Journalism is a lifestyle


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。」

還是年少氣盛的我當時有點不明所以。 但經過了十一個寒暑,我想我現在大概領悟到固中一點點的道理。

一個真正的記者是沒有上班和下班的時間。你上班的時間就是你每天睡醒張開眼睛的一刻。現在科技先進,每人手上一部 Smartphone,睡醒的第一時間就是 check email,看看當天的新聞。然後在擦牙梳洗時你的腦袋就開始正式運作,想想當天工作的安排,訪問的內容,見 source 時要爭取問一些甚麼問題,要如何寫好你的報導。

日子久了,我亦漸漸明白只有沒事做,沒有 source,沒有 network 的記者才會搭正十點就乖乖的在辦公室裡出現(當然如果你是有 deadline,又或是要在 office stand-by 或要趕住做 research 才作別論)- 因為當我還是當「散仔」時就正是這樣。那時候我每早上班時都想,為甚麼只有我一個人待在 office?其他人在哪裡?但實情是其他記者都在外邊跑新聞,meet source,下午或旁晚回到 office 時都有「故仔」交,就選唔係 daily,都總八到一點甚麼留待日後以備不時之需。身在何處不成問題,最重要是你的上級知道你在搞甚麼,而上級要找你時你第一時間可覆命。沒有「故仔」交,你幾早「得」喺個 office 度都無用。

過了良久我才建立自己的人脈。食飯,飲酒,飲咖啡,飲茶,食早餐. . . 我統統盡量出席,因為我知道只有這樣才可跟不同的人談不同的話題,好題材由此而來。就算你真的好醒,找到一些資料或數據,也都須要對該題目有相當認識的專業人仕幫忙,令那些資料或數據變成對讀者有意義的「故仔」,如果唔係都只可能會做一些「鬼唔知阿媽係女人」的 non-story。所以發掘好「故仔」不只限於朝十晚六。我是沒有下班時間的。

除了發掘好「故仔」,寫作都是一樣。記者是不會有特定的寫作時間,只有 deadline。只要在deadline 前交稿,應該是沒有人會理會你是否十點正返工。

我想全情投入就是那個所謂的 lifestyle 罷。所以如果有人問你點解十點鐘都唔喺公司出現,嗰個人一定係新嚟嘅 - 仲要係無經驗而又連荃灣同柴灣都唔識分嘅新移民!


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