From the first line to the byline
Ng, Kit Yoong
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This study aimed to understand how Malaysian journalists learn in practice in order to carry out their professional responsibilities. A qualitative study design using the critical incident method and a semi-structured interview guide were used to interview 15 Malaysian journalists from the mainstream print media. The constant comparative method was used to analyze the verbatim-transcribed interview for emerging themes. This study found that Malaysian journalists learned two major skills – substantive journalism and negotiating. There are three sub-categories under substantive journalism skills – basic journalism skills, communication skills, and skill at managing content and publication space. For negotiating skills, journalists learned three important elements, namely gaining trust, maintaining relationships, and strategic withdrawal and intervention. This study also found that there are three ways how journalists learned to carry out their professional responsibilities: 1) guidance from the community of practice; 2) informal learning; and, 3) formal learning. Guidance from the community of practice includes guidance from their senior co-workers and counterparts, one-to-one coaching from superior, and mentoring relationships. Informal learning uses observational learning, incidental learning, and trial-and-error learning methods. There are two ways that journalists learned through formal learning – in-house training and learning from textbooks. Lastly, three categories of contextual factors were found to be affecting journalists’ learning and practice. They were structural power relationships, editor’s political survival, and topic of writing. Three sub-categories of structural power relationships were discovered: 1) legal control; 2) political interference and control; and, 3) ethnicity and language of writing. As a conclusion, although Malaysian journalists are free to negotiate their learning and are able to learn the skills needed to carry out their professional responsibilities, their learning process is essentially being choreographed. It is being choreographed in such a way that what have been learned could only be applied to practice if they are within the boundary(ies) sanctioned by the media organization they work with. The media organizations, in turn, are controlled by the government through ownership and laws governing the media industry. Like the journalism practice in Malaysia that is shaped by the legal constraints and political interference, Malaysian journalists’ learning path is similarly negotiated while being navigated by the power of press ownership.
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