I was romantic during my journalism school days. The lecturers often talked about the crucial role of journalists as the watchdog of democracy, the outstanding journalists who risked their lives in pursuit of facts, and epic stories that had inspired generations of future reporters. It all always made me amazed and eager to carve a career as a newsman.
Since graduating from university in 2013, I have become more and more realistic. In fact, there are too many painful stories about being a journalist that were never told in classes. Reporters must work like a dog from morning to morning again with little pay, cover meaningless events held by advertisers, write stories advocating the political interests of the bosses, deal with angry sources due to sensational headlines made by the editors to generate as many clicks and page views as possible, endure being called a political buzzer by the political buzzers, and, after going through all that, get laid off in the name of corporate efficiency.
I have relatively been more fortunate than many of my peers as I managed to dodge most of the aforementioned situations. Nevertheless, those stories still made me skeptical about the whole Indonesian media industry. Hence, after resigning from Bloomberg News at the end of 2019, I decided not to work as a full-time reporter with any news outlets again. It was better to be a freelancer with more flexible time and financial arrangements, I thought.
But a phone call from Evi Mariani in November 2020 changed everything. She invited me to take part in a new public service journalism project, which she initiated along with several other senior journalists. The project, she explained, would focus on giving a voice to the voiceless and publishing in-depth reports. Furthermore, it would not be market-driven or advertisement-dependent. The road would not be easy, she said, but it’s worth a try.
I was suddenly romantic again.
I asked, “What’s the name of the project?”
She said, “Project Multatuli.”