Jahabar Sadiq doesn’t belong to the old school of editors – he’s not white-haired, bespectacled or conspicuously accessorized with suspenders.
Instead, The Malaysian Insider (TMI) editor effortlessly fielded calls from his two mobile phones (“Must show off a bit lah”), gently boasted of his more saucy introductions (“It’s a lucky man who gets to see a Great Tit”) and comically shared some of the more hilarious encounters he’s had on the job (two men in a bathtub were found dead – the elder from a heart attack and the younger from accidentally slitting his wrist while trying to get up in a panic) on our recent trip to his office.
In short, he’s as interesting an editor as a journalist (especially a rookie) could possibly want.
While some might find it difficult to relate to a class of fresh-faced journalism students, Jahabr had such no problems. His gusto in story-telling and expressive gestures lent an energetic feel to the session, while the tips and tricks of the trade he scattered in conversations were illuminating.
“Remember the basics you learn in college,” he said, much to our surprise. “Yes, I know most people tell you nothing you’ve learnt is relevant, but the rules of journalism are important.”
What rules, pray?
The inverted pyramid model, for one.
“It helps your story to stay focused,” said Jahabar. ”
Oh, and a tip for those who want to work at a tabloid newspaper? Inverse the inverted pyramid.
“Write the fluff first and keep the hard details for the end – there you go, your article,” Jahabar joked of tabloid newspapers.
He also advised us budding journalists to find our own voice and style.
“What do you want to write?” he asked us individually, nodding to answers such as features, travel stories and video game reviews.
Tips? Know and understand your field of interest, read up on it, and find your voice.
“Different people see things differently,” he said. “It depends on which of your senses you tend to focus on more.”
Some will describe a view by its sights and sounds, he explained, while others may start with a narrative of the emotions it invokes.
Dressed in loose slacks and a casual shirt, Jahabar’s lecture is interrupted every few minutes by the incessant vibrating of his phone(s), which bring us to the all-important question: Do journalists have much of a personal life?
“Journalism becomes your life,” he said, smiling as our expressions turn uncertain or dismayed.
“I watch movies, I hang out with friends,” said Jahabar. “I just have to leave early whenever something newsworthy happens.”
After all, news, like time, waits for no man. A fire breaks out and off you go, pen and notebook in hand. Is it worth it?
“Yes,” he says, simply and eloquently.
If you’re passionate. If you’re determined to succeed. If you’re inquisitive and curious and have a desperate need to sniff out news and be the first to break it to the public.
“You’re only as good as your next byline,” said the editor as a parting pearl of wisdom.