Adding a role at The Palm Scribe

Recently I added another role to my LinkedIn account and have since been getting lots of well wishes but also a number of concerned questions on whether I had stopped working at Maverick to become advisor at The Palm Scribe.

So here’s a note of explanation to the concerned and the curious.

Palm Scribe Logo

The first thing to point out is that the new title does not change anything at Maverick.

I continue to work there but because I’ve been fortunate to have found a very capable team who are able to take over much of what I do, I have decided to take Fridays off to reflect and have some me time; as well as to take on more of a mentor and advisory rather than operational role.

At the end of the day, however, this is a people and relationship business and if the clients need me I’m always there for them.

In the meantime, however, I’ve taken on the role as advisor in a platform run under the auspices of Maverick, The Palm Scribe.

What is The Palm Scribe?

In short The Palm Scribe is a platform that supports the development of the Indonesian palm oil industry through constructive journalism.

Like all elevator pitches, that description is meant to pique rather than provide a comprehensive explanation.

So if you’re piqued here’s the reasoning behind The Palm Scribe.

To start with, consider the palm oil industry.

It is complex and controversial because it is the frontline of many opposing issues: Sustainability vs environmental destruction, conversation vs deforestation, development vs conservation, East versus West, developed vs developing countries, palm oil vs soy, people vs big business, NGOs vs planters…

Strong opinions are expressed on all sides but the playing field is a bit uneven as its tilted in favor of the Western/Green advocates. There are several reasons why this is so.

  1. The Western players are more sophisticated in lobbying and communication techniques. They take their communications seriously and are more able to put their side of the story across. Their Asian/African counterparts do not take communications seriously and are usually outflanked.
  2. NGOs are social media savvy. They are hungrier because they have to earn their funding and as a result they are more innovative and creative in using paid, earned, shared and owned media to make themselves known. Many of them also realize that to persuade is to appeal to the emotions first and foremost an they succeed admirably.
  3. The mainstream media is devastated by falling readership and revenue. As a result they have few journalists and resources left to raise the right questions and issues and to ask the right questions of and hold accountable the policymakers, players and NGOs. Reactive journalism, click baiting stories and cut and paste reporting happens more often than we would want them to be.
  4. Most journalists think that palm oil players are slimeballs because they often do not act like they are open, accessible or accountable. Combined with #3, they are disposed to carry any attacks on the palm oil players prominently and tag on their responses (if they get around to issuing one at all in a timely manner) later in the story. By then the damage is done.
  5. The palm oil players themselves are bad communicators. Many of them are owned and run by business people more accustomed to deal making in backrooms than realizing that public opinion can affect their businesses. Others are run by families where bloodlines rather than competencies determine who is the decision maker. The result is that there are almost no oil palm player that can communicate in a persuasive, authentic and credible manner.
  6. Ineffective committees and trade associations. Apart from Malaysia that has quite an active lobbying and communications effort, their Indonesian counterparts are more mired in bureaucracy and pleasing all stakeholders rather than projecting a favorable image for the industry.
  7. Most importantly, however, because of all the elements mentioned above the public discourse on palm oil has gone askew. There is a world shortage of food and in edible oil that will be more acute with time. Of all the oil crops, palm oil is the most efficient oil to help address this shortage. As such you would think that the discourse on palm oil should be on how to make the industry strong, viable and sustainable. Unfortunately, however, most of the conversation and discourse on palm oil is about violations to conservation and sustainability standards (some arbitrarily advanced by this body or that) and the wrongdoings of the players. Something needs to be done about this if palm oil is indeed the crop for the future.

Having helped some palm oil companies manage attacks agains them as well as helping to tell their side of the story when it coms to sustainability issues, one of the things I realized is that many of the palm players are so traumatized by what they perceive is an antagonistic media/NGO environment that they do not know what to do. So many of them opt to keep their heads below the parapet instead. This does not serve them well because every negative story or article gets accumulated in Google and when investors and others want to find out about you, guess where they go to first?

Out of all this the idea of The Palm Scribe was born. Instead of fault-finding journalism we would adopt the principles of Constructive Journalism (a concept I personally poo pooed until I started to research more about it).

We would cover the palm oil industry, raise the issues that ned to be raised, ask the right questions. We would focus on the solutions the companies adopt or put in place in response to allegations of wrong doing. And we would also provide them a “non-editorial” space on our website to showcase their CSR, sustainability and community engagement efforts as well as space of their announcements and press releases.

