Into a new dimension with AM730

Kusche Cheng, am730 reporter

[Nov 2011 - The Journalist] Two newspaper companies launched their own free newspapers recently, and suddenly freebies are the centre of attention in the media industry. When I meet reporters from other companies, I am invariably asked: “How are you going to fight this battle?” My usual reply is: “We’ll just do our best!”

Before getting too concerned about whether freebies are entering the “Period of the Warring States”, and whether the weaker papers are going to be eliminated soon, let me share my views about what free newspapers really are all about.

I have been working in one of them, AM730, for 5 years. There have been happy moments in these years, but there were also tears. A major challenge for me when I first got into it was not only adapting to a new environment, but that my adaption period was exceptionally long. It was because the nature of my new job, new post and the things that I had to take care of were all very different from the previous job. It was also a time when I needed to find a new direction and orientation in my career. I had made mistakes, explored different things, and fortunately, when I eventually found my new direction, and had adjusted to the right attitude towards work, I started to love my job.

Many of my reporter friends are envious of how “comfortable” our work is in a free newspaper. But I think that is only based on wrong impressions. These friends of mine usually think that reporters like us have more day-offs, less work to do, meet deadlines earlier every night and, therefore, we go home earlier. But none of this is true. There are also reporters who think that almost all the contents of a free newspaper come from copying instant news websites and other electronic media. This is a common misunderstanding, too! In fact, we insist on assigning reporters to cover major news events, and we copy materials from the electronic media only when we run out of reporters and have no other choice. This is a fundamental principle we hold on to.

While there are misunderstandings, it is true that unlike traditional papers, the newsroom of a free paper has a simpler structure. It is mainly because we do not have traditional editors, and all our reporters provide the headings for their stories and even lay out the pages themselves, thus combining reporting, editing and laying out. This means we have a heavier workload, and we also have to stay longer in the office to check and see off the final proofs. A heavy workload is bad, but the good thing about working in such a newsroom is that we can edit and even shorten our articles the way we like to. Unlike the traditional papers, we never have to “struggle” with the editors about how the stories are edited because we do the editing ourselves. That's put paid to all unnecessary squabbles among colleagues.

AM730 is now 6 years old. It has established its own niche in the industry. Yet there are still people who remain ignorant of our existence. I once met a local politician who, after seriously “examining” my card, asked me if we were a radio station. I was deeply shocked by this and, although I dare not say that he is ignorant, I think it really shows that there are people who live in their own little world.

Talking about ignorance, there was also an occasion when the LOCPG (Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong SAR) organized a study tour to mainland China for Hong Kong reporters, but did not invite AM730. Wondering why not, I called the LOCPG to ask. I was again shocked when they told me the reason was because they did not consider us to be a “mainstream media”. I did not ask how the LOCPG differentiated between non-mainstream and mainstream, because I knew there would not be an answer. At that time, I had thought that it was bad to be classed as non-mainstream, but who knows? If that means we do not need to be put on the Communists’ so-called “United Front”, being non-mainstream may be a bonus after all.

.(Translated by Tony Cheung )