KUCHING: It was a bittersweet Friday as the staff of New Sarawak Tribune (NST) and Suara Sarawak (SS) gathered at their office here to bid their chief operating officer (COO) a heartfelt farewell, wishing him all the best in his next endeavour.
Rudi Affendi Khalik, 45, smiled as he delivered his final speech as COO to his team and comrades, reminiscing fond memories.
However, there was a hint of melancholy in his eyes, for he had been one of the key individuals involved in creating SS from scratch as well as revamping NST under the new management. He had seen these two newspapers develop and flourish into what they are today.
Now, it is time for him to move on to a new chapter with his appointment as head of news and current affairs of a newly set-up television station under Sarawak Media Group (SMG).
Having been in the media industry since his first assignment as a cadet reporter in the 90s, he has over two decades of experience under his belt and is well-equipped for his next mission.
In a recent exclusive interview with NST, he shared his experiences, advice, and secrets to success.
NST: Could you tell us about your journey in leading SS from its humble beginnings until today?
Rudi: I first joined NST as COO on my 43rd birthday on October 28, 2018. I was called by the chairperson of the company together with Dr Jeniri Amir, who is now chief executive officer of NST and SS, to attend a meeting regarding taking over the editorial section and overall management of NST and its sister paper at the time.
Shortly after that meeting, we went directly to the Sarawak Press building to meet the board of directors of the company. We were informed that the ownership of the newspapers would be shifted to the current chairperson with Jeniri as a board member.
Due to these circumstances, I was suddenly appointed as the company’s COO and immediately took over the roles of the newspapers’ leader. My main duty was to change NST’s editorial aspect and two to three days after that, Rajah Murugaiah was brought in to head the editorial section as NST executive editor.
Our key task was to transform the content of the newspaper so that it would be more authoritative, reliable, organised, and of high standard.
Another task was to form a Malay newspaper to become the best of its kind in Sarawak. After observing reports and so on, we were of the view that forming a new paper was easier compared to managing those which already existed. Therefore, I was entrusted to obtain plans for a new paper. After a few consultations, we successfully obtained the licence for SS.
After two months, the company was named SV News Sdn Bhd and the paper was named Suara Sarawak. The reason that we named it SV News was because of the popularity of the original portal which was our base, sarawakvoice.com founded by Jeniri and I.
On March 1 last year, SS successfully entered the market. After a year, the paper has won the hearts of many Sarawakians. Keep in mind, we were starting a newspaper at a critical time when other companies were shutting down and letting employees go. This was indeed a new challenge for us and we managed to overcome problems with the support of all parties.
Even though contemporary media is somewhat hampered by social media now, we believe that if there is quality, good performance and accurate information, people will always return to reading newspapers.
So that was the beginning. Then I managed to guide the conversion of NST from its original broadsheet format to tabloid. The performance of NST is now different compared to the years before. Now it has returned to the mainstream with increased printing every week.
Meanwhile, we also introduced online portals for both NST and SS.
All these became successful because of good company leadership, stakeholders’ trust, and the efforts of all employees and journalists. I believe that even if others say that newspapers are winding up, NST and SS will be able to go even further and become the main media in Sarawak.
What is the secret to these newspapers’ ability to win the hearts of the people?
The secret is simple: we tailor our newspapers to the tastes of the readers.
We must understand what our readers want. The reader is king. When we do something, we must see it through the eyes of others. This is our recipe to make our newspapers go further than others.
We have to change and evolve all the time, meaning we are constantly improving our performance, reports, and so on. Of course, we have to train our reporters and editors to keep up with the current environment.
Furthermore, we must champion all news — that is our most valuable objective.
Tell us a bit about SMG.
SMG is a company which was established by the government to operate as a television station. Due to some technical issues, the matter was only resolved this year. After two years, we have succeeded in obtaining the television licence and are moving in this direction.
At the same time, SMG is also involved in various other branches of the business such as digital advertising, especially billboards. Creative content is the baseline of the business.
