Saturday, June 10, 2017

The art & science of e-mail interviews

Time was when interviews had to be conducted live, in person or via telephone. Then the Internet came along and gave us e-mail, which is a different avenue for doing interviews.

There are pros and cons to e-mail interviews. The most obvious cons are that they are not live and therefore you will never get spontaneous comments and follow up questions are delayed, which again will rob you of any opportunity to get spur-of-the-moment quote, which sometimes can be very colorful and can help liven up an article.

There are advantages to e-mail interviews too. The interviewee can answer the questions at their convenience. The answers will not be off-the-cuff but that can also be a good thing. The fact that the interview is not happening live means the interviewee can take their time to think about a question and give a perhaps more thoughtful and more accurate response.

That said, it is of course always better to have a live interview than an e-mail one. But there are times when doing so is not practical and you have to go with an e-mail interview. Here are some tips for how to do this well.

1. Do some research on the person you are interviewing. If they are any person of note at all, there will be something on them online. Google them and see what you can find. It would probably be interesting to see what they post on social media too. It will give you a better sense of who they are.

2. Even if they are expecting the e-mail, give a brief introduction about yourself and the publication your write for, as well as the nature and purpose of the article.

3. I also make it a point to encourage them to elaborate as much as they can when replying and tell them that providing too much information is always better than too little. (Longer answers will give you more flexibility to edit their responses.)

4. Start with asking them about their background -- family upbringing, education, first jobs, etc...

5. Other types of questions to ask:
- Factual stuff about what they are doing
- Their motivation(s) for doing what they do
- Anyone inspires them?
- What they like and don't like about what they do
- What's the most surprising thing (most people are not aware of) regarding what they do
- Biggest challenge and success so far
- What makes them unique, special, different from others in the field?
- How to stay competitive?
- How technology comes into play?
- What's coming up on the horizon?

When you receive their reply, you will have to edit the answers for clarity and for length. If an answer is a bit confusing or too wordy,  you can edit it but take care not to change the meaning.

If a response is not particularly interesting or if the interviewee had veered off topic you can opt to leave out that question and answer from the final article. As the writer, you have the right to pick and choose what to leave in and what to leave out. If something is not clear and needs clarification or if something could use a little elaboration, send a follow up e-mail and alert them about it (through Whatsapp or SMS or Facebook Messenger).

After you have written up the article, put it aside for a while then re-read it so you can finetune it. Just as movies sometimes need reshoots you can also ask additional questions if you feel something is lacking.

That's it. That's the process to do a good e-mail interview.

Monday, May 08, 2017

PJ, Ampang or Melawati?

This report caught my attention... and then I found it utter confusing. Is the restaurant in PJ, Ampang or Taman Melawati? All are mentioned in the article but they are not the same place!

This was the apt response from one reader who knew a thing or two about geography!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Telum Talks To… Oon Yeoh, Columnist and Feature Writer at New Sunday Times

Telum Talks To… Oon Yeoh, Columnist and Feature Writer at New Sunday Times

Can you tell us a little bit about your career path, and how you ended up as Columnist and Feature Writer of New Sunday Times?
I started my career working for a book publisher in London but my journalism career began in Kuala Lumpur in 1996 when I joined Kyodo News to do wire agency news reporting. Shortly after that I was recruited to become a Country Correspondent for The Nikkei Weekly. In 2000, I left the foreign media to join local media, first as an Online Editor for The Sun, then as Associate Editor for The Edge Singapore, then as Online Editor and Deputy News Editor at The Sun and finally as New Media Editor at The Edge Malaysia. After that I rejoined the publishing industry, working as Senior Consulting Editor at MPH Publishing. Late last year, I became a Freelance Media Consultant. It so happened around that time, NST was revamping its Sunday edition and I was asked to write for the Savvy section. I've been writing for Savvy since 1st January 2017.

Can you tell us a bit about the columns that you’re currently writing for New Sunday Times?
They gave me a tremendous amount of freedom to propose the type of content for that segment. In the past I've written columns about the internet and information technology and I didn't want to revisit that. It's sort of a "been there, done that" situation. I still like all things digital but what's more interesting to me these days is how do we stay relevant in a disruptive world. In fact, I wanted to call my column Disruption but my Editor suggested I go for something more positive-sounding so I came up with Future Proof, which is pretty self-explanatory.

As for the feature profiles, I wanted to write about people who are doing interesting, innovative things. Inevitably, many of the people profiled would be entrepreneurs but they don't have to be. If they are doing something a little bit different or out-of-the-box, I'm keen to share their story with others.

