By Huang Beihua (20A03A) and Sarah Lok (20A03A)
Photos courtesy of Mr Patrick Wong
Despite our denial, the life of a student journalist is markedly different from that of a paid professional. We are fortunate not to risk having someone set their dogs on us, for example, and rejections of our articles—even if churned out on Google Docs in late-night frenzies—are exceptions rather than the norm. Yet, the safe harbour of school does not so readily exonerate student-journalists from the keeping abreast of the meteorology in the open seas beyond, and as the field of journalism as a whole braces for the digital era ahead, it is only too appropriate that student journalists must, too, consider and discuss the challenges and opportunities it heralds for ourselves.
Enter Pressing Ahead. Now in its fourth year, Pressing Ahead is the only conference of its kind, bringing together JC journalism bodies from all over the island, allowing student journalists from various schools to share their perspectives and the discuss the issues they face. With the eager participation of 7 schools, namely: Anglo-Chinese Junior College (ACJC), Catholic Junior College (CJC), Hwa Chong Institution (HCI), National Junior College (NJC), Raffles Institution (RI), River Valley High School (RVHS), and Victoria Junior College (VJC), the latest iteration was no different.
The event commenced with an opening address from Press Chairperson Loh Lin (19A01D), who introduced the theme of this year’s conference: “Preparing for the Multimedia Newsroom”. This theme was chosen as the digital age presents a significant challenge for journalists: with the multiplicity of ways in which people access their news—from the traditional print newspaper to tweets and even Instagram stories (as followers of @rafflespress on Instagram could attest to)—journalists will have to continuously adapt and learn new skills to keep up. Framing this in a school context, Lin explained that “as student journalists, we need to figure out how to continue telling stories about our communities, to inform our peers and make them care in more interactive and engaging ways”.
An icebreaker, in the form of the classic game “Who Am I”, soon followed the speech. The familiar game certainly did not disappoint: the lecture theatre’s figurative ice was dissolved in warm chatter as the game progressed, with participants either taking on second or third identities to continue the fun, or simply leaning back and sharing with one another their unique school experiences. Extra laughter was had at the expense of participants who had to guess particularly obscure characters, or who were otherwise not familiar enough with pop culture figures to extricate themselves from their confusion. A game of Spyfall followed, and so did the growth of new friendships that would continue as the day went on.
The theme of the conference was explored in greater depth by guest speaker Mr Yeo Sam Jo, a multimedia correspondent at The Straits Times. Mr Yeo certainly didn’t beat around the bush: by tackling the common impression of journalism as a profession for which writing was the only requirement, Mr Yeo clarified that writing was, in fact, “just 20% of it”. Indeed, as he shared, “what drew [him] into journalism as a whole were the human interest stories.” “You don’t forget those people’s names”, he remarked poignantly.
By quoting buzzwords in corporate settings (such as “disruption”, “change”, and “revolution”), Mr Yeo elucidated how social media is a disruption to the pre-existing media paradigm: its rapid-fire nature may compromise the quality of a story, whilst the proliferation of fake news forces journalists to be extremely certain about what they report. However, as a counterbalance, he expounded on how leveraging on technology can propel us towards the future of journalism, citing examples of data analytics and interactive visuals that are now ubiquitous topography in today’s press landscape. The headlines you see on a casual visit to straitstimes.com might just be one of several versions randomly presented to different readers to gauge their popularity, whilst gigapixel-sized pictures and striking visuals enable readers to not just “read [about an event] in black and white, but rather, see it happen.”
Mr Yeo ended his sharing by emphasising the importance of genuity in created content, of exercising responsibility in keeping within ethical standards, and of keeping ourselves in tune with the wavelength of the journalism zeitgeist.
The applause that followed was sufficient to show the audience’s appreciation—and no, it was not because food (lunch came immediately after) was finally a reality. As Raffles Press member Kelly Leong (20S07C) described, his sharing was “interesting and humorous”, whilst Eliora Joseph from the NJC Press enthused that Mr Yeo was “insightful [and] informative”, highlighting that his “sharing on his SPH career and stuff were quite fun [to hear about]”.
Eager to put concepts of a multimedia newsroom into practice, participants embarked on group breakout sessions following lunch’s brief interlude. Participants were tasked to synthesise two random prompts drawn from a bag—such as “Procrastination” and “Vending Machines”—and present their idea for a multimedia news item incorporating both ideas; they also had to angle it such that it remained relevant to their schoolmates, whilst retaining some elements of engagement. As Lin, who helped organise the conference, explained, the skills the activity hoped to cultivate were “transferable to coverage-writing, which demands for the reporter to put a fresh spin on an event through human elements, while upholding authenticity.” After two hours of hard work, the groups did not disappoint with the ideas put forth: they ranged from the novel (debating whether the True Endgame lies with the Avengers or the A Levels), to the nostalgic (charting an individual’s journey through JC by interviewing several students on their first and last days of school), to the nonsensical (arranging a school mascot rap battle to empower students to read SingLit).
In his closing speech, Mr Patrick Wong, the teacher-in-charge of Press, sentimentally recounted that, “when I was in NJC, there were no mobile phones, no Internet”. It was, as he put it, “a very different world”. Student journalists, then, are now “writing in a very different time”, with the need for continual adaptation to its unique challenges and opportunities being nothing short of a necessity.
Yet, the very spirit that unites (student) journalists across time has scarcely changed—to listen to the stories worth listening to and to report on stories worth reporting on. With that being said, Mr Wong’s hope for the multimedia newsroom is simple: to stay true to our aspirations, and to “keep the flame going”, Pressing Ahead into the digital era.