By Yasmin Yahya
“Imagine having your name printed on a national newspaper, and being able to deliver news to the whole nation. You are there to witness history, and you write history. This makes you part of history. How awesome is that? You will find nothing more fulfilling, isn’t it?” said Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun with a big smile drawn on her face.
Indeed, those were very inspiring quotes from Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun, a journalist of the New Straits Times.
In early years (before 1890), journalism already became a profession but unfortunately women were restricted by customs and laws from taking up the job of a reporter or a journalist as their career. They also faced significant discrimination within the profession back then. Many people assumed that journalism is considered a tough job for women to handle. They claimed that journalists in their career are usually faced with many kinds of hardships including having to ignore the responsibility as a mother or a wife, keeping themselves busy running after stories and covering events.
However, during these days things are already changing as we can see women are likely to become journalists or reporters, editors, sports analysts as compared to men. It is a fact that there are a number of brilliant female journalists today and there will be more in the next few decades. In Malaysia, among female journalists who have become successful in their career are Hayati Ibrahim (Harian Metro), Hidayah Tanzizi (Kosmo), Joceline Tan (The Star) and Maszureen Hadzman (Utusan Malaysia).
It is obviously proven that everybody can become a journalist regardless of gender. It depends on an individual’s passion and effort to become one. These people are an inspiration or role model for me, including those who are pursuing journalism course especially. I looked at their achievement in this field to motivate me to move me further in life and career later on. As a journalism specialised student for Principles and Practices of Journalism course, I had an opportunity to meet and interview a prominent journalist, to complete my final project paper. The aim was to find out about her experience and to learn some useful tips in the field.
I did an interview with Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun, 27, one of the journalists of The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad. Her name is quite familiar in the New Straits Times (NST) as her stories often come out on front page. She graduated with a degree in Mass Communication from University of Hertfordhsire, United Kingdom.
Career as a Journalist – how it started
When I asked how did she start her career as a journalist, she responded saying that she felt that she could write. Her friends have encouraged her to pursue her talent and passion in writing by becoming a journalist. So, she applied to the NST to become a reporter and she got the job. That’s how she has been with the NST for almost four years up until now.
She said, to be honest, she never wanted to be a newspaper journalist because she was leaning more towards corporate communications or events. Besides, her interest in writing, back then, was also more on magazines, instead of newspapers. However, now that she’s into journalism, she said, “I must say that it is a very rewarding job”. She learns new things every day, meets new people, and gets to see new places.
“And there’s nothing much like the rush and excitement you get from running around chasing for stories,” she said.
Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun’s current job scope is to write for the political desk. Generally, she covers news on political parties in Malaysia such as their general assemblies and party elections. She also covers news on general elections, by-elections and state elections. In fact, she would also be assigned to cover Dewan Rakyat (Parliament) sittings, political crises and the occasional stakeouts.
“We, on the political desk would also be asked to write commentaries or news analyses on current political issues that happen in Malaysia,” said Hana Nazsulaeeqa.
“As we know, experiences may not only be acquired at home, school or even college. Eventually, experience is a continuous part of life that we have to go through and encounter in moving forward. In the process, we have to face challenges and the consequences would be how much we have enriched our knowledge and skills to move forward.”
Experiences and Challenges
Then, I asked Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun about her experiences and challenges working as a journalist.
“This include coverage of the Kajang by-election, the Permatang Pauh by-election, Sarawak state election, the UMNO general assemblies, PKR, PAS and DAP conventions, opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s sodomy II verdict and the #KitaLawan rally, among others,” Hana said emphasising the experiences she went through in this field.
From time to time, she also would be assigned to cover general news as well. Either covering a wide range of both local and international news, she needed to interview public figures including ministers and politicians. These include interviewing health experts and leading researchers, including French virologist and Nobel laureate for the co-discovery of HIV virus, Professor Dr. Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, during the 7th International Aids Society (IAS) Conference in 2014.
She had also conducted a one-on-one interview with former Malaysia’s Representative to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and United Nations General Assembly President, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, for Malaysia’s candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC.
She was also assigned to cover the daily press conferences held by the Transport Ministry following the MH370 and MH17 aviation disasters. I can say that her job scope is really thrilling and required critical thinking in order to complete her news writing.
Now, we move to the challenges faced by journalists. She said that there are times when you needed to get information verified or really wanted comments from the sources but they were unavailable, either they didn’t want to answer calls or were just busy. Sometimes these people are not so cooperative to give their commitment with journalists. These are among her biggest challenges that she faced in political desk because commentaries and information require verifications from their sources.
Another challenge is when they are in the middle of nowhere but they need to send in that story at that very moment, but there is no cellular coverage at that time. In this situation, journalists could either leech on the coverage of others or just drive out their news to their editors.
“Some of my colleagues even had to phone in, read out the story, and the person at the other end of the line would have to type out the story,” said Hana Nazsulaeeqa.
The third challenge would be meeting deadlines of the story, especially when the assignment is at night. They would have to rush for the story to make it in time for print on the next day, and this is when they need to be quick but precise in writing.
A journalist must face difficulties and hardship in order to succeed. Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun continued to tell her story about her life being a journalist.
