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The Changing Face Of Journalism

The Changing Face Of Journalism

The face of journalism as we know it is changing.

The war in Iraq is an example of how this is happening.

In the run-up to the war, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent by media organizations to upgrade their portable equipment, providing satellite phones and other high tech gear for their war correspondents.

However, for many people wanting to keep up to date with the happenings in Iraq, the most entrancing coverage comes from non-journalists keeping personal weblogs – or blogs as they are more commonly called.

The bloggers don’t have any high tech media equipment. The only Weapon of Mass Communication they have is an Internet connection, and a desire to share first-hand experience.

Soldiers, who started websites to keep in touch with friends and family, were able to give eye-opening views of combat and Iraqis were able to report on events from a perspective not approached by the mainstream media.

Media networks are aware of the existence of bloggers. But instead of wanting to work alongside them, they shunned them. The usual media rhetoric is that bloggers are just uninformed ranters.

However, the existence of bloggers is costing the media networks big time – in readership, viewership and revenue.

Readers, viewers and listeners, were turning away from reading newspapers, watching television or listening to the radio news to the Internet for what they perceive to be more interesting, if not more accurate, news.

Let’s bring ourselves back to the media business in New Zealand.

This country of 4 million, once bi-cultural at most, is fast becoming a multicultural society.

In this “English” city of Christchurch today, there are 168 known ethnicities, coming from over 100 different countries.

But, the reality is, the ethnic make up of journalists, style of reporting and media news content operates like other cultures don’t exist.

Minority ethnic groups make the news only when a trivial thing such as a food festival or concert takes place, or when an Asian goes to Court for a driving offence or picking undersized paua.

You don’t usually find the views of minority groups reflected in most stories. They are very seldom asked for their opinions on stories of general issues that affect the community.

Take the foreshore and seabed issue for example, while Maori, Kiwis and politicians have been asked for opinions, Asians and other migrant communities are left completely out of the debate.

Not having the minority represented in the news thus give stories a “them” and “us” approach, and readers from minority ethnic groups cannot identify with the stories.

There is also a growing sense among the ethnic communities that the mainstream media are “biased” and do not report stories favourably on migrants and people from minority ethnicities because they “don’t understand”.

When the media ignores a group of people, the same group will ignore and avoid the media.

Thus, it becomes a chicken and egg situation where people from minority groups do not contact the media with news tips or even to advertise.

This is also costing the mainstream media in New Zealand big time too.

Like the bloggers, many so-called “ethnic” newspapers have come in to fill this void.

Apart from the New Zealand Herald in Auckland, which dabbled a few years ago on publishing a Chinese monthly, no other mainstream media company has even considered taking on this lucrative market.

At last count, there are over 20 Chinese newspapers, 8 Korean newspapers, 2 Japanese publications and iBall, New Zealand’s first bilingual newspaper that I started exactly a year ago today.

I remember once when Christchurch Press journalist friend and I were talking about how miserably journalists were paid in New Zealand and how after paying her rent and bills, there was nothing left for savings or luxuries.

She then said to me. “You migrants probably wouldn’t understand that. Coming here with big money and big cars…”

That really got me thinking.

The way stories are reported by the mainstream media on migrants - Asians in particular - often portray them as:

1. Rich: The come here with lots of money, live in big houses, drive big cars…

2. Have got no worries: Perpetually have food fairs, singing and dancing, celebrating festivals… and that they are

3. Trouble makers: often caught for speeding, poaching, smuggling and fights.

Even I cannot identify with these supposed Asian migrant “characteristics”. It is not a wonder therefore, that this reporter friend thinks that I am not able to understand ordinary problems of ordinary Kiwi folks.

The local media, of which she is very much part of, formed that opinion.

Coming from a multicultural city of Singapore, I remember growing up in an environment where through school, people from different ethnicities tend to congregate within their own groups. The Malays, Indians, Eurasians and Chinese pretty much kept to themselves.

No amount of cultural celebrations the school organized brought about real integration.

It was only after National Service – compulsory military service for all men in Singapore – in which we had to live under the same roof with a platoon of people made up of all ethnicities for two years, that made me more accepting and really mixed with members of other communities.

Integration happened when I came to realise that people of other ethnicities were just like me underneath their different coloured skins.

They have the same money worries, girlfriend problems and family problems.

Reporting as if Asians came from a different planet makes it all the more difficult for integration.

Ethnic newspapers also do not help the situation.

It fuels the sentiment that Asians are different in having publications in their own language, reporting on stories from their home countries. Many of these ethnic newspapers get their stories off the Internet and do not have field reporters to cover local stories.

In Singapore, it was the main newspaper – the Straits Times Group, which also publishes the Malay, Chinese and Tamil newspapers.

Singapore also has the advantage that many of the people were bilingual, some even tri-lingual, hence they could read the English newspaper and at least one in another language.

We do not have that advantage in New Zealand.

But there is this saying - if we cannot bring the mountain to Mohammed, we can bring Mohammed to the mountain.

New Zealand is not a society of bilingual people – but we could have a bilingual newspaper - a publication that both the Asians and Kiwis could read and understand.

A newspaper which reports on news on the Asian and migrant communities as the mainstream papers would on locals.

Hence, iBall – a paper dedicated to bridging the cultures of New Zealand.

Since its inception, iBall has reported on abortion, divorce, adoption, health, accidents and other news from the Asian community’s perspective to show that Asians faced the same problems as the locals.

Just because the news does not make it to the mainstream papers does not mean it does not happen to Asians.

We decided that in order for iBall to be effective and reach out to local readers, it cannot follow the distribution channel of the ethnic papers and had to be distributed with a mainstream paper. We chose the Christchurch Star.

It was an achievement for us when in October, our front page story on a Malaysian handyman who built his own house with bricks and other materials from the junkyard made it to the front page of the Christchurch Star, and also made it to TV One (Close Up) and SKY Chinese News.

Asia Down Under and a reporter for a Malaysian Kuala-Lumpur based newspaper are also doing follow up reports on the story.

From a little bilingual ethnic newspaper - to a city paper - to national television -to the world.

This is an example of the many interesting stories that are out there for the taking, but are missed out by the mainstream papers because they do not have the resources to get “inside scoops” from the ethnic communities.

This is truly a time for change for the New Zealand media.

Many have merged and downsized, and with the existence of the Internet, many reporters have turned into lounge lizards where they don’t even make the effort to meet newsmakers in person any more.

IBall is helping to fill the void, reporting from a perspective not taken by mainstream media.

We are very happy to have received an acknowledgement from the Human Rights Commission for the paper’s contribution to positive race relations in Christchurch in September.

It is time for closer partnerships between mainstream and ethnic media, which would benefit society and the media business as a whole, and for stories in the mainstream media to truly reflect the multicultural makeup of the new New Zealand community.

Lincoln Tan

Managing Director / Editor

iBall Media Works Limited

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