You have been writing about new media, innovation, and social media in Savvy. How is the development of digital and social media impacting journalism in Malaysia?
The news industry around the world has been heavily disrupted by the Internet and social media, and Malaysia is no exception. Many young people today get their news on their mobile phones and they aren't necessarily getting it from established media portals but on blogs, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook and so on. As a result, advertising is drying up for traditional media. Newspapers are affected, magazines are terribly affected (so many have closed shop) and these publications are downsizing. It's not a good time to be a Reporter. But those who are very passionate about journalism and story-telling, they will find a way to fund their journalism. I have some friends who are doing very innovative journalistic projects involving multimedia and they are finding multiple sponsors and clients to finance these projects. I guess you could call it entrepreneurial journalism. Being good at reporting and writing is no longer enough. You have to be entrepreneurially-minded as well to thrive in this brave new journalistic world disrupted by the Internet.

If there was anyone you could interview, who would it be and why?
Perhaps a world class Athlete like Nicol David. I would be interested in finding out what's the secret to her success in sports. How she came to be an eight-time world champion in a sport that is not all that popular in Malaysia. We've had many world-class badminton champions but none comes close to being as dominant in their sport as Nicol is in hers. You want to talk about towering Malaysians, she's the real deal.

Is there anything new we could expect from you i.e. new column or section, in the coming weeks or months?
I don't anticipate anything new structurally as far as the Savvy section is concerned. Each weekend, it'd be my Future Proof column and my savvy people profile feature at least for some time to come. I enjoy writing these articles and I'm just starting to get back into the groove after being away from journalism for some time. So, I hope to keep this going for some time. But I'm a Freelance Writer so there will be other online platforms that I'll be writing for.

What type of material do you like to receive? Your areas of interest?
I like getting to know people who are doing interesting things. Not just people who are successful in what they do but people who are doing things differently in order to get a better outcome. My areas of interest are very broad. I'm keen on business, sports, entertainment, food, the environment. As long as there's something interesting to write about, I'm game.

Favourite media / journalist moment ever?
A few years back, an American syndicated Columnist named Suzette Martinez Standring contacted me about a book she was writing about the topic of column writing. She had come across some tips on column writing that I had published online and wanted permission to reproduce it. I gave her permission, of course, and she liked my article so much she asked me to specially write another piece about niche column writing for her book (which I gladly did). It was a real honour to be included in that book The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists. I believe I'm the only non-American Columnist asked to contribute to it.

How do you prefer to be contacted?
E-mail is best (

If you had to choose: coffee, lunch or drinks?
Coffee would be my choice. Lunch involves eating which makes having meaningful conversations a bit difficult (because you are too preoccupied with eating) and I don't take alcohol, so drinks is out for me. I like coffee though. Tea's good too.

Favourite type of cuisine?
Chinese. I like all kinds of food but my default, fall-back, never-get-bored-with food is Chinese.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Subscribed to NYT Digital

NYT Digital is really an awesome online newspaper. The journalism is top notch and the content is full of stuff I'm interested in reading about -- from politics to world affairs to cooking to exercise and health-related matters. Under its current business model it's possible to read 10 free articles per month. I got by with that for a while but I've noticed each month I'm beginning to run out of free articles faster and faster. So, I did it... I paid for a yearly subscription. The price is reasonable even when converted into ringgit. I took advantage of a special offer of US$6 per month or RM27. Works out to be less than RM1 per day. Awesome!

Sunday, January 01, 2017

My return to column writing!

Today marks my return to writing a weekly column and feature series, this time for NST. I began my column writing career writing for The Bangkok Post nearly two decades ago. As for feature writing, my first attempt at that was for The Nikkei Weekly. Later, I would move to local media and at different times, I wrote columns for The Sun, The Edge and even The Star (briefly). Now, I'm writing for New Sunday Times, so you could say I've done the rounds!

Each Sunday, I'll be writing an opinion column entitled "Future Proof". The theme centres around innovation and changing with the times. My first one, out today, is about the need to change business models -- this applies to companies as well as individuals. The feature profile is about Teoh Mei Ying, a social media consultant.

It's good to be back and writing again. Just as it's important to exercise your muscles in order to prevent atrophy, you also have to exercise your brains to keep it from going rusty. For the past five years or so, I've been very busy editing other people's work. It's something I still do but it's about time I start writing myself.

The stories are not online so you'll have to buy a copy of the paper if you want to read it. But I promise you it'll be worth it!