Opinion

Social media determines editorial direction

Zan Azlee

Zan Azlee is a documentary filmmaker, journalist, writer, New Media practitioner and lecturer. He runs Fat Bidin Media www.fatbidin.com

I travel quite often to report news and also to produce documentaries on countries other than Malaysia. And, being a foreigner in these countries, I can never claim that I am an expert on their domestic issues.

Call me a parachute journalist if you want. But it is impossible to understand a country and it's people if you don't live there for a certain period of time.

So the most common thing for me to do is to get myself a fixer, or a local guide, to help me out. They do more than just be a translator. They usually become the link between me and the country.

They help to inform me of the goings-on of the country, the culture, find me contacts and sources, and most of all, to put things into context for me.

And if I'm going into war zones, they have to be street-smart, reliable and trusted as well, as my life would be in their hands.

Most of the time, they even end up being the main characters in my documentaries. So finding a good fixer is always crucial.

Since they're journalists in their own right, I actually learn a lot from fixers. I've had fixers in places like Southern Thailand, Afghanistan, Egypt, Tunisia and, right now, Turkey.

In fact, I'm currently still in Turkey and had just left my fixer to her own devices as I had to come back to my hotel room to write this article.

I'm here on a documentary mission for Astro AWANI and the story I'm pursuing is the sentiments on the ground relating to the current anti-government protests in Turkey.

One thing that I've realised is that due to the high distrust in the government and the local media here, no one, not even journalists, listens to "official" press releases and announcements.

Everyday, when I meet my fixer here in Istanbul, she would scour social media sites to find out the latest happenings, announcements and news for us to pursue.

We look at individuals' Twitter accounts, go through friends' Facebook pages and troll through popular and not so popular hashtags to determine the editorial direction of the day.

So I guess this will probably mark the demise of the days when journalists would look through official press releases that comes in to the newsroom or even pick up the phone to call contacts.

I see it as a new direction of journalism where things will now stop being determined from the top down. Instead, the people will determine the news.

And this is one lesson that I have learned that might just be useful back home in Malaysia. And all this is thanks to the different journalists that I meet around the world.

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