Getting to Know Farrah: Award Winning Senior and Special Probes Editor for the New Straits Times
Conflict zones, covert operations, special probes scenes; you name it – Farrah has seen it and done it all. This week, Newstream Asia profiles Farrah Naz Abdul Karim, who works for the New Straits Times as an investigative journalist. Farrah is a recipient of the 16th World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) Asian Media Awards held in conjunction with Publish Asia 2017, a grand feather to her cap of a whopping 10 other local media awards. We pick her brains for her exciting job, her passions and challenges in her line of duty as well as tips and advice on the Do’s and Don’ts of getting in touch with the media.
Q: Tell us about yourself – specifically your job description and summary of responsibilities.
A: I became Senior News Editor in 2012 and was given an extra portfolio four years ago as a Special Probes Editor. I am generally desk bound, but if something big happens then I’ll go to the ground, the latest being the Kim Jong Nam murder case. I make it my mission to get the ‘stories behind the stories.’ For Probes, we have to do a lot of ground work first, roughly about 2 months before we execute the project. A lot of our sources are anonymous and we receive covert tipoffs that help us in covering a story.
Q: Why journalism? What set you on this career path?
A: Both my parents were journalists. My dad was with BERNAMA news agency. So I basically grew up running around in the newsroom. I would often see my father travel to new places around the world and I wanted that for myself. There was once, my dad had to cover a story of a collapsed tower in Singapore where nobody had access to it. Quick witted as he was, my father walked into a stationery store, purchased a name tag, slipped his ID into it and before he knew it, he was on the scene of the tragedy as the only reporter! It was a huge deal because nobody got the scoop on that day except him. Journalism is in my blood and I’m a firm believer that journalistic instinct is inborn and not cultivated.
Q: Tell us about your award winning report entitled ‘Killer Cosmetics.’
A: The reason we wrote that report was because we wanted to shed light on the cosmetics industry. More and more people are being duped into purchasing these items without knowing that these products are contaminated with hazardous chemicals. This report was aimed at educating the public so that they would be able to make informed decisions. The perpetrators of this crime are tricking consumers by capitalizing on the Ministry of Health notifications where they must inform the Ministry that they’re selling these products. This does not at all mean they are licensed to do so. Most of their products when tested, shockingly contained dangerous levels of mercury and other dangerous substances that are detrimental to their health. It’s great to see the public react to this piece when it came out. We were pleased to see that article was widely shared online and the increased level of awareness.
Q: Did you foresee winning this award?
A: Awards are always a bonus. Any journalist worth his/her salt writes to generate public interest, never for accolades. There is a famous saying in Bahasa: “Saya menulis bukan kerana nama.” Journalists are always taking bigger and bolder steps in getting their work noticed and to be different. It is our duty to provide content that is exclusive and distinct from the rest.
Q: Is the traditional media dying in the face of social media? What is the future of media?
A: For online, speed matters. If you aren’t the first to share breaking news on social media, it’s pointless! However, traditional print is essential for that element of exclusivity – where stories are deeper and more sophisticated. The question is, when you consume news online, are you really consuming news? Online newsfeeds are based on popularity, search history and virality. When millennials reject traditional print, they forsake in depth news. Their general knowledge suffers.
Q: What is the toughest story you’ve ever worked on?
A: Lahad Datu during the incursion of Sulu rebels. We literally broke squadron rules by entering an evacuated village. To our horror, we found a paralyzed woman left there all by herself. We quickly rescued her and brought her back to safety. The police told us upon our return that our backs were targeted by snipers. Lucky for us, they immediately realized that we were journalists. Looking back, we did take a very big risk but it was worth it!
Q: I’m sure you’ve dealt with countless PR professionals or organizations that are constantly vying for your attention. How can PR pros improve their strategies in this regard?
A: Nowadays, everything is just surface level correspondence. Relationships forged between journalists and PR professionals must be more personal. I have often come across PR professionals whom only contact me just to ask if we’re featuring their stories. Nothing develops from there. In order to sustain a relationship, there needs to be a more humanistic approach. I also often get people from PR harping on us if we will be coming to their events or writing about their products, campaigns or services. By doing your homework, you will be able to know if the story is relevant to us or not. And, please if you want to call us, do so in the mornings. We are swamped in the afternoons!
Q: What is your advice to up and coming journalists?
A: Be more resourceful! Push boundaries! Ask the right questions. Don’t be just a stenographer! Young journalists need to buck up on their willingness to ask all the hard questions and step out of their comfort zones. As reporters, we cannot be lazy and we must not shy away from writing more.
From all of us here at Supernewsroom, we would like to extend to Farrah Naz Abdul Karim our heartiest congratulations! You are Super Awesome!