Bloomberg Television, based in Singapore, has just three persons on the staff but others in London or New York operate four robot camcorders in the studio, allowing Haslinda Amin access to events in the world as she anchors the news. The studio may be small, but Haslinda’s skilful presentation makes it a hot seat for news from South-East Asia. A team from Journalism for Development met with her to find out what makes her tick.
She told us that journalism is the most exciting job because “being the first to tell the story always makes you part of history”. Her entry into history was, however, accidental, rather than deliberate. After graduation, she was in no hurry to get a job, and wanted to look around at leisure. One of her friends submitted Haslinda’s resume to the radio station where it landed her a job four weeks later.
“In the beginning I was miserable,” she recalls with a twinkle now, years later. “Journalism is all about deadline and I couldn’t cope with the pressure.” She told her father she wanted to quit. His advice was to do nothing in haste. “You have to give it at least a year before you know for sure if is the right thing for you,” he said. She is now glad she did, for “there is nothing else I would rather do”. The pressure has not eased, but she takes it in her stride, for she has been hooked by journalism, “one of the most exciting jobs in the world”, according the opportunity and the privilege to mingle with the high and the low, as long as they make news.
Her joining Bloomberg was similarly unexpected and just happened. As she recalls, “Eight or nine years ago, when I was working as a political reporter for the radio and occasionally reading the news, I received an offer to join Bloomberg and immediately said; ‘NO’.” She was a successful political reporter then, and the financial world was unfamiliar territory. But the offer was repeated and something in her said there could be no harm in going for an exploratory chat.
So she went and told them she had always been terrified of numbers, and did not see herself as churning them out and analyzing them. The Bloomberg team said, “We will train you, if you give us a chance.” Something clicked at the moment, Haslinda remembers. She thought she should accept the challenge of learning something new, and not reject something without giving it a try. “So I said, ‘OK, one year.’” Things did not seem very promising at the end of the year, but she stuck to it. “Now, after almost a decade I am glad I took the challenge,” she says.
She remembers how difficult it was initially to change from politics to finance. “In the first few months I felt exhausted every single day after spending long hours reading up on financial terms and backgrounds to developments.” Now she thinks it has paid off. “Now I’m confident to cover anything that happens in the financial world.”
She was not embarrassed to admit to not knowing and was not afraid to ask. She sought help from people in the industry and found “they are the best people who can put you in the know of things”. Success in economic journalism depends on the effective contacts one makes. “Of course we must also do our homework,” she added. “Some feel shy about asking as they fear they might be considered stupid, but it is worse to be exposed as really stupid after missing something important because you had not asked. We work on behalf of the viewers, we ask questions for them.”
Haslinda has interviewed Singapore’s Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, numerous corporate honchos and bank presidents. She sometimes discusses with colleagues in Bloomberg what questions would be the best to ask, but says “others’ suggestions will never be better than your own” homework. “The way I prepare for an assignment is by reading. I need to know what they said before. I also never forget that whoever may be the subject of my interview, they deserve my respect simply because they are giving me their time. You must make them feel it was worth giving 20 minutes of their time to you”
We ask her for a tip on how to get the best out of people, and are told, “You need to know about them. People feel comfortable when they realize you have a grasp of the background. Once that familiarity is established, viewers also feel relaxed.” Working for Bloomberg, of course, “helps open the door but once you are in, it all depends on you, how you have prepared, how informed and incisive you can be.”
Haslinda usually works ten hours a day. She keeps fit by going to the gym, playing games, swimming, and cycling. Even when not actually working, she is in touch with what is happening all over the world. “Actually, the last thing I do before I go to bed and also the first thing I do on getting up is to check my blackberry for the latest news,” she says, and adds with a smile, “A journalist’s worth is judged by how much they are informed. There is no choice. If you love your job that’s not a heavy price to pay.”
We ask her why Bloomberg correspondents give the news in a conversational way unlike in the more formal manner followed by other channels, which use visuals. Her reply was that Bloomberg targets people who are too busy to care for frills. They need the information and nothing but the information that will help them decide on their investment.
We ask if it is difficult to achieve that naturalness in front of the camera. She surprises us by saying that after all these years, she still feels a little bit nervous every time she goes on air. “Maybe you don’t believe me, but I think this touch of nervousness is actually good. You will yourself to calm down, and turn alive and alert as the adrenalin starts flowing. It’s a nice feeling to start tracking all the numbers and the trading, all the breaking news and headlines. Even after so many years the excitement and the satisfaction has not paled from what I felt in the first days.”