In this article, Asia Options interviews the interviewers. We bring you the insights of the bright new generation of Australians who have taken risks and made the leap to become a journalist in Indonesia. Our inspiring interview subjects include Meghan Downes (ANU) who interned as a Jakarta Post journalist (JPJ) and Erin Mcmahon (La Trobe University) who interned as a Jakarta Globe journalist (JGJ).
1. What made you decide to apply for the JP?
MD: I thought it would be a great opportunity to get an inside perspective on Jakarta’s media industry, work with interesting people, and develop skills in journalism. I’m currently doing my PhD research in the field of Indonesian media and popular culture, so I felt the internship would provide invaluable background experience for my broader research project.
EM: The main reason I went for the JG job was that I wanted to stay on in Indonesia for a significant amount of time. I have a background in print journalism and JG was just starting up around that time, so it just lined up nicely.
2. How did you apply? What kinds of tips do you have for applying?
MD: To apply, I emailed the editors directly, introducing myself and explaining that I was interested in undertaking a 3-month internship. I included my CV and a cover letter. They responded straight away, and took me on, which was great!
While I was there, I also met some other interns who had come to the JP through official programs like the ACICIS (Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies) internship program. So, there are many ways to apply. Going through a program is good if you are relatively new to Indonesia, as they can help you with accommodation and visas. However, because I was already living in Indonesia at the time, approaching the JP independently suited me best.
EM: Had some friends who were working at JG. They encouraged me to put in for a job. I’d just done a year volunteering with AYAD so was already in the country. Background in Indonesian is handy but not requisite. Background in media/writing is seen favourably. Just get in contact with the chief of the copy desk and ask for a trial run. They’re usually always short staffed so will appreciate an extra pair of hands. If they like you, they’ll keep you on.
3. How important were your Bahasa Indonesia skills?
MD: For my role as a features reporter, my Indonesian skills were vital. I would be sent out to cover events, exhibitions and launches, as well as interviewing artists, designers and filmmakers. All of this was carried out in Bahasa Indonesia, and then I would write the articles in English.
There are, however, a wide range of roles at the JP that do not require fluent Indonesian, such as copy editing and the coverage of international news and English language events.
EM: Unfortunately, Bahasa Indonesia skills aren’t at all important. The vast majority of subeditors who passed through there were Indonesia illiterate. Some could direct a cab by the time they left but it never was an issue that [foreigner] staff pick up the language, which I thought was a real shame.
4. What tips do you have for learning Bahasa Indonesia?
MD: My Indonesian language skills showed the most improvement when I was actually living in Indonesia. There is only so much we can learn in the classroom back home, so I encourage everyone to take up some of the many study programs and exchange opportunities on offer. The chance to interact daily with everyday Indonesians is an invaluable experience and really helps you to build confidence in communicating in your second language.
EM: Definitely take the time to learn the language. A formal course is great. Like a month intensive in Yogya or Bali, then regular lessons or a tutor every week. It’s an easy language to pick up, but difficult to master. Have to keep at it and keep challenging yourself. That and hang out with as many Indonesians as possible. That’s where you learn the real language – almost as if by osmosis!
5. What was the highlight of your JP experience? And what tips do you have for new JPJs?
MD: I had so many amazing experiences at the JP; it’s hard to pick just one highlight! Because I’ve been interested in Indonesian film and literature for many years now, I’d have to say it was the chance to attend a range of exciting film launches and literary awards, as well as interviewing some of my favourite authors and filmmakers.
My advice for anyone starting at the JP – just relax enjoy the experience! Working overseas can be challenging, and there will always be different ways of doing things, but that is part of the fun. Oh and get ready to catch plenty of ojeks (motorcycle taxis) to avoid the Jakarta traffic jams!
EM: Highlight of my JG experience would probably have to have been having something interesting and something new happens every day. If you’re interested in what’s going on in Indonesia at the moment (current events, politics, society, dll.) it’s really great. That and because we worked night shift we missed out on much of the Jakarta macet Tips for new guys at JG? Don’t take crap from management and administration. Unfortunately, like in media outlets around the world, the business side of the industry thinks it can push around journalists and editorial. Don’t bow to pressure to compromise on quality. In the end, it’s your integrity that is on the line…
Meghan Downes is a Prime Ministers Australia Endeavour Award Recipient studying at the ANU.
Erin Mcmahon is an experienced reporter, Indonesian teacher and the founder of the Australia Indonesia Youth Association’s Young Entrepreneurs Program. Mcmahon has already established a name for himself within the media circles of Jakarta.
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