Categorised | Columns

Keeping the public’s interest

“SEX, Jacky. It’s what people want to read! It’s what will sell the paper!” This is how my former editor at the first newspaper I worked in justified the images of sexy women and titillating stories in the paper. Often, it felt as if he could have gleefully continued with “Sex, and more sex!” as the newspaper’s circulation climbed.

Keeping the public's interestPerhaps the “give readers what they want to read” formula works to some extent, because the newspaper I used to write for remains the country’s #1 English daily. And while I know there are objections within that newsroom about sexist coverage, the truth is, because newspapers are also business entities, increasing readership in order to draw in advertising revenue can be really important.

Which is why it was very refreshing and encouraging to hear Charles Glasser at an 8 July 2008 luncheon talk in Kuala Lumpur at a Bar Council- and Centre for Independent Journalism-organised training programme for media defence lawyers. A former journalist turned lawyer and trainer, Glasser is the high-profile media counsel for Bloomberg News. Glasser’s brief bio states that “much of his work involves training members of the media on how to exercise their freedom to speak responsibly.”

In his talk titled Working as Media Counsel in the 21st Century: A New Paradigm, Glasser said, “What is of interest to the public need not necessarily be in the public’s interest.” If ever an apt and succinct response was needed to the argument that the media need sex, women and salacious scandals to sell, this was it, I thought.

One of the core values and practices newsrooms should have, Glasser argued, is that the media needs to serve the public interest. “The public interest is not what the public merely finds interesting; the public interest is served when those with something at stake have the opportunity to learn facts that affect their health, safety, financial or physical security.”

And so, while a newspaper that focuses on what kind of model Altantuya Shaariibuu was, for example, may have pulled more readers, it really misses the point of serving the public interest if it doesn’t ask a far more important question: Who had the authority to direct special action unit personnel to blast her up with restricted explosives?

Public interest is also not served when the media only react to what’s new or current all the time. Yes, it’s true that the “news” is about what’s new, but when the media hop from one new issue to the next, what tends to happen is that older, unresolved issues tend to be forgotten.

A good example is the coverage on the Auditor General’s annual report. Every year, the media have a field day with the Auditor General’s disclosures of corruption and inefficiencies involving public funds. Every year, the issues are forgotten by the media within a couple of weeks, until the following year’s report. Older stories tend to end up smaller in paragraph length, and further back in the inside pages, until the issue vanishes from the media, and the public’s, consciousness.

Keeping the public's interestAt The Nut Graph, we hope we will be able to serve public interest ethically, responsibly and with courage. The nut graph is the paragraph that explains the point of a story. In a nutshell, it tells readers why something is significant enough that it needed to be written and published and read.

What is of significance to the public’s interest is not always what is new or what is salacious. While it may be riveting coffeeshop talk to keep abreast of the latest sodomy accusations against Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, does it really serve the public interest if the media allocates so much resources to the latest twists and trysts at the expense of other larger issues that need serious national attention? As unsexy or “old” as the issue of urban poverty may be at a time when sex scandals are the talk of town, do we serve the public interest when we report on the scandals and forget about the stories of social inequality that really need to be told?

This is why, at The Nut Graph, we plan to not just do spot reporting of the latest breaking news; we plan to also connect the dots for readers so that we can all make sense of what’s going on in and outside the country, and so that we can respond intelligently and responsibly as informed and knowledgeable citizens. And we plan to carry out journalism that is as ethical, fair and responsible as possible. Where we fail, we hope we will be held accountable.

Will we draw eyeballs to our site so that we can make The Nut Graph financially viable through income from advertisements? That’s left to be seen because it’s as much a decision by readers and advertisers as it is ours in managing the business aspect of our humble outfit.

What matters, though, is whether we, as journalists, can serve the public interest as the latest media in town. Our readers will be our judge, but as Stephen Covey states in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s best to start with the end in mind. End of Article

Jacqueline Ann Surin is editor at The Nut Graph. She is an award-winning journalist who is also the author of the book Shape of a Pocket.

Post to Twitter Post to Google Buzz Post to Delicious Post to Digg Post to Facebook Post to StumbleUpon

15 Responses to “Keeping the public’s interest”

  1. SK says:


    You are one of my favourite authors. Congratulations on the newly launched Nut Graph!!
    Yes, we will support ethical, fair and responsible!!

    Rgds, SK

  2. Ben Israel says:

    Hi guys,

    Congrats on the launch of this new site. I truly believe that the truth sells. But between advertisers, owners and shareholders (official and unofficial), most mainstream media channels can’t afford to publish the truth.

    That’s why the online alternatives have been doing so well – lately. See for yourselves:

    Anyway, good luck and looking forward to truthful reporting. Cheers!

  3. Vivien says:

    I look forward to reading more articles/issues that are of significance, unbiased and of value.

  4. Tan Gim Eam says:

    Congratulations on your launch. Thanks for another source of news – another opinion and less of spin doctoring. I’ve stopped buying newspapers (it’s very hard habit to give up, especially for someone who’s been in publishing for over 20 years) and now rely pretty much for information online as I am still a news junkie, it’s refreshing to get another content source.

    Looking forward to fair reporting and my very warm wishes to your venture,


    GE Tan

  5. Debbie Stothard says:


  6. Dina Zaman says:

    Congratulations! The news on The Nut Graph will be part of my news mailing list to friends who are busy or abroad.

  7. nakedwriter says:

    Yes, I’ve noted how the mainstream media enjoys hyping up certain issues and then leaves them to wither and wear from its consciousness.
    For example:
    The issue about JPA scholarships being allocated along a 60:40 ration was first suggested, debated, contemplated, but we never knew whether it was imposed or not.

  8. KADIR JASIN says:

    Tahniah ke atas kelancaran anda.

  9. Mustafa says:

    Congratulations on the launch.

  10. ylchong says:

    Congrats Jac and A*Team! Hope you help Malaysia sail away from dismal (news) times, and I like your assurance: “And we plan to carry out journalism that is as ethical, fair and responsible as possible. Where we fail, we hope we will be held accountable.”

    Full steam ahead! — YL

  11. Krobo Wokoma says:

    As one of the students Sharaad brought to interview you and your colleagues before the site launched, I think I speak for us all in congratulating you all on a successful start. It is always encouraging to have more issues tackled than just reading hype. This is what journalism should look like.

  12. lilian Tan says:

    Advertisers spend millions creating in consumers the desire for goods and services that consumers do not even have to begin with! Similarly, most of us will look back one day and wonder how it was possible that we could have swallowed our daily news feed with such indiscriminate gusto. Congratulations, and thank you.

  13. rose ismail says:

    Was looking forward to this, Jac. Glad we still have journalists like you around.

  14. justitia.lex says:

    Well done, Jac! I’ve always read your writings in The Sun, and now I’ve bookmarked The Nut Graph. Lead the way, you wonderful women!

  15. James Selva says:

    I am in total agreement to your views on positioning The Nut Graph’s editorial direction. May I suggest that you allocate online space for Malaysians to highlight their problems with the local councils so that both the BN and PK representatives are able to help solve the issues. This is what one of the new Bahasa daily has done and I believe it has helped build up its readership and advertising revenue over a 20 month period in Kelantan, Terennganu, Pahang and Selangor. Maybe this will drive eyeballs and adex to The Nut Graph. God Bless you.

Most Read (Past 3 Months)

Most Comments (Past 3 Months)

  • None found




  • The Nut Graph


Switch to our mobile site