Two years on -- Life as an independent writer

Take my time: Puerta Roja x Soluna Fine Art booth at Art Central

Time flies. It's already been exactly two years since I embarked on the adventure as an independent writer and a non-profit founder. I'm often asked how my career and life has changed. I haven't really had the opportunity to reflect my experiences. But thanks to this interview by Telum Media, I got to organise and share my thoughts about my career development and the media industry. 
Telum Talks To... Vivienne Chow, Cultural Journalist & Critic, Founder of Cultural Journalism Campus (CJC)
Congratulations on winning the IJP (International Journalists’ Programme) Asia-Pacific Premium Fellowship in Germany this year! You have embarked on a new journey since you became an independent journalist two years ago. What do you think is the highlight of your career during this period? 
Thank you. The past two years have been an exciting journey of tremendous personal and professional growth. Being an independent journalist and critic contributing to a number of international media means that I'm given the opportunity to tell Hong Kong and Asian stories to a global audience from a local perspective. Being a Hong Kong-born, Hong Kong-educated journalist, writing stories that are interesting and relevant to a global audience has been a great challenge. But the past two years of experience has proved that people out there are interested in us. They are keen to learn about what's happening in this part of the world if we can create a narrative that is appealing and easy to understand. There's a great sense of achievement when I see my stories reaching people living in different parts of the world. I'd like to thank all the editors for their trust.
Having said that, I wouldn't have been able to achieve all these without my solid training at the South China Morning Post, where I worked for a total of 15 years since I graduated from The Chinese University of Hong Kong. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all the editors and colleagues at the SCMP for their teaching and tolerance all these years.
How have your experiences differed compared to working as a full-time journalist at a single media organisation? 
Creativity is extremely important in journalism and the media, and you need to be even more creative when you are working for a number of media outlets that have different target audiences. First you need to have a lot of original story ideas; second you need to identify which stories will work best for which media. Over the past two years I have contributed to many outlets including VarietyQuartzBBC World ServiceBBC CultureThe Interpreter by Australian diplomacy think tank the Lowy Institute, Artsy and the SCMP. They all have different audiences with different focuses. When you work independently it is a must to be entrepreneurial, both in terms of story development and maintaining your career as a business. I'm still learning.

You've worked with many PR professionals - what are some of the best PR practices you've come across? Anything PRs should avoid doing? 
Best PR practices are about honesty, being straight-forward, and be helpful. PRs should stick to the facts with no over-the-top exaggeration while providing useful information for journalists to do their jobs. One thing that I personally do not like is having PRs trying to dictate my storyline. I have enough editors doing that job already. I also want to take the opportunity to address some journalists' unwanted behaviour towards PRs: PRs are only there to help us get our jobs done, not our slaves or ego-boosters.

How should a PR pitch an art or cultural story? 
Regardless of what kind of story it is, pitching to the media is simply increasingly challenging because most media are not interested in events, unless the event itself has strong news value. PRs need to dig out interesting stories behind certain events, coming up with strong, human interest angle. And as for arts and culture stories, PRs can ask themselves: does it have to be in the arts and culture pages? Can it appear in other sections? They need to be more creative.
What prompted you set up CJC five years ago? What are the highlights of this year's CJC Fellowship, which will soon take place at Art Basel? 
As a journalist covering arts and culture for nearly 18 years, I observe this one important missing piece in the cultural ecology of not just Hong Kong but also around Asia, which is the media. We are investing so much public resources in cultural endeavours from West Kowloon Cultural District and new institutions to training artists and arts administrators. If people do not know about them or appreciate their impact, what's the point? I hope we will have more journalists and critics who can help putting arts and cultural productions in context, offering audience different perspectives to appreciate various artistic creations while helping arts and cultural practitioners to constantly improve their work by offering honest comments. I hope CJC can be a starting point for that. Last year our efforts were recognised as CJC was nominated for "Best Soft Power Cultural Activation Award" in The Leading Culture Destinations Awards 2017 in London.
CJC Fellowship, CJC's flagship programme that offers training and exposure to aspiring cultural journalists and art critics, will return to Art Basel in Hong Kong for the 5th year in a row, thanks to ArtisTree at Taikoo Place and MG Interactive for their support. This is our most international edition with fellows from Hong Kong, Switzerland, mainland China and the Philippines! Fellows will work as journalists covering Art Basel and all other arts and cultural happenings during the week. We will be publishing our newsletter Cultural Express, available from the CJC booth at Art Basel's Magazine Sector. Please come visit us and follow our updates on CJC websiteFacebook and Instagram.

Do you have any new journalism-related plans this year? 
I will continue my journey as a storyteller and commentator in various medium, whether it is through writing, on camera presentation or public speaking. I will be spending my summer in Germany as IJP Premium Fellow to conduct a few journalism research projects there. I will share my updates on my TwitterInstagram and Facebook page.

What makes an outstanding cultural journalist and art critic? 
Don't afraid to be that child in The Emperor's New Clothes.

Instagram @missviviennechow