To celebrate The SOPA 2023 Awards Winners
in Hong Kong, Telum spoke with a selection of recipients at the event to find out what their award-winning piece meant to them. We also asked them to share their tips on how to create a captivating story.
Antonia Timmerman, Southeast Asia Editor, China Global South Project (CGSP)
Awarded: Award for Excellence, Excellence in Reporting on the Environment (Regional / Local)
and Award for Excellence, Excellence in Feature Writing (Regional / Local)
A good story places the reader exactly where they need to be in order to understand. Whether it’s in a mining site deep inside the forest, or in the sky where one can see miles of cracked soil, or even in the fleeting moment where a mother holds her child close to the chest, the storyteller must have the confidence to say ‘look at this scene, this is important.’
It should give the reader clarity to reality. In the age of social media where a story is broken up into endless streams of content, we pick up the pieces — statements, anecdotes, tweets, observations, research, and whatnot — put them together where they belong, and restore the full and true context. We dissect jargons, rhetorics, and claims, especially those coming from the powerful.
Great teamwork makes a good story. Remember that photographers, videographers, fixers, sources, editors, fact checkers, interns and writers have to come together to weave the piece. Even your readers can give feedback, further enriching the story.
Finally, a good story is a result of deep listening. Always listen to what is said and not said, the intended and unintended, and recognise people’s emotions and hidden desires.
Benita Zhang, Contributing Writer, jiemian News
Awarded: Award for Excellence, Excellence in Technology Reporting (Chinese)
During my seven-year career as a journalist, I have reported on many undisclosed behind-the-scenes stories within large tech companies, intricate details of major mergers and acquisitions, as well as profiles of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
For me, discovering little-known factual information, moments of conflict in human nature, and then weaving them together through storytelling techniques is always the most captivating aspect. If you ask me what makes a good story, my answer would be more reliable sources, higher-quality information, and accurate writing.
Take my report on TikTok as an example. Due to the company's exceptionally strict secrecy system, which is stricter than other internet companies in China, very little information has been leaked to the public. In order to write this piece, I spent six months dissecting the key individuals who influenced crucial decisions at different stages of the product's development. I conducted interviews with over 30 individuals directly connected to TikTok, and with some of them, I had up to ten separate one-on-one communications.
The story, titled "Inside TikTok: Zhang Yiming's Journey through the Waves," spans 22,000 Chinese characters and reveals a significant amount of exclusive information that has never been disclosed before.
This is not the first time I have written non-fiction pieces about ByteDance. The impact and reputation of my previous articles have facilitated my access to interview TikTok. Including all the people I have spoken to within the entire ByteDance system, the number of interviewees is close to one hundred.
It is worth noting that none of the interviewees have faced any implications or negative consequences from speaking with me during the ongoing company investigation into the information breach. Journalistic professionalism effectively safeguards both the interviewee and the individual writer.
Ching-Fang Wu, Editor Writer of CommonWealth Magazine
Awarded: Honorable Mention, Excellence in Business Reporting (Chinese)
A story always stands out when the people involved deeply open up about their life and feelings to the journalist. Thus the first crucial step is finding the key stakeholders and making them the protagonists on the stage. It requires perseverance and time to make it happen in many cases.
Take my work for example. “On The Trail of Abandoned Dirt” illustrates the concerning problem of construction waste while the real estate market is booming in Taiwan. We tried our best to find the landlord who had been deceived into making his land a dumping ground for wasted bricks and concrete. We also found one of the owners of those disposal companies which committed the crime and let them speak up about the difficulties they were facing. Those individuals were relatively hard to be interviewed due to legal risk.
Including people in a story sounds simple but in fact it’s often difficult. It would be more convenient for journalists to just draw the structure of a big picture and make a conclusion based on it. But it wouldn’t be as persuasive. People consume news because they care about other people in the world. To me, a good story should be able to recreate the scene and humanity vividly regardless of the topic.
Erik Hoffner, Editor and Content Strategist, Mongabay
Awarded: Award for Excellence, Excellence in Bahasa Indonesia News Reporting (Bahasa Indonesia)
Over the years, our field reporting had shown us that across Indonesia, palm oil companies were failing to give communities legally required portions of their plantations ("plasma"), often depriving them of both their land and a share of the profits from the palm oil industry. The question was: just how big was the problem?
Our investigation aimed to show the true scale of companies' failure to provide plasma, and expose the impact it was having on people who claimed that they had lost their land. To do so, we combined data-driven reporting with in-depth reporting on 27 companies across eight Indonesian provinces. A project of this size couldn't have happened without a long-term collaboration between the BBC, Mongabay and The Gecko Project - who all brought different skills to the table, from satellite imagery analysis to video reporting. We interviewed more than 250 villagers, government officials, academics, activists and company employees, across eight provinces.
Raymond Cheng, Senior Reporter (Local News), Ming Pao Newspapers Limited
Awarded: Award for Excellence, The Scoop Award (Chinese)
My award-winning reporting article related to school library book censorship started from a casual conversation with my friend, who had been teaching in a secondary school for over 10 years. She observed that a hundred books had been removed from the shelves, which was unusual. This caught my attention since freedom of thought is one of the essential core values for contemporary society, and freedom of speech and publication are guaranteed in Hong Kong's Basic Law.
Therefore, I started talking with teachers in other schools and realized that library book censorship was not a single case. Credibility is essential for news reporting, so I gathered three first-hand lists of book destruction from schools and interviewed school librarians, among others. After a month of effort, the report article was published and successfully raised awareness in society about the issue.
To answer the question "what makes a good story," I believe it is important to be sensitive to things that cannot be seen by the eyes, like a quote from The Little Prince: "What is essential is invisible to the eyes.”