Looking at the big picture

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 July, 2008, 12:00am

After a long career as a frontline reporter and an editor, Eva Chan now teaches journalism

The world of journalism can be both frustrating and exciting. Journalists work on the cutting edge of local and global events, helping to keep the public informed about hard news, business news and sometimes celebrity gossip. However, journalists can also find themselves working to tight deadlines and, due to time constraints, unable to cover an event or issue the way they would like to. Also, journalists are locked in intense competition with other journalists to get the best - or exclusive - story.

It was a combination of these working conditions that led Eva Chan, a former reporter with Ming Pao (from 1996 to 1997) and a deputy chief editor of Next Magazine (from 1992 to 1995 and again from 1997 onwards) to review her career options.

After carefully weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of continuing her career, she decided to move into academia - teaching journalism instead of reporting.

'I felt that I could challenge myself further by moving across to the teaching side of journalism instead of working on the frontline,' said Ms Chan, who joined Chinese University's school of journalism and communication's teaching faculty as an instructor four years ago.

Teaching also provides Ms Chan, now in her 30s, with a more structured work-life balance, allowing her to spend time with her young children.

As a journalist Ms Chan often worked 12-hour shifts and longer. But as an editor she often worked until the early hours of the morning. 'In my current situation my work allows me to spend time with my family while I still enjoy a fulfilling career. I see my role as helping my students develop a sense of what is important, what is vital, what has colour and life and what people are interested in.'

She said at first she tended to rush her lectures, and it took about a year to adjust to the new job. 'Not having the training as a teacher, I had to work hard to find the right balance of material. Now I am in competition with myself to make every lesson better than the previous lesson,' Ms Chan said.

These days she spends her time delivering lectures, lesson planning and helping students with their projects. 'Like journalism, the job is challenging and demanding but, instead of concentrating on a single story as I used to do, I need to help students see the bigger picture,' said Ms Chan, who often suffers from a lecturer's occupational hazard - a sore throat.

However, Ms Chan said she considered a sore throat a small price to pay when she saw her former students presenting the news, reporting on camera or writing thought-provoking articles in magazines and newspapers.

'It is rewarding seeing students making their way in journalism, but too often they find the going tough and they move into public relations,' Ms Chan said.

With a background in frontline journalism, specialising in human interest stories, Ms Chan believes her experience as a former reporter and editor instils confidence in her students. She is also able to engage and entertain her students with insightful knowledge about people and events.

'Journalism education and training often involves a debate around theory versus practice. My experience of both reporting and setting editorial direction works as a bonus in the classroom because students can relate to the real-life situations I have come across. These often form the basis of the topics we examine,' said Ms Chan, who teaches about 100 students each year.

She became a journalist somewhat by chance. Equipped with a major in Chinese studies and a minor in political science from University of Hong Kong, Ms Chan at first contemplated the idea of entering the civil service. 'The idea of wearing high-heeled shoes or sensible suits ... didn't really appeal,' Ms Chan recalled. Instead, she became a researcher with Ming Pao, a job which lasted for about three months. 'The job was sheer boredom and drudgery,' she said.

On the advice of a senior journalist, who had spotted a latent talent, Ms Chan applied to become a reporter. It was a challenge she immediately felt comfortable with and prompted her to enrol in a master of journalism programme at University of Hong Kong. Ms Chan fondly recalls her first published feature in Ming Pao's colour magazine, a story about the fading popularity of two temples, one in Quarry Bay and the other in Kowloon City, where prostitutes and those seeking protection against disaster used to worship.

She also covered the celebrity scene and gossip stories and wrote about the darker side of Hong Kong life, including stories about people who had fallen through the welfare gap. She witnessed the growth of intense competition between cable television channels and gossip magazines. 'After the [1989] Tiananmen Square incident, the journalism profession gained a lot of public respect, but the proliferation of tabloid journalism has changed public opinion about the profession for the worse,' she said.

Towards the end of 2003, with the prestige of journalism beginning to wear thin and feeling a little bit as if she was fuelling the philosophy of Oscar Wilde, who once said 'the public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having the tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands', Ms Chan decided to apply for the journalist teaching instructor position at Chinese University.

'My dilemma was deciding if I wanted to continue with the cut and thrust of magazine journalism and still be doing the same thing in 10 years' time or look for other options,' said Ms Chan, who continues to indulge in her passion for writing and highlighting human interest topics. Keen not to loose her touch with people, she volunteers her time and offers her writing skills to benefit community projects.

For instance, during the summer of 2006, while on holiday from the university, she wrote a Chinese language best-selling book on the touching plight of 12 women living in Tin Shui Wai that resonated with the public, and sparked a degree of soul-searching about low-income families and welfare dependents living in Hong Kong's disadvantaged areas. The book, 12 Tin Shui Wai Women, is being translated into English. 'It is important that I maintain my credibility with my students and keep in touch with what is going on in our society by keeping my writing skills up to date,' Ms Chan said.

She said to succeed, journalists needed to develop a critical eye, good writing skills, an interest in people and the environment they lived in, and a desire to report on what was happening in the world.

They also needed to be motivated, able to withstand pressure and cultivate a strong desire to succeed. Combined with these academic and personal skills, journalists also needed to be good listeners, honest and open minded.

'Success in any journalism career requires curiosity, sound judgment, a good vocabulary, and exceptional oral and written communication skills. Stories are often fast-breaking, so journalists must be flexible and able to think on their feet. The ability to present information in an accurate, precise and organised manner is extremely important. You must be willing to both write and rewrite under deadlines,' she said.

New direction

Graduated from University of Hong Kong with a major in Chinese studies and minor in political science

She worked for Ming Pao as a reporter, and Next Magazine as a deputy chief editor

Often worked into the early hours of the morning as an editor

Decided to change her career path to become a teacher, allowing her to spend more time with her family

How to ...

Change careers Identify what is important in life and balance work with family life

Plan Talk to family and friends and those already in the industry to find out what the job entails and the possible life changes

Get going Look for a job that is rewarding and challenging, but that also fits in with a lifestyle balance

Ensure success Make sure you are not moving from one career to another without thinking about the consequences