In going into this we were aware that the success of such a platform rests on its credibility, judged by the quality of it content. As such, we scouted around and was fortunate to be able to enlist the talents of Bhimanto Suwasteyo, a veteran Indonesian journalist who has worked for AFP for years and one of the founding editors of The Jakarta Globe to generate our content. He works with Wicaksono, better known as Ndoro Kakung, who is a very respected name in social media circles, as well as a team that supports the content generation in the platform.

On the question of credibility, some might question whether a platform run by a PR consultancy can be trusted not to spin things. To them I can only say that if they understand what PR truly does they would understand that it is about getting companies and clients to communicate authentically and credibly. You cannot do that if your words are not matched with your actions.

Will The Palm Scribe work? Who knows. We live in an age of disruption where old ways of doing things no longer work and nobody can say with great certainty what does and what does not. We at Maverick think that this is worth a try because if we succeed we could potentially change how companies in controversial industries can communicate.

If you are still interested in The Palm Scribe, write to me at ong[at]maverick.co.id or check out its website.

Alexis: right decision for the wrong reasons

Alexis almost certainly has prostitution as one of its services and Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan is right to close it down if morality is his kind of thing.

But shutting it down based on press reports rather than on hard evidence is worrying, as it sets a bad precedence of executive action based on suspicion.

What this means is that in future all the Jakarta government has to do is suspect that you are guilty of a violation to impose sanctions on you.

And the basis of their suspicion? Media reports.

While there are many responsible and professional journalists out there who would document and recheck their facts before going to print, there. are many more still who are slack, naive and easily manipulated or can be bought or intimidated.

This being the case, it is not difficult for anyone to engineer negative stories against any business or party. And given the depleted ranks of journalists because of falling ad revenues it is easy for even implausible stories to be copy pasted onto other publications, amplifying the negativity.

With Anies’ action to deny the renewal of Alexis based on mere press resports rather than, say, an investigation by City Hall officers or the Police, we have entered the dubious territory of Kangaroo Courts.

We’d better hop onto trying to right this wrong before we end up in Anies’s pocket.

Did Jokowi also call for Pribumi privileges?

This is what I wrote in the Maverick blog today

Did Jokowi say the P word as reported by CNN?

These are sensitive times. Since newly installed Jakarta Governor made his Protect Pribumis speech at his inauguration the P word has gained new political impetus.

One thing about the internet is that what is old can be made new again, with a new twist.

Responding to the widespread criticism against their leader, Anies Baswedan’s supporters trotted out CNN Indonesia’s report on 22 June saying that he was not the only Pribumi champion and the cue was actually set by Jokowi.

 

Going beyond the headline and reading the news, however, reveals that Jokowi did not say the P word.

What he actually said was read more here

More than just business

We read the news every day but how much do we know about the editors behind the news? What informs their thinking and decisions? At Maverick we decided to find out about this important group of people the good old-fashioned way, by actually talking to them.

Here, published in Maverick’s blog, we talk to Arif Budisusilo who helms Indonesia’s most important business publication, Bisnis Indonesia. We found that he has very original views about nationalism and national interest, among other things.

My thanks to Iwan Kurniawan for coming up with the idea of interviewing the literal newsmakers, and also Nurniyati who was in the media relations team but has left for greener pastures in Singapore, for coming up with the idea and making things happen.

Arif Budisusilo of Bisnis Indonesia: National Interest over Nationalism – Maverick Indonesia

Last year, when the Rupiah was falling alarmingly and Indonesia’s economy looked increasingly shaky, Bisnis Indonesia chief editor Arif Budisusilo was confronted by a young reporter who felt that the nation’s premier business newspaper was being too pro-Government. “’What’s with our coverage? Are we speaking on behalf of the Government? Have we been given projects by the Government? The young reporter demanded to know,” said Arif, who’s also known as AB, the first two syllables of his full name. The young reporter was indignant because he felt that Bisnis Indonesia had not been critical enough in its reporting of the government’s handling of the economy. Then, explained AB, Bisnis Indonesia had adopted the policy that it is to no one’s benefit if all it did was report on the anxiety, fear and pessimism felt by businesspeople. “If we did just that, then all we would do is to make businesses more anxious and worsen the situation.”

Read more

Finally put to rest – The Jakarta Globe (printed version)

In the end, it was a mercy killing.

The Jakarta Globe, that was born on November 12, 2008 amid doubts by some and optimism by others grew to be a healthy paper. But its health began to decline when its owners realised that a daily was too much a sinkhole for investment  that they could not or didn’t want to afford. The paper deteriorated after that till it was a joke of a publication in recent months. It’s sad declined in chronicled here. But yesterday they finally pulled the plug.