“Just today (30 April), I had to send out two online stories really fast but at the place I was at, had no coverage. I had to walk out and put my phone up in the air hoping that I’ll get a signal somehow. I had to send the story via SMS to people working on the online desk,” she said with the look of unpleasant expressions drawn on her face.
She also mentioned about the day MH17 was crashed, some of them were recalled that night to work, including herself, had to rush to KLIA to wait for the press conference at 4 a.m in the wee hours of the morning.
When I asked about the hardest things faced by Hana Nazsulaeeqa in the field, she said that firstly is the waiting part. She does a lot of waiting to get her story done. She also faced the heat and rain during the news gathering. “You have to be okay with sitting by the roadside, sitting near drains, sitting on the floor, standing for hours. And you have to be really thick face. There are days when you do all the waitings, and go through all the hardships but you end up with nothing. Don’t let this dishearten you!” she said with excitement.
Odd Working Hours
Also, journalists will have very odd working hours. Sometimes, she comes in at 9 a.m, but did not get to go home until 2 a.m the next day. Since they have to work in shifts, she is expected to do overtime. “You also have to do a lot of travelling, which isn’t necessarily the worst thing,” she said. Remember the recent Sarawak state elections? Yes, Hana Nazsulaeeqa was asked to cover the news and she needed to be in Sarawak on that day to cover the big event.
We as students, who are the amateur in this journalism course, might need some tips on how journalists actually work in the field. Therefore, I asked Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun to tell some tips on how she gets her story or content as well from the sources. “If it’s not through our assignments or events, we make calls, talk to people to get story. That’s how we get the news,” she said.
“On sources, it would need you to establish good rapport with people,” she continued. “This mean that you’ll need to keep in close contact with people, sometimes even ask them out for a drink or lunch. Just to make friends. And then you get the story from there.”
I also asked on how she confirmed the source is a reliable informer. She replied by saying, “You have to make sure that the person you are talking to is someone of authority. You cannot simply be taking information from any Tom, Dick or Harry.” Authority is among the person who gains power that is delegated formally by thevgovernment. It includes a right to command a situation, commit resources, give orders and expect them to be obeyed. Among them are the police, doctors, judges and others. Sources are usually insiders who know the place and subject matters very well.
Writing the Lead
Then, I asked her on how to write the lead or intro of the news. “Writing the lead is the most difficult part, for me at least. Sometimes I know how I want the story to flow, but I can’t seem to write a good enough lead for the story. So, I end up writing the rest of the story first and go back to my lead. There are times where I write several leads and then choose the one most suitable,” she said.
Essentially, writing the lead is very much like the 5W1H, where the most important point of the news is in the first few paragraphs. She mentioned, “You need to make sure your lead catches the attention of the readers, enough so that they would want to continue reading.”
Now, we move to other subject. It’s about the competition with online newspaper. “Online reporters write news very fast, and this is where we have to compete with them in terms of getting the story first and publish it out before they do,” she said. Online portals are also gaining popularity nowadays especially among the younger generation who prefer to read news online rather than buying traditional newspapers because they get the news faster with their fingertip. Thus, these journalists have to make sure their news stories are interesting enough to capture the readers of different generations.
Have you ever wondered, how does news influence people’s mind and behaviour? In this context, Hana stated, “News play a pivotal role in shaping mindset. Look how ‘news’ in social media change the way people think and react about certain things. Without news, people are not informed about the ongoing things in the country. Society at large, without realising it, they at least read or hear news. It could be through news sites, social media, or even at your nearby kedai kopi. So when it is part of your daily life, it does affect your life.”
“The angle that news agencies play would affect people’s thinking. If you go to an event, everyone could talk about the same event but could focus on different things. Their target audience will be informed on what the news agency stands for. With news, whether they like it or not, will trigger debates and arguments among themselves. And through these (hopefully healthy) debates, it would shape how people think about certain things,” she added.
On Knowledge and Skills
Before ending the interview session with Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harun, I personally asked her for suggestion, recommendations and even some advice that might help to motivate students especially those in journalism course. First of all, she said, “Read, a lot! Read the newspapers. It is because by reading, we will improve our language and writing skills as well.”
“If writing is your passion, go for it. I can promise you, that while being a journalist may not be the easiest or the most well-paid job, you will be very satisfied. If you like to write, keep writing. Let other people read your stuff and always take in their comments as constructive criticism. Use it to better yourself. Don’t give up so easily. Strive, be patient and be diligent,” said Hana Nazsulaeeqa Harunwith, full of energy.
Overall, I have learnt a lot about journalism from this interview. We know that, to be a journalist is not as easy as people have said. It needs a lot of effort, knowledge and skills to become a professional journalist. Journalism is a challenging field, they should have more than one skill or speciality in order to survive and become successful. It is not all about writing but it also involve psychological skills, communication skills, and technical skills.
Competition is unavoidable in journalism yet it is a highly rewarding field. This is because this field is the platform of media industry and helps in a functioning democracy. To be a successful journalist, regardless of gender, you must have a passion for truth, honesty and integrity and the nerve to go out and get the stories.***