Friday, June 02, 2006

Lincoln Tan

A Kiwi-Asian view on the media
By Lincoln Tan
When Jim Tucker approached me to write a paper on the training needs of Asian journalists in New Zealand, I was truly honoured.
I still remember very clearly how small I felt that day in 1997 when I was told by the North Shore Times that I was not good enough even to be interviewed for a cub reporter’s position because I did not have Kiwi journalism experience.
Prior to moving to New Zealand, I had been a journalist at The Singapore Press Holdings, an editor for community newspapers, and a magazine publisher. Having come from a tabloid/community newspaper background, I did not apply for positions in mainstream papers because I felt my style of reporting and writing would suit the community newspapers better.
After receiving a similar reception when I applied for a reporter’s position at The North’Westor - a community newspaper in Christchurch – I thought the only way I could carry on working as a journalist here was to start my own newspaper.
When I came here in 1997, I found the stories in The New Zealand Herald to be of little relevance to me. They seem to be reported for an audience quite different from me, and as an Asian, I have become “them”. Within a space of three months, I stopped reading newspapers on a daily basis, and had instead turned to the Internet for my source of news.
The possibility that there were others like me out there, and the fact that I could not find much news of interest to me in the mainstream papers, prompted me to launch an Asian-focused English-language newspaper in 2003.
My newspaper – iBall - was launched with an agenda: to chart a way forward and to show by example, the kind of paper I thought could help with the crossovers for Asian readers to mainstream newspapers.
When the Herald dabbled in producing a Chinese newspaper in the mid 90s, I felt it was barking up the wrong tree. A publication in Chinese, or any ethnic script for that matter, will only further alienate and separate readers from the mainstream newspaper, and will do little in winning over an Asian readership to their flagship paper.
While working on this study, I had the opportunity to interview several Chinese-language newspaper readers. It is my opinion that it would be a near impossible task to convert them into becoming readers of mainstream newspapers.
The audience targeted by a Chinese language newspaper is totally different from the Asian audience that the mainstream newspaper should be targeting, which includes the English speaking Asian migrants, the 1.5 generation Asians and Kiwi Asians born in New Zealand.
I felt there was a need for a paper that reports mainstream stories from an Asian perspective that could generate interest by showing an Asian audience how mainstream news is relevant them.
Hence, iBall was born. The aim of the paper was to whet their appetite for news, and then channel them to the mainstream newspaper if they wanted a more detailed report. While I am fully aware that this cannot happen overnight, I had planned to do it step by step.
First, I would use iBall to show that there are good Asian journalists here, and show a different style of journalism – one that many Asians are used to.
Next, I would reach out to journalism students and journalists and talk to them about the importance of including ethnic minority communities’ views in their stories for greater balance and work out with them how they can go about doing so. Having a newspaper will help show them that there are interesting newsmakers within the ethnic minority communities.
In Christchurch, I held regular talks at journalism schools and sessions with journalists on the ethnic rounds at The Press and The Christchurch Star.
Last year, I was fortunate to have also been given an opportunity to speak at JTO’s Chief Reporters Conference, and the Journalism Educators Association of New Zealand annual meeting at The Christchurch Town Hall.
IBall was re-launched in Auckland last year, where I am hopeful that it will have a greater impact. The concept of iBall can only work if it is done in partnership with a mainstream paper, and not as a stand alone title.
I am still working hard to find a mainstream newspaper publisher who would give iBall the chance to achieve its full potential.
The Asian crime wave is over-rated
In the wake of the killing of Chinese international student Wan Biao, it has taken a refreshingly simple yet effective piece of journalism to put the public’s fear of the so-called Asian crime phenomenon into some kind of perspective.
Despite a number of recent news reports highlighting methamphetamine smuggling, prostitution, kidnapping and murder and involving new Asian migrants or international students, the perception of an Asian crime wave in New Zealand was effectively debunked by a single episode of Campbell Live on TV3 last month.
During the show, which aired on April 28, John Campbell interviewed Inspector John Mitchell and Police Asian Liaison Officer Jessica Phuang about the extent of Asian crime in the Auckland City police district.
Mr Mitchell and Ms Phuang revealed that while over 30 percent of Auckland City was Asian in ethnicity, only 6 percent of the crime was committed by Asians.
John Mitchell said when the numbers of Chinese students peaked about three years ago, kidnappings were a big problem with 57 cases recorded in 2003 but since then there’s been a spectacular decrease.
“With all the education work we’ve been doing, and some deterrent sentences have been handed down as well, it was four last year.”
Asked if the Asian communities created a disproportionate level of trouble for the police, Mr Mitchell responded with “not at all, it is severely under represented and they’re hard working and lawful, by and large”.

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