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Those who have had friends who were journalists there would have seen the Facebook feeds of one last gathering to celebrate the end – and a dubious “new beginning”  online (it’s been online all this time, but how it will be a formidable force with most of the best and professional journalists already out of the organization remains a mystery).

And thus a chapter closes on Indonesian journalism.

To those who had worked in newspapers, however, it must have been one hell of a ride. To be young, or at least young at heart, working in the frenetic pace of a newspaper has got to be one of the best experiences in one’s life. The excitement, the adrenalin rush of meeting deadlines, the euphoria of scooping everyone else, the anxiety as the politicians and the powerful on the receiving end vent their anger and threaten lawsuits. There is nothing like a daily newspaper to bring people together.

But now that is gone. The diaspora of the Globians has already begun two to three years ago, Indonesian journalism is the poorer for it but that is the way of the world. Life goes on.

 

 

 

RIP Jakarta Globe (Printed Version) 2008-2015

The Jakarta Globe has been interesting to watch since its birth in 2008, beginning with an idealism to start a quality newspaper against a trend of dropping readership in printed dailies.

Unspun was skeptical of the paper’s success from the start, a view that won him few friends in the startup paper then. But Unspun began to have a kinder view of the paper after it hired veteran journalist Bhimanto Suwastoyo from AFP to be the managing editor. Bhim, apart from being a friend, is known and respected in journalism for his knowledge and his management and training of young journalists.Together with veteran journalists David Plott and Lin Neuman, they had a team who were capable of putting out a good paper.

The Jakarta Globe’s inaugural issue. All water under the bridge now.

The Globe then had a good run, and at one point seemed a better paper than the established The Jakarta Post.

Then things began to slide.

The paper was using too much money and they began to lay off its editors. It hit a new low when it ran an editorial on Lady Gaga. It was around then that Unspun, who had switched subscribing from the Post to the Globe, switched back to the lesser calamity.

The rest is history. More journalists were laid off and The Jakarta Globe accelerated in its sad and slow decline. Today it is a parody of a newspaper especially with its ridiculous new format. It is pathetically thin and its layout is meant to mimic its website, with photographs and news in panels tiled on a page. In other pages its mostly ripped off wires with the token “own reporting” from the Berita Satu Group. Apparently the remaining journalists there tried to tell the owners that it looked horrible and wouldn’t work but the bosses were in no mood to listen.

Part of the reason for this format is because the Riadys who own it think, not necessarily erroneously, that the future is online. That may be true but online or off, what ultimately marks the organisation as a news institution would be the quality of its journalism. There is little evidence that the online version today matches the quality of its stories in the printed version’s glory days.

The Jakarta Globe’s printed version today looks so miserable that it might as well be dead. Anyone who cares about journalism would want to put it down for humanitarian and compassionate reasons. No paper that once gave the leading English daily in Indonesia a run for their money should be allowed to continue to exist in such a zombie-like state.

Unspun’s been a follower of the Globe’s birth, rise and fall all these years and there’s not much point writing more about it except perhaps to catalogue the previous posts in this blog that charts a rough history of the paper that has ceased to exist, in roughly chronological order:

Riyadi looking for journos for his new paper
One more English-language daily in Indonesia

Media on Globe

The Jakarta Globe spins slowly

Jakarta Globe by the 14th?

Jakarta Globe out today

AFP’s loss, Jakarta Globe’s gain

Two Riady papers in one week

Post or Globe? You decide

Percolating thoughts about Post, Globe and the Malaysian blogosphere

The Post prepares to strike back

Jakarta Globe 9; Jakarta Post 0

One step forward for Post, one step back for Globe?

An active and mixed year so far for Lippo group

9 Indonesian media houses laying off staff

The Globe blazes a path in intellectual parrying

The beginning of the end of the Globe?
Did The Jakarta Globe’s editorial go gaga over Lady Gaga?

The Jakarta Globe mounts a defensive commentary on its Lady Gaga editorial

The vibrancy of The Jakarta Globe’s editorial pages

JIS and all those unasked questions

Last Thursday Unspun attended the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club’s discussion on child abuse, where Jakarta International School headmaster Tim Carr volunteered to be a speaker.

The other speakers were Seto Mulyadi from the National Commission on Child Protection and Child Protction Commission Secretary-general Elfrida. Unspun was at the discussion until about the end when he had to leave for a prior commitment, but it was one of the strangest journalistic events he’s attended because of the questions asked and more importantly, not asked.

