Like any habitual day, Oh Chin Eng grabbed his backpack and hurtled to his car. He drove along the North-South expressway but he wasn’t going to his workplace, The Star headquarter in Penang. He was going to UTAR, his alma mater, for the Journalism (JR) Alumni Homecoming Day held at UTAR Perak Campus on 6 March 2014.
Oh was one of the UTAR JR alumni who had reserved a day off their hectic schedule to attend the inaugural homecoming. He was euphoric to have met and mingled with his juniors, thriving contemporaries and seniors. Asked what wheedled him into attending, Oh remarked, “This event is a milestone first for UTAR Department of Journalism and as a former protégé, I feel compelled to support my juniors in their undertakings. This is where my journalism career had a blazing head start, and me coming back today is a significant acknowledgement of my humble derivations.”
Oh’s soaring sentiments resonated across the room, which was inundated with puns and prattles as JR students and alumni crossed path. Asked what instigated his presence, Nigel Aw, a UTAR alumnus currently working as journalist with Malaysiakini, enthused, “UTAR played a pivotal role in launching my career. I feel obliged to give back to my university and one way of doing so is to keep track of its development and help enlighten my wide-eyed juniors in every way imaginable.” Malaysiakini is an award-winning online portal offering alternative news and opinions of Malaysians.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, UTAR Faculty of Arts and Social Science Dean Dr Cheah Phaik Kin said, “The best testimony for a university’s reputation is ultimately the success of its students and alumni. I want you to know that you are welcomed at all times, not just when you face adversity or need a listening ear. It is my fervent hope that you will continue to scale greater heights and make the university proud of you. Do keep in touch with the faculty through digital and face-to-face communication.” Dr Cheah also thanked the organising committee for initiating an effort to promote networking among JR students, alumni and lecturers to explore potential collaboration between the university and media industry.
During the alumni sharing session, Elween Loke, a UTAR alumnus who has worked for The Star Metro Perak since 2011, unravelled the perks and nadirs of becoming a journalist. “The wow factor is that you get to meet and interact with people from all walks of life and enhance interpersonal skills. However, be prepared to be dogged, mentally, by seamless questions pertaining to conscience, liberty and candor in reporting. At times, our integrity as journalists is compromised, and we are coerced into publishing news with a proclivity for privileged groups that exert influence over media-linked business corporations. He asserted, “As journalists, we are susceptible to manipulation and deceit by unscrupulous parties, and to ensure fair and unbiased reporting, it is our duty to accrue validated information from as many sources as possible. Always remember, there are two sides to a story so avoid being lopsided and pejorative.”
For UTAR alumna Quek Shi Xin, toughness is her second name. The crime reporter for China Press in Klang Valley is on call 24 hours and has embraced the art of espionage to demystify newsworthy and buzz-generating information. “I have pretended to be an expectant mother asking for unauthorised surgery, and have embarked on covert assignment to debunk the modus operandi of Nigerian drug-trafficking syndicate,” said Quek, who startled the crowd with chilly revelations of a colleague whose face was permanently marred after going undercover in a beauty parlour. She cautioned that the realm of investigative journalism is extremely parlous and challenging, and one has to be prepared, physically and mentally, to embrace any assignment that is thrown their way. “To be a high-flying journalist, one has to uphold the PEACE doctrine –Pleasure, Endless Overtime, Active, Creative and Ethics,” inspired Quek.
A short but engaging discussion was then held, enabling JR students and alumni to sit and exchange tales of their opposing lifestyles. Juniors were relentless in their pursuits of secrets of success from their employed seniors. The event was adjourned at approximately 5.30pm after a gregarious photo-taking session. Organised by the Department of Journalism, the homecoming is aimed at establishing rapport among UTAR JR lecturers, students and alumni for greater networking and industrial links.