Digerati50: The 'old media' geek

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues a weekly series that profiles the top 50 influencers, movers and shakers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy. These articles are from Digerati50, a special print publication released in January 2014. For information on customised reprints of Digerati50, email [email protected].

  • Background in print, news wires, television, radio and the Internet
  • TMI CEO aims to ensure reader or viewer ‘gets today’s news today’
Digerati50: The 'old media' geek

AS one industry acquaintance once described him, Jahabar Sadiq may have hailed from an old media background, but he’s very much a geek at heart.
It’s a potent combination, especially if you’re chief executive officer (CEO) and editor of The Malaysian Insider, the independent news portal that popped up just before Malaysia’s 12th general election in 2008 and quickly established itself as a ‘must-read’ alternative.
But The Malaysian Insider (TMI) isn’t just a tame reflection of frontrunner Malaysiakini in the online news portal stakes. It aims to be a complete package.
And Jahabar – with a background in print, news wires, television, radio and the Internet – comes with the kind of wide experience that is fast becoming a requirement in today’s multidisciplinary journalism landscape.
Not bad for a journo who has had only a Form 6 education. “The only certificates I have treasured in my career is passing through hostile environment courses twice in Reuters Television,” says the 45-year-old former St John’s Institution boy.
He started in the New Straits Times (NST) in 1988 after leaving high school, spent a year in the English daily’ sister publication Business Times before joining Reuters, where he was a political and economic news correspondent.
After a brief stint in as a producer in AP Television, Jahabar ended up a senior producer with Reuters Television from 1998 to 2009, interviewing world leaders, captains of industry and others, from Afghanistan to East Timor.
It’s an impressive career résumé which now stands him in good stead.
“I have been a journalist for 26 years now, at a time when technology has upended the media industry and where the Internet is the biggest disrupter of all time. So that’s a lot of experience there,” he says of his career.
“I learnt what it was to be a newsman at first, then a newspaperman in putting together a newspaper, then it was electronic communications via terminals and television news – basically an evolution of print to monitor, as it was then called, with teamwork to ensure the reader or viewer gets today’s news today,” he says.
It is that ‘today’s news today’ mantra is what he’s been attempting to do at TMI.
“Work on giving your relevant market the news that it should have, in a medium it has, using the best technology of the day, at a decent price where possible,” he says.
TMI was started by a few media hands who decided to plunge into the digital world and “provide news that took in all sides,” he says. These included current ABN Axcess CEO Sreedhar Subramaniam and former NST editor P’ng Hong Kwan.
“I got in after spending two years in Reuters Television Jakarta as I wanted to come back to Malaysia to take care of my parents, and have been here ever since,” says Jahabar.
He first joined as editor and eight months after a management buyout by a company now called TMIDOTCOM Sdn Bhd, of which he is a shareholder, he also became CEO.
The challenges have been many – not only because of the tightly-controlled media regime in Malaysia – but also in having to chase the money and finding the right talent who “can provide news and analyses with context and perspective, let alone in a multimedia format,” he says.
In late 2013, after a series of discussions, the Malay Mail Online hired just about the entire team at TMI. Jahabar had to build anew.
“We miss the experience of the first team, but the new team has pushed TMI into comScore’s Top 10 for October 2013, with the highest rise in readership,” he says.
And true to his secret calling as a geek, Jahabar hopes to start an online video portal that will collaborate with startups to provide content for the growing mobile phone and tablet sector.
[Update: In June this year, TMI announced it had been acquired by The Edge Media Group, publisher of business weekly The Edge. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Jahabar retains his position at TMI, and has launched the video portal mentioned above at http://www.incitemy.tv/]

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