News qualities of IIUMToday: An analysis

By Muhammad Amirulhisham Mohd Badrulhisham

What I revealed in this article about IIUMToday may come as a surprise to most of us. To a very small group of the IIUMToday editorial team, however, it might not be ‘news’ that an article on each of the respective Research and Multimedia beats was published between half a year to one and the half years ago.

The shocking conclusion was made after I perused over each beat of IIUMToday for an assignment on journalism and presented my findings recently. Originally, I restricted myself to analyse only articles reported in the month of November 2015 hoping that it was enough but I was wrong. I uncovered a few of the deserted beats that seemed to be left forgotten unless somebody religiously remind the reporters that they exist.

Let us look at the numbers so that I can illustrate my points clearer. IIUMToday has five distinct beats of news which are Campus, Lifestyle, Opinion, Research and Multimedia. You can access these five beats via clicking the menu button on the top of the online page.

Collectively, throughout November 2015, 63 articles were posted; 27 of them were filed under Campus, 28 in Lifestyle, and only 8 in Opinion. For the other two beats? There were none.

The last article posted under Research was on April 20 this year and the last article posted for Multimedia was May 3 last year. In the entirety of IIUMToday’s existence, with the proof that I found, the Multimedia beat was very much alive for a mere 57 days starting from March 72014.

Multimedia articles are divided into two categories – Galleries and Videos. In the two-month period, nine Galleries articles and five Videos items were posted. This make up a disappointing 14 articles under Multimedia’s beat. Videos were uploaded only in the period of week April 9 until April 16, 2014. So, in the history of IIUMToday, there are only 14 Multimedia articles that were put out in the span of less than two months of its activity.

If I want to go nit-picking, the eight Opinion articles in November (13% of all articles published in that month) were written solely by students. No academicians contributed in expanding IIUMToday’s collection of Opinions.

According to Carole Rich, there are 11 qualities of news. They are Problems or Issues, Trends, Conflict, Helpfulness, Human Interest, Timeliness, Impact, Celebrity, Entertainment, Proximity and Unusual News or PI.T.C.H. HI.T. I.C.E. P.UN. for short. These qualities are not unique to only one article, so you may find articles that possess several qualities. Unfortunately, most of them are missing from IIUMToday.

In Writing and Reporting News, Rich said that trends “may indicate patterns or shifts in issues that influence readers’ lives.” Impact is the quality of “reaction stories to news or news angles that affect readers.” A simple example of Trends is price hike and the reaction to it is Impact. There were rumours about summons’ increase in IIUM but there were no reporting on it. There was also an announcement on increment of tuition fee for certain students but there were also no reports about it. These ideas can also be fitted into Problems or Issues and Conflict.

In her book, Rich said that Problem or Issues are stories that “usually include qualities of conflict or proximity” and Conflict is a quality for stories that “reflect local problems”. There is only one Conflict article that was posted in November which was Why can’t ‘Mahallah’ canteens stay open longer? by Hannah McKloskey.

I think a better story idea for Problem, Issues and Conflict is the  news item on rescheduling of final examination. Alas, no reports on it. The developments of these story ideas are enough to write at least three news items for each; first to get the official quotes from university administrators, second to get students’ reactions to it, and third the resolution.

The reason for serious lacking of these types of aggressive confrontational articles is probably due to Malaysian culture. According to a Malaysian expert on culture, Asma Abdullah, Malaysian cultural assumption is that “we are a collectivistic society instead of individualistic society”. This means that we tend to preserve harmony rather than creating rifts between us.

So, we put the will of the public before our own. We are also a country with a very high power distance. Essentially, it means that we accept the notion that humans are born into classes – we are not created equals. We are also driven by shame rather than guilt. This is related to Ting Toomey’s face and face-work. “We want to preserve our public face-work so that our dignity and honour remain intact.”

Given that we accept the reality of student reporters being not equal with administration officers, harmony prevails over truth, disgracing ourselves leads to inevitable dishonour to our family, friends and lecturers;  it is a no brainer that there is no abundance of aggressive confrontational reporting by the campus bulletin.

IIUMToday is also severely lacking of ideas on Celebrity and Unusual Nature. Celebrity, according to Rich, is the quality that exists in stories about “people who are well-known for their accomplishments” and Unusual Nature stories are “out-of-the-ordinary events, a bizarre occurrence or people engaged in unusual activities.”

I was hoping to find an article on Najwa Latif’s visit to IIUM.fm but to no avail. The latest Unusual Nature news is A ‘visitor’ at the café turns out to be a python by Hafiz Asnawi published on October 5. It was preceded by Why we get married at 18 by Harun Johari posted on September 29. None of these articles were posted in November and the latest Celebrity article that fit Rich’s description is the misleading ‘Khat’ and calligraphy helps Danish memorise Al-Quran by Atiqah Ismail uploaded on November 16.

Do not get me wrong though, even with ‘dead’ Multimedia beat, next to non-existent crucial university life changing articles and subpar reports on Celebrity and Unusual Nature, IIUMToday still has many to offer. It has reported on a plethora of student events and an array of student achievements. This may be due to the focus of the reporters and the trend in reporting on talks, seminars and forums organised by any organisation affiliated with the University.***

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