Speakers Summary:

  • Grace Yeoh, Senior Journalist: Grace works as a senior journalist for the digital desk of a local and regional broadcaster, where she writes feature stories and commentaries. The topics she covers include youth, mental health, education and workplace culture. She holds prior journalism experience from 2014, spanning investigative to lifestyle journalism. She has also penned several viral articles on current affairs. Grace graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and New Media from the National University of Singapore (NUS). She also attended Ngee Ann Polytechnic, where she graduated with a Diploma in Mass Communication.

Questions asked and answered

Chat Summary

  • How did you confirm your interest in journalism, and when did you decide to enter the industry?

    Grace always knew that she was strong in writing. She did well in written assignments in school, but never really had a keen interest in journalism. Later, when she went to polytechnic, she picked up Communications because she had an interest in corporate communications and wanted to use her strength in languages.

    She realised a keen interest in media during her unpaid internship at Cosmopolitan magazine. Despite being tasked with menial work, she found herself really energised by the environment and the media scene, with tasks such as going to photoshoots etc.

  • For Grace, at the start, it was just about seeing her name beside the byline and feeling validated by the fact that her articles were good enough to be published. Gradually, she found meaning in being able to tell other's stories and getting the audience to think more deeply about the lives of others and the issues surrounding them.

  • Grace applied for a job as a digital writer at Cleo magazine. That was her first job and also the only job that she got through application. The rest of her jobs were through referrals. It is important for all aspiring journalists to realise how important networking is in the industry, because that is the way one gets opportunities, especially because the industry is quite exclusive and closed off.

    Aspiring journalists should get a good mentor, through reaching out to journalists on LinkedIn or via email to ask for permission to pick their brains. Make sure to reach out with specific questions to make it easy to be mentored. It is much easier to enter the industry with a mentor because there will be someone that can vouch for one's writing.

  • Grace had a lot of creative freedom in Rice. CNA is more hierarchical, but the boundaries she is given in CNA have made her a better writer. Her writing has sharpened in CNA, as whatever writing she puts out will have to go through many levels of editing.
  • There is little training in schools, because in classes one is merely taught what are good questions to ask. Relationship management is not covered, for example how to get a person comfortable within 5 minutes when one only has 15 minutes to talk to them, and things like how to get someone to open up over Zoom, or should a first meeting be held over coffee.

    Therefore there were techniques that Grace had to navigate herself, as no one really taught her. These include sitting beside someone instead of opposite them when they are unsure of sharing things.

    Grace has also been learning from her therapist. Getting counselling skills helps when talking to interviewees because it teaches understanding and empathy. Listen, not judge; have empathy and try to understand the situation. Try not to project one's own feelings when talking to an interviewee as it is not the role of the journalist to judge them.

    Both the journalist and the interviewee should be authentic. The interviewee's personality should not matter, and the journalist should not try to mirror the interviewee's personality. The interviewee can tell when the journalist is being authentic or not.

  • Always come prepared with a list of questions and a list of focal points, instead of winging it. Know when to change the questions and ask for more details on certain things; the interview questions should not be fixed, and a journalist should not be so strict about sticking with the questions. Sometimes, the journalist needs to follow the interviewee's train of thought. Think of it not as a back and forth, but instead a conversation with your friend. Of course, this would be harder when it is a short interview, but then the expectations would be different as it would not be a profound piece also. Be very aware that the interviewee is not just an interview subject but another human with their own thoughts and struggles.
  • It depends on the company. Working together as a team is very important as journalists. Especially in her current job, one cannot just see it as writing. A journalist may have a lead and somebody else is good at visuals, so they can ask them to come on board. Competition will be in every job and it is important because it drives human beings.

    It is important to find the right kind of bosses, mentors and supervisors in the industry, and to speak to people from different companies to understand their working culture. Some places can be more individualistic. When looking for job at the start of one's career, one may be more about the job scope, but from the second job onwards the focus may be more about the mentors and bosses. Keep close friends outside of the industry and not just from the media industry as the media industry tends to be an echo-chamber.

  • It is important to stay in touch with the community and really embed oneself in the different social media communities, whether that be Reddit, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or Clubhouse. Really be active in the apps and comments; basically one's life should be spent on these communities. Find out about longer-term social trends as well.

    Grace once did a report on online gambling and she actually went on a Facebook group with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS go) players to find people to interview. Taylor Lorenz is an NYT reporter whom Grace looks to for reporting on social phenomena and trends. Lorenz reported on things like Gamestop and the phrase "Ok boomer", and Grace recommends studying the way Lorenz writes about them.

  • Every day is different. Some days are spent making calls to potential interviewees, or getting coffee with them and conducting interviews. Life as a journalist means that one might have to live their life around the interviewee's time. Others are just spent writing or researching to find inspiration and leads. Embedding oneself in the different online communities is a good way to get a proper look at different interesting stories and get inspiration.