The write stuff
By Oon Yeoh
12 February, 2017
JOHN Lim, the editor for AskMen Southeast Asia (the regional edition of AskMen), began his journalism career dealing in both print and web, had a stint in a print environment for several years and now works in a fully web-based publication.
A graduate of Environmental Management at Monash University, Lim realised halfway through his study that he was better at writing than researching. He tested the water working as a freelance writer for KLue magazine and website (now defunct), and became a full-time editorial assistant in 2003.
He subsequently joined a couple of local newspapers and was also editor at local print magazines. He joined AskMen in May last year.
Lim shares his views on multimedia content and the future of magazine publishing. He also gives an insight into what it means to work in a purely web publishing environment.
AS A JOURNALIST, YOU’VE TOYED WITH PODCASTS AND RADIO. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF AUDIO CONTENT?
Audio, printed, visual media — all have inherent strengths and weaknesses in telling a story. To me, an audio format can be used as a way to convey a person’s thoughts and story using their own voice directly to the listener as opposed to, say, a journalist having to describe the person’s tone and voice in a written piece. An audio format can also be more passive compared to the other two mediums, which requires more active attention. This allows the story to be more discursive, organic and transparent. That said, audio content has no visual component so it’s much more challenging to have a radio/podcast show on food, art or fashion. I’m not saying that it can’t be done but audio programmes of visual subjects need to be structured in a way that it pulls away from the narrator needing to describe the subject and instead focus on the creative process of the subject. For instance, when I hosted the OmNomShow on BFM a few years ago (circa 2010-2011), we’d talk about the process, science and history behind a dish, rather than describing how the dish looks or tastes.
HAVING STARTED AS A WRITER, DO YOU STILL PREFER TEXT-BASED CONTENT OVER AUDIO OR VIDEO?
It’s not a matter of preference for me but understanding which medium serves the story best or how the story is best served by a medium. One subject can be told in a variety of ways. For instance, a story on how to dress well can be told through various forms. Through video, we can show how a person can dress better; in text-based stories, we can break down the process in a convenient step-by-step guide — that’s great for people who like to save links for later — or even provide links of things to buy. And in the audio format, we can have a discussion with a style expert about his/her thinking process when it comes to styling someone. In deciding which medium to tell the story, it’s also important to remember who you’re telling the story to and how to best serve the audience. If your audience is young and consumes media through Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat, you’d want to deliver the story through short bursts of information that are less than a minute long. You might also consider doing livestream telecasts via Facebook Live that are unfiltered, interactive and transparent. Conversely, if your audience likes to consume long-form think pieces, you might want to tell the story on an online platform like Medium that facilitates a pleasant long-form reading experience or a print magazine.
YOU’RE CURRENTLY AN EDITOR OF A WEB MAGAZINE. HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT FROM BEING EDITOR OF A PRINT MAGAZINE?
It’s different in the sense that I have to think about delivering the stories through different mediums and formats, and having to cope with the demands of a quick turnaround news cycle. In the latter respect, it’s important to realise the need for both timely and timeless stories, and focusing one’s limited time on what makes the most impact and helps your site deliver its promise. Being digital also allows us to monitor which stories are more appealing to our audience and it helps us keep track of our readers’ habits and preferences. Having a deeper understanding of how, what, when and where they consume the media helps us a great deal in planning out our editorial content.
SINCE IT’S A SMALL SET UP, YOU PRETTY MUCH HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING.
The Southeast Asia editorial team is small, with me as editor, along with a video production crew to handle our video content. However, we do work with a network of freelancers locally and have the support of AskMen’s global editorial team. My day starts with curating and clearing the stories provided by AskMen’s global team — which include AskMen US, UK and Australia, among others — followed by managing the social media properties (Facebook and Instagram). Then it’s off to meet interviewees, write stories, attend events and meet clients.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA SINCE TAKING ON THIS JOB? Facebook is a double-edged sword. It’s amazing to think that a new magazine/site can come out of nowhere and within months, with a few thousand ringgit in advertising, become known with thousands of readers thanks to Facebook. Best practices? Be smart in promoting your content, place your ad dollars carefully, know what kind of audience you want to reach out to. On the other hand, publishers live in Facebook’s world. They play according to their rules and algorithms that can change literally overnight, making it hard for us to plan ahead. For instance, what happens if Facebook decides that Facebook Live isn’t working too well or that 360-degree stories are a flop? What would happen to the investment made in procuring the equipment and dedicating entire teams to producing such content?
WITH ONLINE ADVERTISING STILL AT its INFANCY IN MALAYSIA, DO YOU THINK THAT HAVING RELATIVELY LOW-COST OPERATIONS WHERE IT’S LITERALLY A ONE-MAN SHOW OR JUST WITH A VERY SMALL TEAM, IS THE WAY TO GO?
It’s about playing it smart. Having a small team may not necessarily be a detriment if you have a wide network of freelancers that can support your editorial goals. It’s probably better to start off small. In that way, you can be nimble and progressive, without being too much of a risk factor to investors. Online advertising is growing and the sales team also need to change their mindset when it comes to approaching advertisers. They need to sell the strength of the media brand, its understanding and influence on its readers — not content — to clients.
CAN YOU SURVIVE WITHOUT THE INTERNET?
If I still want to be in a job, I probably wouldn’t be able to survive for a week. But I was out at sea for a few days last November and being disconnected from the Internet was refreshing. It allowed me to focus on the slower things in life like reading, writing and contemplating.
Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org