The Changing Face Of Journalism

SCMP’s technology editor, Chua Kong Ho (CS’01), shares his thoughts on the evolving landscape of the journalism industry.

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For as long as he can remember, Chua Kong Ho (CS’01) harboured dreams of becoming a sportswriter.

But a series of unexpected turns in his career saw him venture first into business journalism, and subsequently technology journalism. Today, the 42-year-old is the technology editor for the South China Morning Post.

After close to two decades of experience in the journalism industry, Chua has witnessed firsthand how the scene has shifted from a primarily print-based medium to an online one.

Despite changes in the industry, he told fourth year journalism majors in a recent campus visit that the core of journalism remains the same.

“In its rawest form, journalism is all about telling a story. Whether it’s a podcast or a news article, don’t focus on the form so much. Focus more on the substance,” he said.

And it was this commitment to substance that sparked his venture into journalism.

“I chose business journalism because I felt there was value in that information, and people could actually make use of it,” he added.

After graduating from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, he wrote for The Asian Banker Journal, before moving on to report for different local newspapers under Singapore Press Holdings, including the now defunct freesheet Streats and The Straits Times.

He then spent 11 years at Bloomberg, nine of which saw him based in Shanghai before he returned to the Singapore newsroom.

“In its rawest form, journalism is all about telling a story. Whether it’s a podcast or a news article, don’t focus on the form so much. Focus more on the substance.”

Chua Kong Ho (CS’01), technology editor of South China Morning Post

During his time at Bloomberg, he steadily worked his way up the ranks, starting out as a reporter before becoming an editor for the companies beat. He then assumed the role of a team leader and spearheaded coverage of the automotive industry in Asia.

It was during this period that Chua encountered his most memorable story as an editor — the death of a heavily pregnant woman after an airbag exploded on impact, shooting shrapnel into her.

This was just one of the numerous deaths caused by faulty airbags manufactured by Takata, a Japanese automotive part company. According to Chua, this incident generated immense public outrage simply because of how relatable the story was to many.

"Business journalism can be quite divorced from real life. But I believe the best (kind of business journalism) is something that you can connect to real life," he said.

 

Starting From The Ground Up

Chua, who currently oversees SCMP’s technology desk in Hong Kong, shared that his career journey to his current position was far from smooth sailing.

When he first moved from Singapore to Shanghai in 2006, he faced a steep learning curve when adjusting to the new work environment.

And although he could converse fluently in Mandarin, he had to rebuild his entire network of contacts when he relocated, which turned out to be challenging as he knew very few people.

To help his search, he would religiously monitor other Chinese news channels and take note of individuals who were credible experts in their respective fields in order to interview them later.

“If another news outlet has someone who’s willing to speak on record about a particular topic, then that individual can be someone you contact in the future,” he said.

 

Adapting To The Changing Times

In light of digitisation, Chua also shared the challenges that newsrooms are either facing or likely to face.

He said that print now functioned more as a curation service for stories that were already published online, since they could never beat online ones “in terms of immediacy.”

To address this, SCMP has a separate print team that picks out stories for print from those published online, based on their appeal to Hong Kong readers.

Chua added that the stories from different platforms were mostly the same, save for minor changes to their headlines and lengths due to physical constraints.

The transition to a digital landscape has also led to the increasing popularity of numerous alternative journalism mediums like podcasts and videos, which he said he was happy to see.

“Thoughtful and well-researched long-form articles will still have its place, because people actually make the conscious effort to sit down and consume them.”

Chua Kong Ho (CS’01), technology editor of South China Morning Post

“Technology, for all its faults, provides us with an influx of information, and more information is always better than less,” he said.

However, he noted that the manner in which the information is packaged is paramount, especially in the face of the shorter attention spans of present day readers.

While short-form content, which includes short videos and articles, are becoming increasingly popular, he said long-form articles still have their place in modern day society.

“Thoughtful and well-researched long-form articles will still have their place, because people actually make the conscious effort to sit down and consume them,” he said.

“It’s the middle ground that will most likely suffer, because they’re neither here nor there,” he added, in reference to content that was neither short enough to be consumed quickly nor long enough to be considered extensive.

 

Broadening Career Perspectives

Similar to the need for journalists to adapt to the evolving industry, Chua highlighted how it was vital for undergraduates to be prepared to adapt to the changing employment landscape.

Advising them to broaden their perspectives when embarking on the search for employment, he noted: “It’s a big world out there.”

And while uprooting his life here and relocating might have seemed like a scary prospect at first, it ultimately turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made in his life.

“If you choose journalism, it won’t be easy. But I promise you, it’ll be one hell of a ride. Just give it a go and enjoy the journey, however bumpy it might be.”

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