A middle-aged woman enters the seminar room at the Institute of Policy Studies, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Monday, August 19, 2019, last year.
Her steps rushed. Tall and slim. Glasses and silvery hair. Although not young anymore, but she looks excited. She immediately asked: “Why did you come early?” She was indeed scheduled to introduce Narrative Journalism to 16 participants of the 2019 Asian Journalism Fellowship in that morning.
We were confirmed, this figure is Janet Steele. She is a Professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University. She is also director of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication at the university.
I have heard the name. Mainly when she did research and then wrote a book about Tempo, a weekly magazine in Indonesia. Her book titled; War within: the story of Tempo, an independent magazine in Soeharto’s Indonesia. It is considered the most complete biography about the magazine.
Like my fellows, I felt lucky to be able to meet Janet and learn directly from her about narrative journalism.
While drawing, she said; “Do you know this Pyramid? In Indonesia it is usually called the Reverse Pyramid or Piramida Terbalik, “she said as she started her class.
That was the basic lesson in journalism that we received in the beginning as journalists. We are required to write following the pattern of the Reverse Pyramid which will answer the outline of 5 W + 1 H. What, Where, When, Who and Why plus How. What happened, where the event was, when the event took place, who was involved in the event and why it happened and how the process was running.
Well, in narrative journalism, Janet introduces a hill-shaped or semicircular pattern exactly the dome of a mosque. Narration is associated with description. Important data from a plot is placed at the beginning, middle and end of the story.
In Indonesia, the Pantau magazine which was built by a number of journalists including Andreas Harsono practiced what they called literary journalism. Andreas, who is also a Janet’s close friend. Now, Andreas works for Human Right Watch. Janet tends to prefer narrative journalism. Because for her, data and facts remain at the heart of the news.
Why narrative journalism? Janet who was born on June 15, 1957 then presents a number of alluring writings written in that style.
The Journalism expert who got a Ph.D from Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, cited an article in The Washington Post dated March 31, 2003.
The author is an American of Lebanese descent. Anthony Shadid, his name. He wrote a story tittled; A Boy Who Was ‘Like a Flower’; ‘The Sky Exploded’ and Arkan Daif, 14, Was Dead.
Something unusual, the article was placed as a headline in The Post. Shadid wrote a very descriptive story about Arkan Daif, a 14-year-old boy who was a victim of war in Rahmaniya, Iraq. Some of the characters presented in the story seem to live and tell their stories directly to the readers. The increasingly uncertain social life, the criticism of citizens in the war that never ends is described in detail in the article. The article was truly moving.
And Janet always uses the example of the article in the various classes anywhere she has came. She often fills classes throughout Southeast Asia. In the Asian Journalism Fellowship class in Singapore she has been one of the speakers in six years.
Once again, my friends and I are fortunate to learn from this woman who claims to be in love with Indonesia.
In Indonesia, Janet is not new comer. Since 1992 she has been came to Indonesia. In 1997 – 1998 she taught at the University of Indonesia.
“I was in Indonesia when President Soeharto fell,” Janet said.
Suharto was the second President of Indonesia to be overthrown by people power in 1998. Suharto was in power for 32 years. At that time, he was good friends with the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.
As a lecturer in journalism, she also admitted that she was impressed with Islamic-based journalism.
“I was even amazed when journalism courses were taught at the State Islamic University under the Faculty of Da’wah or Tarbiyah. This is something extraordinary,” said Janet.
Likewise when she researched Islamic journalism in Sabili, the weekly diggest and Republika, the daily newspaper in Indonesia. He saw that Islam directly influenced the writing of news articles. In contrast to Sabili, which tends to be harsh, Republika sees it as a modern and moderate Islam in its published articles.
She was interested in the excerpt of the Qur’an Alhujurat verse 6: “O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.”
According to her, it is in line with the standard principle in journalism; verification.
In this case, Janet looks like Shadid. Although she was not Muslim and grew up in America. She freed herself from prejudices. It was finally, she turn to see the glitter of pearls buried in the vast, deep blue sea.
At the end of his meeting in the colorful AJF class, she said; “Learn from Nora Ephron, screenwriter for the film; When Harry Met Sally, or Sleepless in Seattle. “
A journalist, said Janet, should think like a screenwriter. There are scenes, characters, and story lines. That is so that the story attracts readers to the end of the words. ***