Someone has to tell the emperor he is naked

Allan Au - Former TVB senior producer & news program host. Part-time teacher & Ph.D student in the School of Journalism at the CUHK

[Apr 2011 - The Journalist] Some years back TVB news produced a talk show program about the history of the local TV news industry. The late news anchor, Ng Fong-wing was the host. During his last TV program, he asked former TVB reporter Ms. Claudia Mo, “If there was a word to describe the working life of a reporter, it would be...?”

Most reporters say the working life of a reporter can be described by the word “wait”. In the ideal world, reporters courageously reported news on the frontline wherever and however dangerous and however remote. In order to seek the truth, they do not surrender to brutal authority.

In reality, most reporters waste their time waiting. We wait to ask the Chief Executive a question he will not answer. We wait for a senior official to deliver a brief summary in recorder-playing style after a meeting.

We waited outside the jail for Amina though we did not know from which exit she would leave. We waited outside Stanley Ho's home, waited for his wives going in and coming out. A reporter's foot was even rolled over by a luxury car.

Recently, a new reporter described the working life of a reporter as “despicably cheap”.

Somehow we have chosen to be “despicably cheap'”. Three years after graduation from university, a young reporter's salary remains at $10,000. Reporters cover news, write reports, shoot videos, edits footage and uploads news to website. Hard work, and limited annual leave without complaints is expected.

Reporters are exploited by media owners. Welfare and salaries are cut, but because of their passion and ideals, they stay and have no intentions of quitting.

So what is the word to describe the working life a of reporter? Ms. Mo's answer was “truth”.

Whether we choose to do a despicably cheap job or waste countless hours waiting, we shall never abandon the search for “truth”. In the modern world, there is no absolute value, news is described as a mirror which reflects the reality to readers. People who still believe in the truth may be mocked by others. More and more people now feel there is no truth, only viewpoints. They claim there are no universal values but only unchanging interests. We need naive people who still believe in truth to inform the emperor that he is naked.

Vision and passion get exploited

The truth may be complicated. Different interest groups are eager to cover up the truth while the audience may have different interpretations. Now, too, there are many sources of information.

This is why we need reporters. A news report is a mirror which is held by a reporter. Reporters decide which news should be covered. They move to the best location to focus and reflect the reality to readers.

We are overwhelmed by an information tsunami. Information now costs so little and it is difficult to know whether it is partial truth or the truth. So many voices. It is difficult to select useful material from this chaos. Therefore a reporter is important because he or she holds up a mirror to reflect the salient points and filter out the irrelevant information.

Vision and passion do not come without costs. All senior and junior reporters say their vision and passion get exploited because media owners know very well that the journalists will not give up. This phenomenon is common to all attractive industries so we should not be sad or desperate.

A number of reporters have recently quit. Their journalistic experience is valued by the financial sector, the business community, the government and political circles, the public relations industry and the educational sector. The financial rewards in all these other sectors are more generous. What the journalists learned in the media industry is very useful in their new positions.

Some reporters may have left their jobs, but they did not leave the industry. The financial media is expanding, and there is greater competition in the free newspaper market. There will also be a vibrant digital broadcast market and new terrestrial TV licenses will be issued. So new opportunities are emerging and the new media is hungry for talent, so let's see who can take advantage of these opportunities.

The working reporter may “X” who can be “waiting”, “despicably cheap”, “truthful” or he can be “Y” or “Z”. You can fill in with whatever you want. Every reporter has his or her own preference but what is undeniable is that a reporter's working life is more exciting than in any other profession or calling, and there are more opportunities in a reporter's working life than in any other vocation or profession.

Although most of us do not always say how meaningful or sacred our job is, it is the reason why we work with such determination and without any hesitation. If someone were to ask me why, when still claiming to have the passion and ideals, I have joined the ranks of those who quit, my answer would be that I do not want to stay in the same post for too long, and that it is already a miracle that I worked for the same company for 20 years. I have had my rewards and done what I could do. It is simply time to call it a day. But, in reality, I have not really left this vocation. I have merely embarked on a fresh start - to explore new possibilities in a freer, more realistic environment.