KUCHING: An over 50-year journey as a newspaperman has earned veteran journalist James Alexander Ritchie a place in the annals of journalism in Sarawak.

Born on June 26, 1950 in Penang, he began his career as a reporter for New Straits Times where he earned his stripes over the next years, moving to Sarawak in the 1980s.

He has also worked for The Star, Borneo Post, Eastern Times and New Sarawak Tribune in a career that is best described as chequered, winning multiple journalism awards along the way.

In addition to these achievements, Ritchie also tried his hand in penning books and to his credit has 26 books to his name.

The 73-year-old was bestowed the Special Jury Award at the annual Malaysia Press Institute (MPI) Petronas Malaysian Journalism Awards 2023 recently.

The New Sarawak Tribune caught up with the veteran writer to take a closer look at what keeps him going.

NST: How do you feel about your recent Special Jury Award ?

RITCHIE: Honestly, I am very grateful for the honour but I was not aware that I would be the recipient of the award so I missed the opportunity to meet my idol, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Still I am thankful I received the award, together with RM10,000 which I will use to give back to society. God is good.

NST: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced throughout your career, and how did you overcome them?

RITCHIE: Well, a lot. Because I am always adventurous, and must be the first reporter to be on the scene. When something big is going on, I must be there first before anybody else shows up.

To be like that, you of course must have good connection, the grassroots, the contacts. And I have to come up with my own money, if I ever decided to go to the rural area. But that never stopped me because it is my passion.

NST: Can you share some insights into the process of writing a book based on your own experience?

RITCHIE: To me, in order to write a book, proper resource is important. You must have an accessible library to fall back on. And make sure if you have the resource for the book you want to write, not to forget to cross reference. Most importantly, if you want to interview someone, you must do some background checks about that particular person.

NST: In your career, how has the journalism industry evolved? And how has it impacted your work?

RITCHIE: To be honest, not much has changed since I started here in Sarawak. I do not see improvement in the style of writing and the style that is coming out. For me, in order to change, don’t follow how others do it. Think of something different, for instance, what makes New Sarawak Tribune different than other newspapers, make sure your story is not the same as others.

NST: What are some of the memorable experiences in your career that have had a long lasting impact on you as a writer?

RITCHIE: Well, of course my friendship with the late activist Bruno Manser. From the day I met him to in 1986. Up to this day, I am still in the process of writing my final book. I am telling you, a journalist’s job would not end when he retires, it ends when he or she finishes his/her last story. And Bruno’s story would be the last story I will write.

NST: How important it is for journalists and authors to adapt tonew technologies and platforms? And have you embraced these changes in your own work?

RITCHIE: I have not, because I am still quite old school. For instance, I cannot even “save” my story on the computer. I have to ask my children to help me. Children these days are so smart with all the technologies and it is important for them to learn them.

Let’s just say, if you are smarter than your friend, make sure you teach them. One day, you and your friend will depend on each other. It is teamwork. In this age of digital and social media, do not forget to share the information. If you do not know certain things, do not hesitate to ask questions.

NST: Being in the journalism industry for over 50 years, what advice would you give to aspiring writers who want to pursue a career in journalism or writing?

RITCHIE: It is not that easy. Sure I have 50 years of experience, but it took me 10 years to really learn how to write. My former bosses even had to grill me so that I become good. It was a difficult period of apprenticeship. Being scolded by them and everything, you just need to accept it as a learning process. From there, you will become better than ever.

There will be days where you are on top, the next day your boss will tell you that your stories are not good. Take your time to learn, as you have many chances to succeed, but for that to happen you have to work hard first.

If you want to write a political story for instance, what questions should you ask the political figures. And if you are interested in investigative reporting, I can show how to write it, and where to find all the resource needed for your investigative report.

Reporters should also come up with their own ideas, if possible. Do something on the culture of Sarawak. There are many other cultures in Sarawak that have not been explored.

NST: What is your hope for the media and journalism industry in Sarawak?

RITCHIE: I really hope the media industry in Sarawak grows. Maybe we can suggest to the state government to sponsor some of the journalists who have potential to pursue studies in journalism. From there they can learn more things. I would also like to see that we have a writers association, so that when writers out there want to write a book, they can ask for funding from the association.

The journalists in Sarawak should continue to stick together, whether you are from New Sarawak Tribune, Suara Sarawak, Borneo Post or See Hua Daily, continue to work and stick together as one.