around Singapore may have had a taste of the perils that the job brings, the kind of experience that each journalist has would undoubtedly vary from school to school.

Raffles Press’ Pressing Ahead Conference provided the opportune platform for student journalists from 7 very different institutions to collaborate and learn from one another.

The theme for this year’s conference, “Journalism and the Community”, served as a reminder to student journalists that their stories are ultimately influenced by their school’s culture. At the same time, these works have the ability to impact the very same student community. This theme was reinforced by a variety of activities during the breakout sessions as the conference progressed. Against a backdrop of differences, the students’ shared passion in journalism was the driving force that helped facilitate their interactions.

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Raffles Press Chairperson Bay Jia Wei talking about the conference’s theme during her opening address

The event formally commenced with Mr Sujin Thomas, Deputy Editor of SPH’s AsiaOne, sharing his decade’s worth of experiences as a journalist. Humorous and candid, Mr Thomas captivated his audience from the beginning of his sharing session till the very end of the Q&A segment. Sharing personal moments from interviewing legendary rock-stars as a music reporter (such as the Foo Fighters’ frontman Dave Grohl), to being on the ground as a crime correspondent, his journey in the journalism industry was a riveting and unforgettable tale.

“Journalism is not just about writing, it’s about the business of people.”

This was definitely a key idea that Mr Thomas underscored during his session. There is a common misconception amongst the general public that one only needs to possess a flair for writing to pursue journalism as a career. However, this could not be further from the truth.

While it is ideal for a journalist to have some level of proficiency in the written word, journalism more often than not focuses on networking and gaining the trust of various parties, as it is only through the mastery of these skills that valuable pieces of information can be retrieved. In other words, journalism is about newsgathering through people.

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Mr Sujin Thomas, Deputy Editor of AsiaOne, sharing his experiences in journalism

When asked about the role that journalism plays in today’s society, Mr Thomas responded by saying that journalism is essentially “taking the average Joe’s humble voice and amplifying it for the masses to read”. In this sense, it involves comprehending the complex and intricate details of a case and condensing its content using language that is accessible to readers. At the same time, Mr Thomas acknowledged that the face of journalism is changing along with the times.

“Journalism is not a job or profession, it’s a vocation.”

In this fast-paced digital age, the competition between different news outlets has become increasingly stiff, where the ability to be the first to release ground-breaking news with sensationalised headlines may be prized over the quality of the stories published. This has led to the proliferation of unreliable news, yet Mr Thomas emphasised the importance for reputable news agencies to ensure that the articles they publish do not contain inaccuracies – all stories put up online must be “watertight”. In this sense, while journalism may be evolving and taking on a more contemporary form, its traditional principles of reliability and integrity must be enshrined.

With enlightening lessons learned from Mr Thomas, it was the perfect time to put them to test. Students proceeded to collaborate with each other in a host of training activities conducted in breakout sessions to sharpen their skills.

As the students introduced themselves, differences between the schools became increasingly visible. Beyond the school uniform, what became most striking were the contrasts in the types of journalism practiced in the different schools. While learning about angling stories, Rafflesian journalists were only able to connect with the other journalists on a broader, more general level. This included recognising widespread cultures like sharing similar penchants for endorsing memes, gyming, and ranting or raving about canteen food. The phenomenon of ‘closet mugging’ as brought up by a student journalist from Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC), was one cultural note that most journalists, regardless of their schools, were able to empathise with.

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ACSI team during self-introductions

On a deeper level, however, it was difficult for the student journalists to fully understand the idiosyncrasies of the other schools. After all, the conference participants came from different schools with different rules and policies.

Yet, such differences did not divide. On the contrary, a mutual curiosity arose, as the student journalists listened to other viewpoints. Our common (but unofficial) occupation meant that we all had a desire to learn how to express our school culture in words, which certainly aided in reconciling our differences.

As the breakout sessions progressed, the different schools were pitted against each other in a competition. Teams were tasked to write a final goodbye piece in a hypothetical scenario where their school Press CCA was forced to fold. For ACJC, this presented the opportunity to vent all the pent-up frustrations with the school by using a harsher tone to denounce the failures of their school’s administration. The VJC team, on the other hand, decided that releasing a nostalgic summary of The Victorian Press’ achievements would be their approach to concluding their CCA’s unforgettable place in the school.

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CJC Team discussing ways to angle their article

To give us a glimpse of the realities of journalism, schools were also tasked to role-play as journalists from two vastly different news agencies in Singapore, The Straits Times and The Online Citizen. Restricted by the agencies’ stances, students had to ensure a balance between objective reporting and maintaining political sensitivities.

Deepening the challenge, students were tasked to write an article in response to the rather contentious issue regarding the latest changes to the PSLE grading system. For the participants, weighing the pros and cons of this polarising issue while ensuring that the clarity of purpose of the different news agencies was maintained in their pieces was of foremost importance.

It was interesting to note that the groups already held several preconceived notions about the slants of Singapore’s news agencies, which ultimately influenced the way in which they decided to structure and angle their pieces. On a deeper level, this exercise also showed how penning articles may not be as easy as it seems, as the way in which a story is angled and written stylistically would indubitably influence readers’ perceptions of any piece of news.

“It is heartening to see that despite all the differences, we still share many things in common.” – Bay Jia Wei, Raffles Press Chairperson (17S06R)

Overall, the enriching discussions that delved into the insights of journalism practises in the different schools was what defined 2017’s Pressing Ahead conference.

The student journalists of Raffles Press look forward to the possibility of future inter-school collaborations, and are patently inspired to press on in our endeavours of using the written word to capture the distinctive culture of our school, and to tell stories that surround the wider community.

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Raffles Press members striving to Press Ahead as they continue with their journey in journalism.

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