My task here is to set up the news and current affairs division, which means I have to develop a news team and produce bulletins and talk shows.
This is a huge task because it is a first for Sarawak to have its own full-fledged television station. I have had experience in establishing sarawakvoice.com, SS, Awani Sarawak, and now this is another mission with the Sarawak flag.
What are some of the challenges that you foresee?
It is a considerable challenge because it is not easy to develop a new team and the duration given is very short. In Peninsular Malaysia, they have at least eight months to a year to establish a team before they start producing their own bulletins. However, we have only less than five months, as this is to suit the agenda of our stakeholders.
Can you elaborate on your commitment in the field of journalism?
I first joined as a cadet reporter 26 years ago. The gap from this point until I became a full reporter and journalist was only six months. Six months later, I became a sub-editor, and a year after that I was an editor for Utusan Sarawak.
So, how did I learn so fast? Well, I was still young at that time. On most days, I would head out at 9am and only return home at 3am. At 9am, I would begin attending functions, return to the office and write my reports. I would take a brief rest then returned to the office. At 7pm, I would sit next to the editor editing my articles and learn. I saw the problems and issues directly instead of waiting until the next day.
After that, I would help with processing press releases and so on. Then at around 10pm or 11pm, I would go with a photographer to attend police roadblocks and operations until 1am, 2am, or even 3am, after which I would head home. I have also handled the crime desk where I learned other aspects such as networking.
Besides these, I also started writing features. At that time, not many were confident of writing features, so I took the opportunity to learn and finally in the following years I won many awards because of that.
There are many ordinary reporters, but to advance to the level of editor, the gap is quite far. This motivated me, so I learned to become one.
Within two years, I became the youngest editor in Sarawak. At the age of 21 or 22, I was already ranked #4 in Utusan Sarawak. For two years, I climbed along the straight and narrow because I learned from mistakes, experience, and networking.
What would you consider as the key to excellence in your career?
Discipline, reading and establishing a network. You must also sacrifice your time. Also, sometimes you have to be frank with everyone — that is how people trust you. Furthermore, trust yourself.
As a leader, I have to develop my team, which also means developing leaders. For instance, in NST and SS, we develop leaders by training our reporters. That’s the key towards excellence as a leader.
Besides this, I am an all-rounder which is very important. You must learn to do features, sports, crime writing — everything. This will make you valuable as you have multiple skills.
In my journey to become an editor and producer, I have learned a lot. My skillset does not only encompass writing, but also negotiating, graphics, video-shooting, video-editing, and more.
Nothing is impossible. When there is a will, there is a way. You have to learn from your mistakes and experience as learning is the best way to gain excellence.
As someone who has great success in the field of writing and journalism, what are your tips for aspiring journalists?
I learned a lot from studying the works of great journalists such as Tan Sri Johan Jaaffar and even from Jeniri himself. By doing so, you can learn the different approaches adopted by these famous journalists including those who have won the prestigious Kajai Award. You can learn how they write and see the strategies and methods used in their writings.
That is the main learning process because you cannot pick this up by reading a book. You have to learn how these people use their existing experience to produce the best news materials.
In the television medium, I apply the same method by watching all the best documentaries and news reporting segments. In short, learn fast by reading and watching what the best journalists do. Being the best journalists does not necessarily mean that they have experience only. It means that they can interpret and translate what is felt and experienced in the form of writing — reporting it well so that it impacts the reader.
Of course, you must have a good grasp of the language and jargons so that you can touch people. Nowadays, we have photographs that touch people. However, writing can also evoke strong emotions in the reader, even more so than a photograph.
For example, one of the five books which I have written was on Rosli Dhobi, called ‘Rosli Dobhi di Tali Gantung’, and I had a reader who cried when he read my book.
Besides this, always respect your teachers and mentors. You may have differences, but the respect must be there.
To become a good writer, a good journalist, you must have passion and you must learn from the best.