This is an old photo of me interviewing Christina Aguilera in Taiwan, circa early 2000s, during her ‘Genie In A Bottle’ heyday.
It is not my most defining moment as a journalist but it will do. (Read: Too lazy to dig up more pics.)
Back in the day, there was no such thing as social media influencers. There were journalists like me, and there were regular people like you. Our job was to interview people (celebrities or regular), write articles, publish them. That was our job. We did not think that we were super awesome and called ourselves influencers.
My stories regularly reached out to tens, or even hundreds of thousands of people every month because Lime (the magazine where I worked as a writer, then editor) was published in Singapore and Malaysia, and also sold in bookstores internationally.
My career in journalism has spanned 25 years. My first professionally written article was published when I was 15 though I have had essays published in local newspapers since I was 9. Today, I write on property, food, women’s issues, parenting, beauty, health, education… for the biggest-circulating magazines in town. I guess if I were vain enough, I will be touting myself as an influencer too. But man… I REALLY hate that word.
Here is a good article by Popspoken on why we should stop letting so-called “influencers” take us for fools. I agree with every word.
It pains me that these days, some people with a blog call themselves journalists. But at least they attempt to do some writing. More annoyingly, many with a social media account claim to be influencers. Companies like Faves Asia are getting rich off the back of such vain behavior. Many (not all) influencers are too lazy to actually produce content. Yet, they proudly claim that they are content creators, when they just pop in a highly-filtered pic and a list of hashtags designed to get maximum eyeballs for minimum effort. Sometimes, they don’t even bother with a caption. Let’s not even start debating whether the QUALITY of the content makes them worth reading (and thus influential) or not.
These influencers shamelessly seek or even DEMAND freebies. Oh, the stories I have heard. Businesses too worried about getting bad reviews online often cave in. Said “influencer” then writes a grammatically-dubious but glowing ‘review’ and everybody is happy. Or are they?
No. Readers suffer. Proper journalists trying to do their jobs suffer. Students who aspire to be a journalist some day, then get lured by the easy fame of social media influencer-dom (or worse, disillusioned by it), definitely suffer.
Take, for example, the food reviews that I wrote for 8days. I’m a journalist who put in the hard work in journalism school and over 20 years in the field chasing stories. I should not have to explain to some restaurants/PR people why, unlike some desperate-for-fame bloggers/influencers, I will not give you a 5-star review automatically just because you gave me a free meal. Should I then remind you that I did not charge you any money for writing the review and the magazine did not charge you for the page or double page spread, which they could have sold to an advertiser?
(Adding some random food face smileys to lighten the mood.)
I will write you a fair review. If I really like your food, I will return as a paying customer. I will even help you promote it on my personal social media platforms because good things must share.
And yet, I still meet business owners who have been fooled/spoiled by influencers who whore out their so-called fame for a free plate of nask lemak/steak/chendol.
I once gave a food joint a respectable 3/5 stars because the food and service had some hits and misses. The owner actually told me he did not give me permission to write anything negative. Whaaaat?!!
So vexing, it has driven this food critic to making food faces just to cope with it ahahaha. One last one.
To my journalism students: Some of you are now slogging it out in the field, like me. Some of you are hoping to get there. We are all doing this despite knowing that journalism is super hard work and the salary is so not worth it. And yet, we persevere (because we are suckers for punishment??) for the love of writing. Some of you are even dedicated enough to want to report from battlefields. That’s how stupid-crazy journalists can be.
Will your social media influencer take that path and stick it out in a battlefield for weeks? I bet your last Instagrammable hipster cafe, that the influencer will just take a selfie and post it ASAP, and leave the real reporting (and hence the actual influencing on the world) to some other schmuck.
Journalists, always remember that our job title means something. So much of the world is getting increasingly myopic now. Thanks to social media, people only read the news they want on their newsfeed shaped by the people they follow. OR they get dictated to, because they are reading sponsored posts. The going is tough but the world still needs proper journalists who are not afraid to tell the truth.
To my students: If you’re a good writer and people are compelled to follow you on social media and be influenced by you, then good for you! I’m proud of you.
But if you should ever hail yourself a social media influencer and your posts consist only of sexy pics, gazillion hashtags and you’re too lazy to even write a witty caption, then please — don’t tell anyone you were my student.