Here’s another task I was assigned to. I recently, on a college/school trips, met editor Teoh T Hoong of the Subang Jaya (SJ) Echo :
Walking into his small but messy office, you wouldn’t have guessed that it was a place where a newspaper was produced. After all, there was not a sight of a single journalist busily typing their stories at their desks like a normal newsroom. Yet it was, as we were led into the editor’s office.
Teoh, the man in question and Managing Editor of the SJ Echo sat in his office. Clad in his paper’s official shirt and pants, he beckons us to sit.
He admits that as Malaysia’s only community paper, there are a lot of challenges in running the paper. Among them time.
He says, “It’s just a paper. That emotionally drains you especially if you’re dealing with sick children. Time is of the essence”.
Teoh continues by saying that his paper reaches an estimated audience of 20,000 people in the township of Subang Jaya, an impressive figure for a free paper run by a one-man show.
The SJ Echo is published once a month and distributed within Subang Jaya and its surrounding areas.
Teoh, who prior to his SJ Echo gig, was an environmental journalist with The Star, Malaysia ‘s biggest selling English paper before switching to the WWF.
Even so, Teoh says about the switch from mainstream to working solo, “Working alone is nice. It’s more like a home away from home. Working alone means working with flexibility, to your limitations”.
The only thing he says he misses from his former mainstream days are the traveling, citing his trip in Bangladesh during the Reformasi days. He says that the conditions there were extremely poor and was so glad when he arrived home that he wanted to kiss the ground.
Teoh gives his two cents worth on the democratic situation in the country. He says, “The country must change. In free democratic countries, there are no demonstrations, we have plenty of food, no burning cars.
He his however politically moderate in his views, preferring to be neutral. This is also the stance that his paper takes.
Ironic, considering that Subang Jaya State Assemblyman Hannah Yeoh is just a couple of doors away from his office in SS14 Subang Jaya.
For the record, yes, she has her very own column in the paper, though Teoh is always warning her to keep the politics out of the paper.
Teoh is blunt though about his voting preferences, admitting that, after the country’s political awakening of March 2008 dubbed the political tsunami last year, he did not vote for Yeoh.
“Hannah knows that I did not vote for her,” he reveals without a hint of regret in his voice.
However, he still maintains a good relation with his neighbour cum local representative joking that due to the close proximity with Yeoh’s office, some of her mail has crawled into his office.
“They think I’m DAP headquarters now,” he says,smiling.
Speaking of representatives, Teoh, in his capacity as the Managing Editor of the SJ Echo as well as resident of Subang Jaya, regards himself as a little bit of both.
“Most residents regard me as a resident,” he reveals.
Yes,a resident albeit one who runs a paper for the community.Some might think that running the paper is for Teoh’s personal gains but he reveals that it is more than that.
“I do community work in my own neighbourhood.Just me,myself and I.I share with the community.The paper is about the people,”he says.
Teoh is an example of the modern citizen journalism who do not need the backing of large corporations behind them,with him demonstrating that he can do it himself.
He gets his stories from various sources,both young and old.Contributors make up the rest of his team.
Whenever there’s a story regarding Subang Jaya,Teoh will be there.For those stories that do not make it,Teoh will squeeze them in the online edition.
SJ Echo has done remarkably well with advertisers in such as supermarket Mydin contributing space in his paper.
Teoh has to wear two hats in this case,that of publisher and marketing executive presenting proposals to get advertisers’ backing.
When asked about the future of his paper,on whether there were plans of expansion than the usual monthly.
Teoh says there are no urgent plans as of now.He likens Subang Jaya to a kampung.
“Bring back the kampung feeling,where everybody knows each other,” Teoh reveals his wish.
He further advises, “One thing about trying to bring change is a fact that it never stops.It is an infinite role to accomodate what you want to do”.
He ends the interview with this piece, “At the end of the day,what drives us in journalism is curiosity.The curiosity in you drives you.What is it I want to read?”.
Wise words, indeed.