Beyond The Bylines with Ken Low

Beyond The Bylines with Ken Low

Journalists, recognised as the storytellers of society, are more than the mastheads they represent. They are humans, navigating a complex labyrinth of emotions and challenges. In this series of Beyond The Bylines, we share stories beyond the surface of journalistic work and delve into the human aspect of the profession.

With over 17 years of experience in radio, print, and digital, Ken Low shares transformative moments that shape his heart for journalism in our inaugural Beyond The Bylines series.

Looking back on my early years at a radio station, a core memory that stood out was a phone call that happened live on air from a distressed listener.

At that point in time, if someone had asked me, “What’s the point of living?”, I wouldn’t have known how to respond. I played some songs to buy time on air and had a heart-to-heart talk with him. Two weeks later, he texted to share that he was doing well and was grateful that I took the time to talk to him. Otherwise, he might have left.

In that moment, it struck me that, as a radio host, we are seen as a companion. It felt surreal, but I realised how significant my voice and presence could be. Even if you have only 200 listeners tuning in, it is important to remember that they are listening to you attentively. You are their friend, their habits, their norms.

The power of media

After my stint with radio, I joined Lianhe Zaobao and worked on "完成一个梦", which means to fulfil a dream. Initially, we planned a family trip for a bedridden patient who was near the end of life. However, his condition worsened and we arranged for a family photo shoot instead. Two days later, he passed on.

This was one of those moments where I felt the power of media. The things that we can do does not need to be a huge change or impact on the world, making small impacts on people’s lives is just as meaningful.

And when you publish the story, it has the potential to influence and inspire your readers to do good and pay it forward. Now, I constantly ask myself, “How can I add value?” to everything I do.

More than just numbers

It’s not about viewership - when stories go viral, will it impact my readers’ lives? Maybe a little. However, as a journalist, does the sense of satisfaction come from there? No. 

While numbers serve as an encouragement, the sense of achievement derived from it pales in comparison to the satisfaction from stories I’ve poured effort into, more so when the story resonates with genuine readers who are eager to learn. 

This also takes interaction and reaction into consideration. When you put in effort for a story and people take their time to leave a positive comment, it makes you feel empowered, “Oh wow, I changed something. I made some impact.” As journalists, we appreciate such comments as it makes us feel that what we do truly matters.

On the flip side, there are keyboard warriors.

In my first month as a radio host, I received numerous negative messages almost every day, with texts like “I can speak better than you” coming from the same senders. It was very hurtful and people weren’t aware of it because, as listeners, you won't be able to see the messages we receive.

To cope, I would head to the SPH rooftop with my go-to drinks - one, was Kickapoo because it has a special name, known as the joy juice. I’d tell myself, “Once I finish this can, I have to be okay because it is a joy juice.” 

My second go-to drink is soybean milk. I’d drink it, chill for an hour, and reassure myself, “I'm fine; let’s continue working.”

It’s not that people can’t be sad. You can feel sad, that’s normal, but it needs to have an expiry date. You cannot delve too deep into it else you won’t be able to move on in life. 

Another thing that I did was to compile and print the negative messages. I told myself, “I want to convert these people to my fans.” Which I did. Some would tell me, “Ken, I didn’t like you at the start. But now, I like to tune in to your programme.” I’m thankful that I remained optimistic.

Embracing the learning journey

Everyone goes through a phase where we explore and learn things the hard way. 

Sometimes we walk down the wrong path multiple times. However, it helps you become stronger and decide more firmly on what you want to do and need to do. So, don’t be afraid of making mistakes and don't stop trying because you made a mistake. 

Moreover, don’t shy away from asking questions. In the past, I would be afraid to ask questions, fearing judgment or that people might find me annoying. 

When I’m faced with the question, “Do you know XYZ?” My usual response, up until now, would be “yes”, even when I don’t know what it is. In retrospect, if I had asked why and what it is, I would have learnt something new. Asking questions benefits you more than it harms you, and when you fall, you’ll know it doesn’t work and you’ll be better at what you’re doing.

Question, but listen too

Another tip is to listen. Do you realise that when you’re sad, it’s not about what people say that makes you feel better? It’s that there's a pair of ears willing to listen to you attentively.

This principle extends to interviews as well. Shed yourself, don't judge and don't be ignorant, because you never know what the other person is going through. Just listen and go with the flow.

This is also why I don’t follow interview questions strictly. As journalists, we can provide a guide and will try our best to ensure that the interviewee is in good hands. However, if we follow a strict sequence of questions, it means that I will proceed to the next question regardless of the response and I won’t be listening attentively - where’s the fun in that? 

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As a journalist, you need to be a good communicator and approach questions tactfully.

Whether it's written or verbal, it is important to be able to convey what the interviewee is talking about, break down complex topics, and help your readers understand them in a short period. 

Extending this into PR, it would be helpful to pitch a summary of the main points instead of sending a 10-page press release. This approach makes it easier for journalists to find relevant information for our readers. And never assume your pitch isn't relevant, as I might need it, and it may end up being a missed opportunity.

Most importantly, don’t confine conversations to just a pitch. Over time, conversations do not need to be about work. We can find similarities or common topics and build a lasting relationship. It’s natural to have a bond between people, more so with the dynamic between PRs and the media.

Finding purpose

Having been in the media industry for 17 years, a principle that I follow is - never stop challenging yourself and don’t turn down challenges. You never know where they might lead you.

When I first worked on a current affairs story, it was a test to see if I could rise to the challenge. If I had rejected it, I would have let slip many opportunities for me to grow. If you face a challenge head-on and overcome it, you get the feeling of “I did it!”. It gives you the motivation to overcome the next hurdle.

In the bigger picture, what journalists do revolves around whether it can have an impact on our readers. If I have to work on a project, I would pick one that I can challenge myself with and still make a difference in people’s lives.

And to my younger self, I would tell him, “Don’t be scared, you’ll be fine.” 

A fortune-teller once told me that I am a wet soil. This means that whatever shape I’m put in, I can mould myself and fit in. Now, whenever I’m faced with a challenge, I’ll remind myself, “I’m a wet soil. I can do it.”

And now, here’s a question for you - Why are you doing what you're doing?

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All images by Ken Low. Telum Media gives journalists a platform to share their experiences in the newsroom and out in the field. If you have any stories to share that may inspire or help fellow journalists, slide into our inbox at

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Ken Low

Creative Lead / Video Producer

Lianhe Zaobao

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