Getting stung by clouds of tear gas that were fired by the police while reporting on the Bersih 2.0 rally in Kuala Lumpur might have happened more than 10 years ago, but lifestyle editor Reta Lee still remembers the chaotic scene vividly. Reta, who was working in Malaysia, was part of a small news team, which live-blogged the protest, and had no prior training in protecting herself from the tumultuous situation.
Calling it one of her most memorable assignments, she recalls: “The memories are still etched – even the smell of tear gas. Seeing police brutality on the streets of Malaysia – as a journalist, yes, you report all of that. But as a citizen, you also take a little stand and you just want to write the wrong.”
Reta relives this surreal memory in her new book, The Stories Women Journalist Tell, a compilation of essays by 22 women journalists across Southeast Asia on their experiences reporting in areas such as politics and lifestyle.
She is also the Editor-in-chief of Yahoo! Life SEA, where she helms the lifestyle and entertainment sections of the portal. The veteran lifestyle editor, who is based in Singapore, kicks off PR Newswire’s new monthly podcast series, Behind The Byline.
The podcast features interviews with high-profile editors and journalists from a variety of news beats in the APAC region. We get to know our media friends better, from career anecdotes, news trends and developments they are tracking and how PR professionals can work better with them.
In the inaugural episode of Behind The Byline, Reta shares how Yahoo! Life SEA’s editorial plans have evolved with the easing of pandemic restrictions in Singapore, the lifestyle events and trends that are on her radar and how PR professionals can help her team keep abreast of developments in the region’s vibrant lifestyle scene. The podcast is available on Spotify, Anchor and YouTube.
Here’re the highlights from the podcast
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1. Your book, The Stories Women Journalists Tell covers diverse experiences of women reporting on the ground, from politics, lifestyle to travel. Why is it important to put out these stories from the perspective of women journalists, and why now?
I feel like it’s such an important time to tell stories from Asia, as we’re getting more diverse stories like the movie, Crazy Rich Asians. And, it’s so important because I feel as a society itself, whether in Malaysia, the Philippines or Singapore, it’s very much a patriarchal society. And, there is a lack of women representation in the newsroom. While there are more and more women in leadership roles, I feel that there is still not enough support for women journalists whether you are starting off as a rookie or progressing in your career.
As I gathered discussions with my friends and fellow journalists, I realised there’s a recurring theme – gender biases and underrepresentation. That’s the skeleton of the book that I’ve always wanted and I vision it to have pillars like news, politics, human interest, travel and lifestyle because there are just so many stories by journalists in different fields. So, I was very, very lucky to have a handful of women who believe in this project.
2. The pandemic has dominated the news cycle for the past two years, how has Yahoo!’s lifestyle coverage been adapting to the situation?
When we entered the pandemic, I think most of us were forced to take refuge in our own homes and immediately we started creating this new channel called Good Vibes Only because we want people to eat well, exercise, etc, as we weren’t allowed to go out at that time. As a team, we tried different things – I tried different YouTube workouts, and rated them to give our readers a sense of which ones are easy to do.
During the pandemic, I was entrusted with a new project on affiliate content or e-commerce. My team worked with some of our merchants through platforms like Amazon, or Skimlinks, where we curate some of the interesting or best products that our readers can find or benefit from. With fashion and beauty products, we forecasted trends like Spring or Summer 2022. And, we are closing the loop by encouraging our readers to shop the look. That’s how we curate some of the looks or products that we can forecast from some of our partners. Shopping is actually a very, very big element of what Yahoo is bringing forth right now. In 2021, we made three times the revenue of 2020 [from the shopping pillar], which tells us a lot that readers love bargains and the promotions that we are able to wrangle from our merchants and appreciate what my shopping editors have curated.
3. What are some lifestyle trends or topics that you are on the lookout for your readers in 2022?
Travel is something that my team has looking out for. We’ve been creating a lot of local articles highlighting staycations, activities that we can do, particularly since travel borders were shut, right. We notice that a lot of our readers are looking for unique experiences in Singapore, whether it’s a candle making workshop or a good bargain staycation where we can get to celebrate a certain anniversary with loved ones. As travel borders are opening, we are starting to expand our horizon a little bit and create content around Southeast Asia first, and then to places such as Japan, Korea and France.
4. As a lifestyle editor, you’ve received many pitches to interview personalities. What do you look out for in such media pitches?
At Yahoo!, we interview lots of entrepreneurs, founders, and CEOs. What I’m looking for is that sense of grit, having gone through trials and tribulations and the challenges that they faced when building their brand. I think it’s good to see a lot of their achievements, but I also want to bring forth their own challenges. For example, a single mom who is juggling with managing her business – there’s the human-interest element. That’s quite interesting to talk about.
When it comes to pitchers, I would value it if PR personnel can come to us much earlier because we’ve set some of the story angles in place. It doesn’t help us if they pitch an interview with a CEO one day before International Women’s Day and I don’t have any resources at that time to interview this person as I had already set my editorial calendar weeks before. This is because we knew such events will be pillars of our channel.
5. How do you hope PR pros can work better with you and your team in helping your team to keep abreast of developments in the lifestyle scene?
Understanding our editorial calendar, knowing in advance what are some of the events that we’ll be concentrating on will be very helpful. Keeping us abreast with your client’s information, knowledge and stories will be much appreciated.
Having one-to-one meetings with the editors to find out about what they are preparing three or four months in advance will very much help the relationship between the PR person and the media. This will also help prepare the journalist in terms of knowing which client to use for a quote or story. It is about having a very close relationship and understanding of what each of the media titles is preparing for the calendar in advance.
- The spark behind Reta’s new book, The Stories Women Journalists Tell (1m 40s)
- Why it is important to share stories of women journalists now? (4m 03s)
- Surprises in book writing journey (7m 45s)
- Reta’s most memorable assignment (9m 45s)
- A day in the life of a lifestyle editor (13m 30s)
- How Yahoo! Life SEA’s adapted to the pandemic (15m 29s)
- Focus on the shopping vertical (16m 51s)
- Balance between shopping and editorial content (18m 52s)
- Readers’ response to shopping content (20m 06s)
- Lifestyle trends and topics for 2022 (21m 54s)
- Types of travel content (23m 40)
- Most memorable interview (24m 51s)
- What she looks out for in media pitches (26m 37s)
- How PR pros can work better with media (29m 18s)
- PR pitching tips (31m 10s)
- Lifestyle events in 2022 (33m 29s)
- Future editorial plans (34m 50s)
Listen to the podcast to find out more about the lifestyle events and trends that Reta is looking out for in 2022 and more about the creative process behind her book, The Stories Women Journalists Tell.
Up next in April, we will be chatting with Luisa Tam, Senior Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong. Stay tuned!
This article is written by Kenneth Goh, Senior Marketing Executive at PR Newswire.