I loved my reporting job, but I quit...

Ah Man

[Apr 2011 - The Journalist] I was not as enthusiastic as the girl whose ambition was to join Ming Pao Daily. She saved $50,000 first. When I was a student, I did not have the ambition of becoming a journalist. I am more of a realist. I became a journalist only because of interest, luck and my need - for money. I had to make a living.

I graduated in 2003. I had studied science but I also loved writing and read the newspapers avidly. So I chose journalism and communication as my minor subject. I studied many advertising related subjects because they were interesting and funny. We submitted advertising plans or proposals as homework. Of course I also studied some basic journalism.

There were numerous major news events in 2003, such as the Second Gulf War, SARS, Leslie Cheung committing suicide, 500,000 people turning out for the July 1 demonstration and a serious road accident in Tuen Mun highway…continuously. The atmosphere in Hong Kong was bad, people were worried, even the final examinations at my university were cancelled because of SARS. We submitted our thesis and final projects instead.

No classes, so I spent most of my time in the student hall. I was worried about my future. I sent dozens of application letters for jobs related to science but I got no reply. I also sent letters to two electronic news media just for a try. Surprisingly both replied to me and invited me to attend interviews.

I passed several tests and interviews. Finally I joined one electronic media as a journalist. My starting salary was $8,000. The probation period was six months. At least I got a challenging job before leaving school during an economic downturn. I did not know if I could handle the job but I was young enough to try.

Industry with an unique charm

Just like dating, when a relationship begins, everything is new for you and you can easily get excited. I went to the places or venues which were prohibited to the public. I chatted with different types of people, asked our political leaders questions, did stand-up and live broadcasts, witnessed numerous news events, wrote history and even participated in some big events. Journalism is a meaningful, interesting and an intellectual job - more meaningful than speculating in stocks or properties.

Moreover, senior journalists taught us the missions and responsibility of journalists. Our job is to inform public immediately and make it easy for them to grasp. We can even make our world more beautiful. I was extremely focused on my job. I was always thinking about how to improve. On returning home every day I jotted down what I learned in a small notebook for reference.

However, without formal training in journalism, previous internship experience, courage and a thick skin, I felt extremely frustrated. I was scolded by assignment editors. I became a subject of gossip among my colleagues. I was blamed by supervisors for serious wrongs. I was disliked by other reporters. I was taken advantage of. I was wilfully cheated. I was blamed by the family member of an accident victim. I was threatened by bad guy… My confidence plumbed the depths and I seriously questioned whether I should stay on.

Several times I thought of quitting the job and going back to my original field of study.

Given the irregular schedules day had become night and vice versa. Sometimes working the overnight shift, covering spot news around 6 am, staying on the frontline and closely monitoring an event until it ended...of course you could not always have the day off on a Saturday or Sunday and you must work through major holidays when numerous events or news would break...I felt tired.

Still, I continued working as a journalist. Every journalist understands that this industry has a unique charm which keeps on attracting you. Besides, it was really too late for me to go back to science.

Old classmates got wealthier

Then, I was assigned to work at different desks. In spite of the different working environment, my job still was making news for audience. I persuaded myself that I was okay. However, each time I met my old classmates from school who were working in other sectors, I felt I was poor while they had become wealthier and wealthier.

My academic performance was not bad. If I had worked in the financial sector I would probably have had a good income and not need to keep a tight check on my daily expenses. I consoled myself that at least a journalist understands current affairs and society. They have the knowledge to discuss major issues competently. They are knowledgeable and their job is more meaningful.

Journalism is a challenging job. You need to have good language skills, a logical mind, critical thinking, react quickly and correctly in a short period of time, work in adverse conditions and dangerous environments. At night, I often ask myself why the salary of a reporter is so low? Because of supply and demand theory? Because of the non-stop supply of journalism school students? Because reporters cannot generate revenue for company? Because media owners do not think reporters’ experience and quality are important so they do not need to keep them by raising their salaries?

In addition, the ecosystem of the Hong Kong media is frustrating. The media I worked for has upheld traditional values and has a good reputation among reporters. However the news angle and reports of newspapers have become more and more sensational, exaggerated and biased. They are not objective and impartial, they do not tell you the real truth.

I discussed this problem with other reporters. We all saw the problem but we were too busy, too insignificant and not determined enough to change. The media owners are only concerned about sales when they make any decision. The situation remains unchanged.

Finally there was no alternative

After I was assigned to a desk job I was no longer a frontline journalist. I had gradually moved into a comfort zone. I became lazy and stopped to reflect.

I could not stop myself progressing. I wanted to enrich my knowledge and expand my horizons and equip myself for better things. So I decided to quit the job I had held for five years and take up a postgraduate degree.

After that I worked as a public relations officer handling media relations. This job offered me a better salary, but the job nature of a PR officer is not as exciting as that of journalist.

When I meet my ex-comrades I am often asked if I would return to news media. I always say that I do not know. Actually I yearn for the life of the journalist to some extent, but I also understand that my pay would be cut if I return to the industry. I wish I could contribute and succeed the senior journalists, but the salary of journalist is probably too low to maintain the fire in my heart. When you are older, you need to take care of more people and bear more responsibilities.

My love for the media industry was serious. I made every effort and worked diligently but finally I chose to quit because I had no alternative. If there were a third party in our relations, I would call the third party “reality”.