THE NEWS MAKERS

Up Close With Oliver Christopher Gomes

IT is tough being a boss and even tougher to be an editor! Yet MALAYSIA SME® Oliver Christopher Gomes has the right kind of mix to survive and produce top-notch stories on Malaysia’s Small and Medium Enterprises as Supernewsroom finds out in this week’s Top Newsmakers. Oliver gives a wonderful and amusing Q&A with tips on how Public Relations practitioners should approach media practitioners. Humour aside Oliver is heads up on all news on SMEs and welcomes pitches from PR practitioners seeking to get coverage for their clients in the fortnightly MALAYSIA SME® which is Malaysia first and only SME business newspaper. 

  MALAYSIA SME® Media Group CEO and Chief Editor Wayne Lim (front row, fourth from left), with a cross-section of the media group employees. Editor Oliver Christopher Gomez, poses in the rear (last row, fifth from left).


Q&A: 

Q1: Tell us a bit about your media organisation and its area of focus?

The MALAYSIA SME® Media Group is a 10 year old media organisation dedicated to serving the SME community. We are both pioneers in SME news reporting and the country’s first all-encompassing SME-specific media group.

We cover the issues that matter to well over 90% of Malaysia’s business community, and slightly more than 10 years later, we have still barely scratched the surface. Our flagship product is the fortnightly MALAYSIA SME® business newspaper.

 

Q2: Can you tell us a bit on your job scope?

 As Editor of MALAYSIA SME®, it is my responsibility to ensure that our pull-outs contain interesting and varied content. Given our fortnightly run, it is absolutely crucial that our write-ups not mirror the content available in weeklies and/or dailies. This means that whenever we home in on a story, we ensure that it has more depth and exclusivity, and further, is easily understandable to our readership.

In addition to ensuring that our content remains tight and relevant, I am also responsible for ensuring that our internal Editorial processes work well. This means that deadlines are not blown, writers and their raw copies display an ongoing improvement in skill and presentation, layout is easy on the eyes, and house style is adhered to (There are also the more common, non-editorial and traditional managerial job functions, but I don’t think I need to go into those details).

Every now and then however, I enjoy picking up some writing assignments of my own; the crafting process gives me an opportunity to work off some steam, stretch those writing muscles, and remain close to the reporting scene. 

Q3: What are the current challenges for your media organisation or the media industry as a whole?

The MALAYSIA SME® Media Group has set for itself the same challenge as always – to continue expanding on our news delivery channels by providing quality SME-centric content that is not available elsewhere. Of course, operating within the confines of what certain quarters have called a “shrinking economy”, this means getting creative in our outreach to the country’s business community.

Without giving anything away just now, I am very excited to inform you that we are just about ready to introduce some fantastic ideas to the market.

As far as the wider industry is concerned, advertising revenues, increasingly fickle readers, and political difficulties are certainly ongoing (and far-reaching) challenges. The socio-political and economic upheavals of the last few years have caused a distinct change in the dynamics of mainstream news reporting. 

In many ways, it feels as if the media industry is searching for a “new normal”; this is to say that the old Malaysian media habit of “self-censoring” is now being reconsidered. Certain quarters of Malaysia’s mainstream reporting community now appear to be exploring unchartered territory, and in the process, exposing a large cross-section of the Malaysian citizenry to new perspectives.

Ultimately, responsible journalism and quality writing will always command the attention of the reader, regardless of medium. The next couple of years will be very interesting to the casual observer, and downright exhilarating to Malaysia’s top journalists.

I wish my friends and colleagues all the very best during this time. It is my hope that the Malaysian media scene continues to find and create “new normals” for itself. 

Q4: What is your media organisation (or your desk) target in 2016? (Eg-areas of focus, to go digital etc)

I have answered this in the first two paras of Q3. More to follow at a later date!

 

Q5: What are your favorite phrase or words that you used a lot whenever you are stuck with something or faced with a huge problem?

Nothing that I would want to repeat in polite company, most certainly!

