KUALA LUMPUR – August 23, 2019: In light of the Utusan Malaysia crisis, veteran journalists insist that local newspapers must redefine their business structure and set their priorities straight.
Former Utusan Group editor-in-chief Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar believes that the newspaper business is a sunset industry which ought to be reinvented.
“This is not the best of times for journalism and the media as a whole. We must reposition ourselves in an information industry, and not in a newspaper industry per se anymore… The business model has to change,” he told The Mole.
Johan also said that the press should keep up with the times and be well-adjusted to the current digital trends and dynamics of news reporting.
“A newspaper replete with history like Utusan needs to re-boot and adapt to new realities on the political, social and intellectual world now,” he said.
“Old journalists like me started with typewriters… When computer came, we adapted. Even the newsrooms were redesigned and reshaped.
“Now, even the latest publishing and printing techniques can’t help us. Should we lament the death of typewriters?,” Johan quipped.
Utusan Malaysia is facing hard times and was reportedly unable to pay the salaries of its staff for a few months.
Utusan Malaysia staff had appealed for public aid to make ends meet. Earlier this week, they picketed as news of its closure loomed with its National Union of Journalists (NUJ) announcing that the last newspaper would be printed on Tuesday.
News of Utusan’s impending closure was immediately met with emotionally-charged responses from several groups who appealed not only to Malaysians but also to those with the financial means – tycoons and political leaders – to rescue this “Malaysian institution.”
On Wednesday, Utusan executive chairman Datuk Abd Aziz Sheikh Fadzir announced that operations would continue but the newspapers wold cost a bit more from today,
Utusan Malaysia now costs RM2 (from RM1.50) and RM1.50 for Kosmo! (from RM1).
“Our operations will resume as usual, although we are facing financial problems. We hope that with the price increase, it will help with the continuation of our operations as well as the staff,” he was quoted as saying after a townhall with the staff at its headquarters in Jalan Chan Sow Lin here.
The Mole also spoke to former Utusan Group assistant editor-in-chief Datuk Zaini Hassan, who said that the main factor contributing to the collapse of most newspaper outfits today is the medium.
He said that the changing times, where print media is dwindling, must necessitate the need to fully go digital.
“Journalism is not in bad shape. The problem is the medium. Back in the day, the medium was newspaper but now, it’s different. Therefore, we need to adapt,” he said.
According to Zaini, another problem that not only aggravates newspaper readership but also the loss of interest in local news is the excessive emphases on politics and the display of partiality towards the government.
“The media should put out more people’s stories than the menteri’s stories. If you watch our local news channels, you’ll find more stories on the ministers than the rakyat.
“It has become like a government-volunteering station rather than a news station. I find this very sickening,” he exclaimed.
Zaini said newspapers must be brave enough to criticise the prime minister or any politician.
“You have to go to the basics of journalism, which is to prioritize the rakyat instead of catering to the politicians,” he remarked.
Veteran journalist and Sunday Mail former editor Aishah Ali suggests that the adversity of Utusan is not a straightforward case of poor sales, but rather a result of mismanagement in terms of ownership, policy, editorial direction and the attitudes of current journalists.
“A respectable owner would want to possess a media outfit that is credible and respected, so it must define its mission as wanting to achieve this without fear or favour.
“And the policy of any media organisation should always be to report fairly and accurately, no matter who your audience is or what your outfit reports on – be they politics, sports, entertainment, social or health issues,” she said.
Commenting on how the attitudes of journalists have changed, Aishah finds that many modern-day journalists seem to lack the audacity and drive found in the likes of her generation.
“To use a cliché, they don’t make journalists like they used to. I don’t know what it is. Are they not trained well, like those from my generation were? They need a Pak Samad (Tokoh Wartawan – the late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail) to whip them into shape! They don’t have pride,” she remarked.
“Journalists must also read up. They don’t seem to know the background of what they are writing about. Having said that, there might be those who are good… so I stand corrected,” she added.