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My media habits: Joey Khor of George P Johnson – ‘I find myself constantly searching for legitimate news’

A Malaysian in China – executive creative director at marketing firm George P Johnson Joey Khor Ju-Hann reflects on the media consumption highs and lows of living in a market that is ‘mobile only’, in an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you? 

“Not many these days. I go to The New York Times, and BBC for global news. Sarawak Report and Malaysiakini for news back home. China Daily for Chinese news; Campaign Asia and Ad Age for being relevant in the industry.

“Oh, and I check in on Trump’s Twitter account just to keep myself entertained. They say laughter is the best medicine.’’

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“For as long as I can remember, I have consumed most of my news through online sites and mobile, usually directed from social media when I don’t have the time to browse and search for things that I’m interested in.

“However, I’m currently working in China. These past few years, most of my news is directed through WeChat. Come to think of it, I pretty much do everything via WeChat.

“I only get on Facebook just to stay connected with global news.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“I would certainly prefer long-form, but who has the time for that?’’

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

Clare Rewcastle Brown

“I have great respect for Clare Rewcastle Brown and her work with Sarawak Report. Mostly it’s because it was right in my backyard, therefore it affects me more emotionally.

“She was instrumental in influencing the change we now have in the country, exposing Malaysian corruption that helped spark a movement.

“An exceptionally determined, driven and fearless woman through all those years despite arrest warrants, lawsuits, threats and smear campaigns from the ruling government at that time.

“If that’s not the true spirit of journalism, I don’t know what is. She’s a hero in my book.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“Not one in particular that comes to mind.

“But journalism itself has changed over the years. Today any random Tom, Dick or Harry is able to share biased content on social media as well as unverified and unchecked channels. Even on verified channels, we get bias.

“I find myself constantly comparing and searching for the legitimacy of news. My point is, we can’t just have one go-to news source anymore.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“The New York Times.”

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

“It depends on the context. There are times when I’m auto-tuned from all the noise, and that’s when I’ll just watch whatever I happen to come across.

“Discovery and National Geographic are the best during these moments. So therapeutic.

“And then there are times when I feel like having a more immersive experience, and that’s when streaming platforms are great.”

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“For sure, they are. We are all creatures of habit. If I happen to like ‘Rocky’, I’d probably enjoy ‘Creed’ too, that’s all I’m saying.

“Besides, these recommendations are usually situated on the sides or at the bottom of the fold, which can easily be ignored if we are feeling adventurous.

“It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.”

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

“I was pretty impressed with Rami Malek’s powerful performance as Freddie Mercury in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Especially during the Live Aid performance. It was uncanny. It felt like we were reliving 1985; I had goosebumps.

“Also, 我不是药神, which translates to ‘Dying to Survive’ as its English title.

“I believe you can catch it on Netflix now. A touching true story about a Chinese leukaemia patient smuggling cheap untested pharmaceuticals from India to help hundreds of Chinese people suffering from cancer. Such an impactful performance with an authentic great story.”

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

The Umbrella Academy

“Recently I got really hooked on to ‘The Umbrella Academy’. I loved everything about it — the quirkiness, the soundtrack, the characters, the performances and the storytelling. I sure hope they develop more of it.

“Previously, I really enjoyed ‘Stranger Things’. It’s one thing to create a TV series set in the 1980s, but a whole different level to make it feel as if it was actually shot during that era.

“As a kid growing up during that era, I can certainly relate to walkie-talkies, D&D, arcades, E.T, Aliens and that awesome retro soundtrack.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“Mobile. In fact, I use my mobile device for everything, not just accessing content.

“From paying my rent and utilities, sending PowerPoints to clients, getting my morning cup of coffee to shopping for groceries. China isn’t just mobile first, it is a mobile only nation.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“Inevitably, it was pretty severe when it first began during the 1990s. Given the silver lining, it forces the industry to learn some humility, to streamline and evolve in order to survive, and to find other forms of monetisation and revenue streams.

“Also, soon realising that the key is exclusivity, by creating their own content.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?

“I recently completed Billion Dollar Whale, and Robert Kuok: A Memoir.

“They took a while to finish but were very insightful and enlightening. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them my favourites, though.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Certainly hard copy. I’m old school that way.

“However, books take up a lot of space at home. Hence, I tried using a friend’s device, but just couldn’t get the hang of it. It felt unnatural.

“I still need that manual page flip, the texture when I grind my fingers against the page, and the smell of paper.”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

“I was on Spotify since it launched.

“However, Spotify doesn’t work so well in China, so lately I find myself constantly transitioning between Spotify and QQ music.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“Mainly rock music; and some other genres occasionally.

“For the past decade, it has been bands like Breaking Benjamin, My Chemical Romance, A Day to Remember, Fall Out Boy, Saosin, Funeral for a Friend and Anberlin.

“But strangely, ever since moving to China three years ago, I’ve been listening quite a bit to Korean and Mandarin ballads.

“I even created a playlist on Spotify called ‘Oppa Pali Pali’ [Brother, hurry up] .”

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“A bit of both, I reckon. Paradoxically a villainous hero or a heroic villain, whichever way you want to see it.

“There’s certainly a whole lot more of garbage and noise compared to things that actually matter, but it forces people to learn how to curate, filter and seek verification from more than one source. The power is still with the individual.”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“They can call themselves whatever they want. It is what it is and it makes them a lot of money.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“I’m a big fan of data and the algorithms that come with it. But eventually, we still need heart behind all those insights.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“It doesn’t matter what I think. Technology will continue to play a vital role in the instant gratifying world we live in.

“This trajectory is more apparent, living in China. Most platforms are already AI-driven in the Chinese landscape. Recently, I read that China already has an AI newscaster.

“Hardly anything impresses me anymore. But even all this will never take the human aspect out of media.

“Some of the greatest moments the world has ever seen were created by the most impractical human decisions. Technology will always be the safer bet, but at times we just need to be bold and crazy.”

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