This may sound like anathema to some, but one of the best things a serious journalist in Asia might consider doing is take a page from the workbook of fiction novelists.
This was the friendly advice given to journalists and others on the closing night of the Bangkok Media Conference. It came from Christopher Moore, a Bangkok-based author of popular thrillers and other novels set in Asia.
To write or report well on a place or a region, it is important that the author — fiction or non-fiction — get to know it more than sthe surface, he said.
“It is only with experience of a place over a protracted period of time than a writer can understand (his story), Moore said.
“Parachute” journalists can do a credible job, if their target is a specific incident or topic, Moore admitted. But sustained, informed reporting takes time and effort.
Unfortunately, he said, too many people — even those who live in Asia — fail to get out and about and truly experience the place.
“Lots of Americans in Bangkok live as if they are under house arrest,” he said.
Beyond getting to know a place and its people, real reporting requires an understanding of how people think and perceive the world, he said. That process, which begins in childhood, often divides Westerners and Asians.
And misunderstanding on this front can lead to poor reporting, he suggested.
For instance, Westerners tend to live with values like free will, freedom and individual liberty. Asians tend to favor harmony, friends and family. When these two value systems collide, misunderstanding (and poor reporting) can happen, he said. That can lead to a clash of misunderstanding.
Take the example of law and justice, Moore said, a particular interest for him because of his novels on crime and criminal procedure. Law in Asia, he said, “isn’t a contest to be won; it’s about fairness.” The Western view is that law is a way to sort out right from wrong, winners and losers.
Thus, for instance, extra-judicial killings by the police or military authorities if society sees the killing as fair, even if not technically legal.
“In Asian society,” he said, “the rule of law works, but only if it doesn’t disrupt the existing and social power structure.”