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19 July 2021

Taylor's Case Study: Hope in the Future of Journalism

How does 10 years of working directly in the industry influence a lecturer’s style of teaching?

With 10 years of being a journalist, Associate Professor Dr. Roslina Abdul Latif from Taylor’s School of Media and Communication has certainly transformed her classroom into a training ground for future journalists through her stories. Dr. Roslina shares about her projects, research on COVID-19 and journey from being a journalist to an academician.

Q: You debuted your award-winning book Sidelines in 2018 and received a grant from the National Library of Malaysia to write another. Could you share with us what it's about?

A: I often tell my students that if you aspire to be a journalist, there’ll be one difficult assignment that you’ll need to go through. 

For me, it was the Highland Towers collapse and that’s what I wrote in the next book that’s about to be published. The grant money came in right after my surgery so I started writing the book during my chemo.

It was very dull and sad for me so I turned to writing as my therapy. I never understood what people meant by ‘the smell of death’ until I covered the Highland Towers assignment. I used the experience of it as some of the background for my protagonist.

Taylor's Case Study: Hope in the Future of Journalism

This side project of mine is currently at my publisher, Silverfish, for the printing process.

Since its debut, Sidelines has won the 50 Best Malaysian Titles for International Rights 2018/2019 at the Frankfurt International Book Fair 2018 and was also one of the finalists at the International Book Awards in the United States (2019).

Q: Aside from your books, you’ve also published quite a number of research projects. Could you share with us more on your research interest?

A: My research interests are in the media, ranging from journalism, broadcasting, broadcast journalism, film trope, and knowledge management. I’ve a few books and book chapters to my name. I always pick topics of research that interest me. I’ve been lucky that the international grants I've received always required my expertise in the area of Malaysian and South East Asian broadcasting. 

But sometimes I do choose topics that are close to my heart. ‘Mere Observations, Fair Comment, and Actual Facts: The Voice of Rehman Rashid’ was one of those. It was a tribute of sorts to a journalist friend that passed away.

Q: Can you tell us more about your current research? 

A: I’m currently researching the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine on people, especially in Malaysia. I was inspired to conduct this based on the current situation and also the fact that we’ve established a good relationship with the research arm of the Ministry of Health. We’d invited them to submit papers for our March issue of the SEARCH Journal which carried the theme COVID-19. I’m currently in discussions with the Ministry of Health for a collaboration. 

This research is important to me because there’s a lot of misinformation and fear of the vaccine. So many issues need to be addressed and solutions need to be found to help with the understanding of the vaccine.

Q: What are your hopes for the research?

A: Hopefully when we get the results of the study, the ministry will be able to use the information to further enhance their work efforts to curb, if not eradicate the virus for good. But more importantly how they can help the rakyat deal with the current situation.

Gain access to the extensive list of research papers, book chapters, and even books that Assoc. Prof. Dr. Roslina Abdul Latif has published throughout her career here.

Q: There’s a lot of misinformation and fear about the vaccine and COVID-19 with information being easily passed around through social media. What are your thoughts on this?

A: First off, there’s news and no news. There is no such thing as fake news. If it’s not news, it doesn’t go on air. When I was a journalist, anything that happened behind closed doors, stayed behind closed doors. Now with social media, everything is out in the open so there’s a circulation of stories that aren’t verified or can even be considered news.

I’ve to admit the quality of journalism has dropped and, as a journalist of over 10 years, I get very disappointed. Right now, a lot of news stations want to get news out there first but is it good to be late or good to be wrong? And it feels like journalism has lost its plot. The trurth has to matter.

Q: What got you interested in becoming a journalist?

A: From a very early age, I knew that I could write but I’d only write if I’d something to say — which is what I’m still practising up till today in my columns. I’ve always wanted to be a journalist so I could make a difference in the world. 

So, with naivety, I went into broadcast journalism with TV3 which was the best job I could imagine having at that time.

That was 10 years of fun working and learning on the job. I had mentors, cameramen, producers, and editors to learn from. It was a playground of studying and I got to do the stories I wanted to do.

I grew up watching the Watergate scandal where Bernstein and Woodward changed the history of America and I thought, very naively, “Here I am. I can change the world.”

