20 May 2019
Things are very different now and they're changing every day but the fun of journalism is still there. Photo: HKEJ
Things are very different now and they're changing every day but the fun of journalism is still there. Photo: HKEJ

Those were the days, my friend

Journalism was not my first career choice. My dream was to be a copywriter.

But I’m happy to settle for second best and probably will as long as I’m here.

Exactly 20 years ago, I started working in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, parent of EJ Insight.

Four years earlier, in 1990, I had taken a summer job as a receptionist before I went abroad. I came back and I stayed a little more than a year and returned a year later for another six months.

I became a blogger 17 years later, writing in a different language.

The EJ family has been my shelter whenever I need one and it feels like everything in my life happened only yesterday.

On my first day at EJ, there were three other newcomers, one of whom would go on to launch a successful dining website.

Like the rest of my contemporaries, I bounced from one media outlet to another but the first job was always the most memorable.

I knew I was in the right profession after a colleague talked about a story I had written but no one had read because EJ, like the Economist, did not usually give bylines.

That was my first sweet moment in journalism. I still get a kick out of it whenever I think back to that day all those years ago.

Call it a religion. I got baptized in the fire of journalism, along with some hardworking colleagues, when we worked around the clock, sometimes seven days a week (before EJ decided to cut its Sunday edition in 1995).

Journalism, by nature, is an always-on kind of job. With hindsight, I consider myself lucky that EJ offered a carefree, high-satisfaction environment in which journalists earned their spurs and worked hard to gain the respect of readers.

That was also why so many people were willing to write till their arms fell out.

One colleague kept hammering away despite a nosebleed, resting only for a few minutes. When he had finally finished, there was blood on the paper but that did not stop him from handing his work to the editor.

This little snippet reminds me how hardworking we all had been, filing 3,000 words a day or eight articles a day on out-of-town assignments.

I was lucky to witness the golden age in the mid-1990s when publishing a newspaper was like printing money.

That was when the South China Morning Post, where I worked for a decade, was the most profitable newspaper in the world, with a profit margin north of 50 per cent, unheard of at the time in the industry.

But things started to fray when the internet era began.

Now it’s hard to imagine how we can survive without a smartphone or computer, but in the old days, fax, not e-mail, was the most important tool for sending and receiving information.

Press releases, for example, were hand-delivered around midnight as were announcements from listed companies. That meant we had to be up until the early hours of the next morning to get hold of a copy and turn it into news.

Those were the days, my friend, and as the song goes, we thought they would never end.

Thanks to EJ, I got a second chance in the new age of journalism. Things are very different now and they’re changing every day. But the fun is still there.

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EJ Insight writer

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