Some might argue that local journalists may, out of cultural or educational reasons, shy from asking pointed and direct questions, but these were primarily Westerners so it was indeed quite disturbing to note the caliber of the questioning.

One of the questions the journalists there asked were of Carr’s opinion of  the “anti-Western bias” in local reports about the JIS incident. This allowed Carr to lace into the irresponsibility of the journalists covering this incident.

But what anti-Western bias was there in the first place? Unspun’s been following the news in the English and Bahasa newspapers and news portals. There was some very bad and insensitive reporting – failure to double check facts with all sources, harassing children, revealing identities of victims and others prematurely, indiscriminate and tasteless reporting of information etc. – but there did not seem to be any anti-Western bias in the reports.

Carr also laced into the local media that failed to ask for their side of the story when reporting about the child molestation cases. This was after he admitted freely that JIS had been slow and unresponsive in its communications in the week after the news broke.

Unspun was waiting for a journalist to ask him, “but who could have reached you during the first week if they wanted to get your side of the story?” Alas, though, no one did.

Then there were the unasked questions – questions actually being asked by the mums of international school students – that Unspun would have thought would come from at least one of the journalists – but none asked.

One natural question would have been: “What is the standard operating procedure for teachers when kindergarten kids go to the toilet?” Do they have to be accompanied by a teacher? Do they have to go in pairs? Do they have, like in some international schools, only five minutes to get their business done or else the teacher will come looking for them?

Five minutes out of direct adult supervision is a long time for a kid but not long enough for perverts to have their way with them (This was something that Unspun did not understand until he became a father). This gives rise to another question: How long did the perpetrators take with their victims?

A few of the perpetrators doing all those things to the child victims would have taken at least 15 to 30 minutes. Wouldn’t this be too long for a kindergarten child to go unsupervised? What was the teacher’s responsibility?

Another question: What, for that matter, is the standard operating procedure for teachers during recess time? Do they give them free reign and go to the toilet by themselves unsupervised? If so what is the procedure or safety measures to ensure their well-being?

Then there are the geographic questions:

How far was the toilet from the kindergarten? In some schools it was intentionally located very close to the classes. Was the JIS toilet close to the kindergarten? Was it 20, 50, 100 meters away or further?

And the CCTV camera: Where was it aimed at?

Toward the end of the JFCC discussion Carr was asked about whether he knew of a second case. He said JIS had been given no information about it.

And that was it! No journalist followed up on his statement. If Unspun had still been a journalist (they get first rights to question the guests at the JFCC function) Unspun would have asked a series of questions, namely:

“The news of the second victim had broken the day before, so have you conducted your own investigation into these allegations, never mind what you have been told or not?”

As it was, Elfrida from KPAI, shortly after Carr said he had not been given any information about the second incident, revealed that there was a second victim and she apparently (Unspun had left by then but was told by a journalist friend) gave out the victim’s name as well.

What no one asked also was whether Carr knew about another case of child molestation that happened about 20 years ago by a janitor. A JIS alumni wrote about her experience on Facebook. She said that when she reported the matter to JIS they sacked the janitor and was very good to her. She subsequently took down the posting because of some adverse factions she got from some of her readers.

Unspun knows that alumni and believes she was telling the truth (and confirmed with her that her case had nothing to do with Vahey, the pedophile who took his life after the FBI homed in on him) . If this is accurate, then JIS should have on record this child molestation case and had chosen to keep quiet about it, which gives rise to the question of what other cases it has chosen to keep quiet about. What did it do about the report on that case? How did it strengthen its procedures and other safety measures because of it, or did it learn nothing from it and did nothing?

Whether there are other skeletons in the closet is anybody’s guess but the rumour mill, especially among the parents of international schools, is going on overdrive about the probability of other cases.

Is JIS a responsible school and as much a victim as anyone else to the evil that child predators do? Or is it an arrogant institution so full of itself that it cannot come to terms with its weaknesses – and therefore, like the protagonist in a Greek tragedy, forever condemned to perpetuate its mistakes – is anybody’s guess right now.

The pity is that the one institution (if you do not have much faith in the Police) that can help shed light on this matter and JIS’s role in it – the Press – is not asking the right questions. Unspun doesn’t know why.

Old timers  that he hangs out with say that the journalists these days just doesn’t have that pit-bull tenacity in chasing down a story any more. But that is what the older generation usually says of the younger ones.

But still, why aren’t these questions being asked by the journalists?

Read also this posting, one of very few that raises the right questions.