However, throughout my media career thus far, I have been guided by the following overarching philosophy: “If you don’t ask, the answer is ALWAYS ‘No’.” 

Q6: Where do you see the Malaysian media landscape in the next 3 to 5 years?

I stand to be corrected of course, but 3-5 years does not seem like enough time for the Malaysian media scene to undergo particularly drastic changes. Of course, I must qualify that statement by pointing out the fact that we have a General Election coming in the next couple of years.

In any event, what I’d personally like to see is a greater focus on objective, non-partisan writing, with a deeper inquiry on issues and ideas rather than people and personalities. This is what MALAYSIA SME® tries to do; we focus on important SME-related issues, introduce new and unique ideas to the market, and where necessary, investigate and uncover problems and deficiencies.

It is sad to note, but Malaysia’s media scene has become far too polarised. I am not blaming the industry of course, for we (Malaysian media) are all ultimately a reflection of our wider society.  It is tempting to fall into the habit of thinking that everything the Opposition does is right, and everything the incumbent does is wrong. However, people – even those who seemingly share similar basic political ideals – are far too complex for either black or white.

There are shades of grey in all things, and if we are to create a generation of responsible, curious, and objectively-minded Malaysians, Malaysia’s media industry needs to come to terms with this fact. Credit must be given where it is due, and the same goes with admonishment. 

Q7: What is your advice to Public Relations practitioners who wants to engage with the media in Malaysia?

I am very flattered that you think I have anything intelligent to add to this discourse, but the fact is I have not yet been in this business long enough to properly understand the many dynamics of the PR industry.

In the short time that I have been professionally involved in media however, I have come to realise just how thankless of a job it is. I am also ashamed to say that there have been times when I have contributed to this negativity. My sincere apologies for past transgressions.

You will always end up having to deal with harried and impatient Editors, and I simply cannot guarantee that I will not be among this number. As such, my sincere apologies for future transgressions!

Joking aside though – and without attempting to speak for other media organisations – I hope PR practitioners do not lose sight of just how crucial their functions are to the Malaysian media scene. You really do represent your clients, and this means you carry on your shoulders the reputations of both your own PR firm(s), as well as your clients’ companies.

With so many hats to wear, PR practitioners need to be highly proficient, energetic, polite, and knowledgeable. In an industry that effectively commoditizes human relationships, PR practitioners must, at all times, hold themselves to the highest standards of etiquette and professionalism. And to be perfectly honest, such dedication and commitment to these ideals can be bloody exhausting!

Keep up the good work, dear PR practitioners, and please, please, do not be disheartened when you are harrumphed out of your story pitch, or cut off over the phone. PR practitioners have organised some fantastic interviews and have gone above and beyond for us more times than I can remember. Also, those festive hampers are delightful! 

Q8: What are the areas that you want PR practitioners to improve when dealing with media such as during functions, press conferences, media releases, press invites, pitching of stories, and etc.?

Nothing particularly glaring or troublesome as such, but I would like to point out that PR practitioners ought to personalise their pitches. Simply put, different newspapers have different requirements. For MALAYSIA SME®, we are all about privately-owned businesses, start-ups, and related government policies. If you can establish a reasonable and substantive link between your clients and how they affect/improve/challenge SMEs, then that is half the battle won right there.

I am more than happy to speak to PR practitioners about the various sections in our newspaper, and provide them with an overview of the Editorial requirements. I have done this in the past with one or two PR firms, and we have since gone on to work well with them, seeing as they are now familiar with our Editorial directions. 

Q9: What is the one thing that irks you about PR practitioners? Or maybe a good thing about them :)

 I believe I’ve answered this (good things about PR practitioners) in Q7. 

Q10: What do you think of Supernewsroom? - You can skip this part if you have not heard about us

 I think Supernewsroom has chanced upon a very interesting concept. 21st century crowdsourcing is an exciting idea, and I wish Supernewsroom all the very best in their venture!

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