From receiving childbirth advice from former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten on an event stage to jetting to Sydney for an in-depth conversation with British pop singer Mick Hucknall (of Simply Red), Luisa Tam, Senior Editor of the South China Morning Post, has encountered a spectrum of colourful personalities during her journalism career that spans close to four decades.
The veteran editor, who is based in Hong Kong, also recalls cancelling her evening plans to cover a fire in the Diamond Hill estate in a cocktail dress and high heels once. “As a journalist, you can’t really plan your evenings – it is not a good job to have when you are dating,” she quips.
However, what keeps Luisa going in the fast-paced and unpredictable nature of the news industry is the ability to see the world through the perspectives of diverse newsmakers. She says: “Every day is a new day to me – you get to live a different life by experiencing and living their stories through writing about them.”
These days, she manages the People & Culture section at SCMP, which covers human interest stories on and from China and supervises a team of reporters there. Besides helming two columns, My Hong Kong and The Naked Ground, Luisa is also well-known for hosting SCMP’s popular Learning Cantonese video tutorials on social media.
In the second episode of PR Newswire’s monthly podcast series, Behind The Byline, Luisa shares with us highlights of her illustrious media career, the importance of soft news stories and how public relations professionals can better pitch their stories with sharper content. The podcast is available on Spotify, Anchor and YouTube.
Here’re the highlights from the podcast
1. What’s a regular workday like for you?
Besides writing my columns, I also manage the People & Culture section, which I took over and revamped in November 2020. I look after a team in China, which covers on-the-ground local human interest stories, and some have gone viral. Although there are many hard news stories in a newspaper, such as the current COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai, but readers also want to relate to these stories and understand how people are surviving in the lockdown. So, we did a lot of fringe human interest stories that tell the behind-the-scenes story of the Shanghai lockdown. These stories do quite well and draw readers to our platform to read the other stories.
2. Looking back on your career, what’s one of your most memorable assignments?
One of them was travelling to Sydney to interview English pop singer Mick Hucknall (of Simply Red) in the lead-up to his concert in Hong Kong. He was famous for being outspoken about politics, so I had to find out more about him before the interview. In those days, it wasn’t easy to do background research on a person without the Internet, but I manage to find some news clippings on him. In the end, we had a long two-hour chat. It was also the first time I also saw a bathtub in the middle of a hotel’s living room as part of its design.
3. How can PR professionals catch the attention of journalists through their media pitches?
You need to have words that draw the attention of journalists in the subject line of the pitch email. At the moment, people are tired of the word ‘COVID’, so they need to relate it with something that people would pay attention to. They can be related to living longer and healthier, and something that would give people a little bright spot in their lives.
One way is to go to Google to find out the catchphrases that people are searching for. I believe some of the terms people are searching for include healthy life, happiness, anti-stress, etc and use these catchphrases in the subject lines of your email pitch to catch our attention.
4. What upcoming trends/topics/events in 2022 that you would be keen to report on?
Everything that has to do with the reopening of the world. After 2.5 years of living under the influence of COVID-19, it is time to get back to the life that we used to know. For example, I would like to read up on rebuilding the confidence to go back to work, go out and mingle socially again after being in a ‘work from home’ bubble.
Sustaining a healthy lifestyle is trending as people want to live 2022 in a way that they can remember the good years before COVID-19. People also want to be at more peace with the world, so I think anything related to the environment would be quite big as well.
1m10s: Luisa’s introduction
1m50s: What got Luisa started in journalism?
3m15s: The attraction of being a journalist
5m: Similarities between PR & Journalism
6m05s: The digital transformation of SCMP
10m50s: What does Luisa cover in SCMP?
11m10s: SCMP’s People & Culture section
15m: How has editorial coverage been adapted to the COVID-19 situation
16m15s: Recent editorial initiatives
18m38s: Most memorable news assignment
21m: Her memorable encounter with former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten
23m35s: Tips on improving PR pitches to media
24m40s: Sharper pitch subject lines
25m20s: Types of useful content from PR pros
26m50s: Upcoming news trends and topics
NOW READ: Behind The Byline Podcast Episode One: Reta Lee, Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo! Life Southeast Asia on the role of e-commerce in a media company and trends in lifestyle news coverage
Look out for upcoming episodes of the Behind The Byline podcast on our Spotify, Anchor and YouTube channels, so be sure to subscribe to them to receive the latest episodes!
Up next in May, we will be chatting with Vivian Liu, Technology Journalist, Commercial Times in Taiwan. Stay tuned!
This article is written by Kenneth Goh, Assistant Marketing Manager at PR Newswire.