Taylor's Case Study: Hope in the Future of Journalism

I think over the years, I might not have changed the world but, in the stories that I did on social issues like baby dumping, at least I could change the mindset of the people at that time. It was a tough job —  long hours, depending on what programmes you were in charge of. I used to go to work before sunrise and would only be home after sunset but I took everything in stride. It was the best time of my life.

Q: What made you go into academia after 10 years of being a journalist and how has it been for you? Has your working experience influenced the way you teach?

A: It was a difficult decision to leave the industry because it was a dream job but I wanted stability for my kids as they were starting school. I was working shift hours and things needed to change for them. I’d already had 10 years of fun, did everything I could, and learned a lot which didn’t just teach, it gave me an experience and a family which I’m still connected with till today. 

In hindsight, that was the best time for me to leave because I got to see my kids grow up, go to university, and graduate. Now that my kids are going through university, I feel I can help them more in their work since I understand academia. I even got to write and publish a paper with my son on a 3D walkthrough of the Pudu Jail! How cool is that?

My students often ask, which do I prefer? Of course, I love the industry because I hate marking, although I can do the teaching. It wasn’t very easy in the beginning but that decade of experience gave me the opportunity to, not teach, but train my students. I bring the life stories and experiences into the classroom which I believe they prefer. I’m also a firm believer of the need to keep abreast of changes and the latest happenings in the field of Mass Communication so I try to incorporate the latest approach and current happenings into my classes.

Do you enjoy writing, journalism, or even broadcasting? Building the right foundation will give you a headstart in your career.

Q: What’s one memory you’ve experienced that you’d always tell your students?

A: It was when I covered a fire in the slums of Kg. Kerinchi during my last days of being a Cadet with TV3. I’d a date planned and was working half day so I was clad in this nice pink baju kurung top with a white sarong and high heels. Then, I saw, on the whiteboard in the newsroom: RAL (Roslina Abdul Latif), ‘FIRE’. 

At the scene, we’d to move fast because it was a slum area and fire moved really quickly. I’d made the mistake of connecting my mic to the camera that was sitting on Rashid, the cameraman's shoulder because he started running and I’d to run in heels. That scene in Jurassic Park where the protagonist runs in heels? I'd perfected that!

Then, I was doing a standup at the location and there was a cascase of water but when I interviewed the chief fireman, he said that it took a bit of time to contain the fire because there were water pressure issues!

He explained that they needed to take water from the big drain on the other side so after thanking him, we walked towards the area. Rashid walked ahead and when he saw the drain, he told me to stay away and not go any further.

I’d finished writing the story in the car on the way back and there was a distinct smell on my clothes. When my editor called me in, she made me stay at the door and asked me to go home.

Taylor's Case Study: Hope in the Future of Journalism

Many years later, Rashid told me that there was a carcass in the drain and that’s why it smelled so bad. I’d to throw away that baju kurung because I couldn’t get the smell out. Whenever I tell my students this story, they’d laugh so hard. But, it actually teaches them to always be prepared for any assignment at any time. Moral of the story, always have a set of T-shirt, sneakers, and jeans on standby.

Q: With the quality of journalism going south, is there hope for the industry and what’s your hope for your students?

A: Across the board, a lot from the current generation don’t like to read or write. So when you give them materials to prepare for tutorials, they normally don’t do it. Though not all, there are many that refuse to interact or participate — it’s like a seance. It’s a struggle for us especially during tutorials when they’re not interested.

But there's definitely hope. I often tell my students, if you aspire to be a journalist, you need to know the rules — even if you want to go out there and smash them. You need to put good information out. For the very small number of journalism students that I teach, these kids are very gung ho, especially those that take my papers as a core. When they ask me for recommendations, I write them because I know them. I often joke with them: if I see you publishing anything wrong, I'd find you and I’d smack you.

This semester, I’m doing feature writing with my students and they get to choose any topic that they want to write on. And if I’ve 85 students in my class, I’d have 85 different topics to think about but at least you’re interested in it. Be interested in what you write or else no one is going to care.

Thinking of taking up a research programme? Find one suited for your career path here.

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