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“India is in extremes; an amazing country”: Interview with Video Journalist Poh Si Teng

Posted on August 5, 2011 in Interviews

It is hard to find a global media organization that she hasn’t worked for. Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Agence France-Presse, NYT — she has been there, done that. In 2008, video journalist Poh Si Teng moved base to India. She now shoots and produces news features for The New York Times and San Francisco, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Miami, and that — her workplace has literally spanned continents. UNICEF, too, by the way, has been one of her past clients. Also teacher at World Media Academy, an ICFJ/Knight journalism institution in the national capital, Teng tells our editor, Abhirup Bhunia, that there’s a lot to learn from reporting in India.

What major differences do you see in the way things happen in journalism, since the early days when you entered the profession?

Poh Si: I’m only able to draw from my experience in the US because that’s where I got my journalism education. I’m not that familiar with the progression of journalists here in India.

I think about 10 years ago, the path for budding journalists was pretty straightforward. You graduate from college, you work for a small-town paper and move your way up to a larger metro or possibly a newswire. But when I was in college back in 2007, it was no longer so. Students with multimedia skills — able to shoot video and record audio stories — and able to write, had more opportunities available to them. I would think that it’s more so now, especially in the US, than ever before.

It’s not that the demand for news has changed. People are still extremely interested in news, good stories, and editors are still interested in hiring journalists who are able to do good reporting. It’s just that as young journalists in order to compete, we need to be able to do it all, and to do it well. And then perhaps later specialize.

Then again, that’s not the only way to do well or rise up the ladder. It’s the path that’s worked for me. There are many other ways to do good journalism for a reputable organization.

Are Asia and Africa the new hubs of journalistic activity?

Poh Si: I certainly think so. Personally it’s more exciting to be a young journalist in a developing country right now. There’s a lot more going on. And possibly a lot more need for good reporting.

On a more general issue, what do you think is the future of multiculturalism? Since you have worked in different countries and have been part of different socio-cultural surroundings, you would be in a good and realistic position to answer this.

Poh Si: I’m not quite sure I understand the question. If your question is whether it’s important to report in areas that you’re not from, not familiar with, not comfortable with, then the answer is a definite yes. That’s what we should be doing, as journalists, everyday. To challenge ourselves with the unfamiliar and to see what other people think about the issue, the situation, and to look for facts that support it and go against it.

Is freelance and work on contractual basis, rather than permanent staffing, the way forward in the world of journalism?

Poh Si: It depends who you talk to. And it depends which market you’re in.

Is print/conventional journalism dead? If no, is an end very near?

Poh Si: Again it depends on who you talk to. Print is certainly far from being dead in India if you’re looking at Indian news publications. It’s alive and thriving. But whether the benefits of a robust journalism industry are trickling down to reporters is another thing all together. I think a lot of journalists in India are underpaid and undervalued. And that’s the problem. Low compensation plus lack of training plus low morale equals to high turnover.

What’s great about India — personally? And through the professional lens of a video journalist, what’s great about India that’s worth capturing?

Poh Si: There’s a lot to learn by reporting in India. It’s an amazing country to work in. When I think I know or understand something about the country, I quickly learn that I was completely wrong. India is in extremes. And living and working here has been a humbling experience.

Is it a wise idea, like you have done, to venture into production along with content creation?

Poh Si: Definitely! News organizations are hiring more and more people who can do everything rather than only writing or shooting stills or video. But one needs to be able to do it well. And that requires a lot, a lot of training. That’s what I tell my students at the World Media Academy all the time. You can be anyone you aspire to be and even better than him or her. But you need to work hard, never lose sight of what you’re working towards, and if possible find a good mentor who can recognize your talent and enthusiasm and help you.

And finally, what message do you have for aspiring journalists and video-journalists from India and the world?

Poh Si: It doesn’t matter which medium you tell your story. Good reporting and storytelling is what matters. Anyone can get there, one just needs to be persistent, hardworking, creative, eager to learn new skills, and never lose focus of what’s important.

Learn more about Poh @, or know about the J-school @

Pictures in the interview run:

1. Poh Si Teng — profile picture
2. On assignment for The New York Times in Amritsar, Punjab for this video story:
3. Shooting a news feature (Photo by Mustafa Quraishi)