Thursday, 13 August 2009

Intra Vires

Jagdeep: Can you explain the word "ultra vires" as contained in the first paragraph of Karpal's statement?

Nizam: To insult.

Jagdeep: Your misunderstanding of the word has caused chaos in the country. The word actually means "beyond the powers".

The excerpt above from NST piece on Karpal Singh’s ongoing sedition trial highlight one of the many pitfalls which reporters have to face up to on a daily basis in the discharging of their duties.

Most of the time, we (sorry, they, since I am no longer in the profession) are expected to be up to date on everything there is under the sun.

The oft-quoted remark is usually: “You should know. You’re a reporter.”


A walking, breathing Google, perhaps?

On many occasion, some reporters do know more on specific subject matters because they have worked donkey years on the same, but this would not often be the case for those working in the Bureaus (branches).

They would normally be required to cover everything from the crime beat and court to metro (drain, garbage and local happenings) news.

The more senior ones get to do national politics and features, and those which are worthy front or page lead materials.

On weekdays, stories usually get through one round of editing; usually by the one manning the fort for the day.

Major rewrites are quite unusual at this stage unless it is a really, really horribly written copy.

The story is then sent to news editors who would then proceed to edit: cut, cut and paste, cut, paste and rewrite, cut, paste, rewrite and editorialise, or, worse, spike.

The last phrase sees the story in the trash bin, by the way.

It’s the very same dreaded phrase that makes covering press conferences by politicians not aligned to Barisan Nasional, a real pain.

A pain as you normally end up self censoring, knowing that some shit would not stick in the mainstream, and tailor the story so as to have a fair chance of appearing.

Normally a good practice would be to get the “other side” of the story.

Throw all these in and what you get are pressed reporter who needs to get the story out to meet deadlines.

You do any research needed (old clippings, google, news archive) but your hope is usually for a relatively clean (minimal editing) copy.


I’ve been personally asked to rewrite articles to provide certain slants but, ahem, spinning, if any, is usually done elsewhere in the media hierarchy.

Sometimes I stand my ground when I’m asked to do so, but most of the time I just do it as long as it is still representative of what the story is all about.

Yep, the great joys to be among the meek.

The alternative is to ask for a no byline; the kind of protest meek reporters would do.

Reporters usually have a good measure of pride in their copy, clean or otherwise.

We (opps again, they) usually stand by it and all the reason why every words typed should be owned.

And owned up to.

Running commentaries.

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