Low pay, long working hours and the high stress that comes along – this pretty much summed up the life of journalists in the city. Being highly underpaid and exhausted couldn’t stop these journalists from pursuing journalism as their lifelong career, but the forced shutdown of Apple Daily did.
Chung used to work as a reporter at Apple Daily, under the City Crime desk. After the media’s forced closure, he left the news industry and worked as a marketing manager.
“To me, news is like a history book. You record things as they are, regardless of their nature. Working under the city crime desk, I don’t deal with authoritative figures, but really typical people, like a random old woman on the street.”
Chung said he can totally picture himself working as a reporter until his retirement. But he rejected invitations from his former colleagues to work as a reporter in other news outlets, after taking a two-month break following Apple Daily’s closure.
“Legislations, censorships – there are lots of things holding us back from reporting, and you can foresee more to come.” He added, “The thing is, I don’t think I can write better, more meaningful and more professional stories even if I continue under such constraints.”
When asked to rate Hong Kong’s press freedom, Chung gave a negative score. “Can I give a negative score? You can’t even write news properly right now!”
After the criminalisation of doxing, as well as the closure of major pro-democracy news outlets, Chung found it extremely difficult to cover news. “What can you do when you can’t even access car ownership details? How am I supposed to help the victims who reach out for help? Major pro-democracy outlets shut down, and the room we have for covering a news item shrank. People are less willing to speak up, and the voice of some stakeholders were silenced. You can’t write an objective and comprehensive report with all these constraints.”
Chung said he wouldn’t encourage new blood to study journalism unless they’re really determined. “You won’t be able to produce stories you want to write about – indeed, just looking into ways to enter the industry would be a waste of time.”
“I respect the journalists who are still hanging in there. But I want to escape [from the news industry]. I can anticipate the exacerbated situation ahead of us, but I can’t do anything about it even if I stay behind. I don’t want to write stories against my own will, and I don’t want to self-censor.”
Chung will be migrating overseas soon, but he said he will always be proud of his identity as an Apple Daily reporter. “The pride I take working as an Apple Daily reporter will forever be with me. But for now, I really don’t want to read or learn about Hong Kong’s news, as I don’t think the city has a future. I want to improve myself and start a new life in a place with more freedom.”
The crackdown on media has not only affected the more experienced reporters, but the new blood as well. Jason Wong (a pseudonym for our interviewee), a final-year student studying media and communication at the City University Hong Kong is among them.
Working as a part-time reporter at Cable News now, Wong had previously interned at South China Morning Post. Despite being a media and communication student, he never saw reporter as a possible occupation until he listened to a talk by Miuyan Lam, a former assignment editor at Cable News.
Wong recalled that, Lam shared about journalists’ crucial role in delivering information to the public. “I realised that presenting different parts of an incident to the audience will result in a different outcome,” Wong added that, “that’s when I started to appreciate journalists’ ability in interpreting and presenting information.”
Feeling inspired after the sharing, Wong applied for an internship slot and entered Cable News, where he claimed to have found “the true meaning of journalism”.
“If we don’t cover the news, the public won’t know what happened.” He said Cable was an environment with relatively high degree of freedom, as editors seldom change their story angles. He recalled that editors at SCMP would often “flatten” their news angles, as they uphold “professional journalism”, which Wong said was within his expectation, citing the factor of the “external environment”.
Following the collapse of police-raided Apple Daily and Stand News, Wong is not optimistic about the future of press freedom in Hong Kong, “The outlets are known for being the opposition voices. I think we’ve entered a new era where diversified voices are no longer accommodated… I think it’s quite difficult to practise journalism under such an environment.”
Feeling pessimistic about the industry’s future, Wong only planned to work as a full-time reporter for a couple of years upon graduation, so he can learn more advanced skills and gain more experiences.
“Being a reporter at this time is tough, you have a lot to worry about – not only do I have to think of how to present different views, but also to avoid putting myself and my team at risk. If there’s so much to worry about, why don’t I simply seek another job, as being a reporter itself is already tough.”
(Featured Image: Yeung Man Yik)