Once upon a time, a veteran editor said to me: "Journalism is a lifestyle. Journalists do not clock in and out like data-entry clerks. If you choose journalism, remember that you are not choosing a job, you are subscribing to a way of living."
I was apparently too young to figure out what that veteran editor meant. But after exactly 11 years of training in newspaper and magazine journalism, I think I have finally grasped the idea.
As a journalist, your work begins the moment you wake up, even if you are still lying in your bed, especially in the digital age. You can check emails and read the news on your smartphone first thing even if you are still waking up in bed. When you are brushing your teeth, you begin to officially activate your mind: think about the stories that you are planning to write, the questions that you will be asking in the next interview that you will be doing, the phone calls that you will be making, and what kind of information that you might be able to get out of a contact that you are meeting for the morning coffee.
I have come to realise that only reporters who have little network or contacts would turn up at work at 10am on the dot (of course, it's a different story if you have a deadline, or you have to stand-by at the office, or you need to do research in the office) - that was exactly what I did when I first started over a decade ago. I turned up at work on time at 10am, the official starting time, but only to find myself sitting alone in an empty newsroom reading the newspaper. Other reporters were out and about attending press conferences or meeting up with contacts. And when they returned to the office in the afternoon, they already got a story to file, or a scoop to share. But one thing they did was that they always kept their supervisors informed of their whereabouts, and they were always reachable no matter where they were. If you can't produce a story, you are not a good journo no matter how early you turn up in the office.
It took me at least five years time to build up a solid network and relationship with my sources. We meet for breakfast, coffees, lunches, dinners, drinks...I'm available around the clock! I simply enjoy talking to people. I can virtually talk to anyone about anything, and that's where story ideas come through.
Good stories are not generated from staring at the computer screen. Some of the best and sexiest story ideas I had definitely did not come from press conferences or press releases, but from chatting casually with sources and contacts. They are the people in the know and they can always give you a lead or exclusive information. Even if you are smart enough to dig up a whole lot of information, you still need someone in the know to help you make sense of such information, or make it relevant. Otherwise your "story" can only become a "non-story" telling audience what they already know, or things that they do not care.
Story ideas come through around the clock, not only between 10am-6pm, so as writing. You do not just write between 10am-6pm. If you are passionate about the story that you are working on, the only thing you would have in mind is to finish it as soon as you - overnight even if you have to - and hope it will get a good run in the publication. Then you move on to the next story.
Writing, meeting contacts and generating story ideas should be done around the clock, and you work around your deadlines, appointments, interviews, and press conferences. That's part of a journalist's lifestyle.
I guess this has become my way of living, and of course, there's always room for improvement. But one thing for sure is that those who have ever questioned you why you don't turn up in the office at 10 on the dot obviously have little experience in journalism.
曾經有一位資深編輯跟我說：「Journalism is a lifestyle。新聞工作並不是一份朝九晚五的工作。你選了入這一行，你是選擇了一種生活模式。」