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Covering Malaysia’s 14th general election

Malaysia’s Dr Mahathir Mohamad (center) made national history when he led the fledgling Pakatan Harapan (Alliance of Hope) opposition pact to victory during the country’s 14th federal polls on May 9, 2018. Source: Reuters

May 9, 2018, was like no other Wednesday in Hybrid’s editorial headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It was a public holiday but like any other newsroom, the office was operating at full capacity.

There was nothing unusual about that, nor about the noise and banter in the newsroom that day, the complaints about Malaysia’s unforgiving heat as staffers clocked in, or the din of fingernails-on-keyboards that ensued as they plied their craft.

What made that Wednesday different was this: it was polling day in Malaysia’s 14th General Election, an electoral contest that media outlets were dubbing “the mother of all elections”. There was plenty at stake for the country of 30 million – the only government they’d ever known since independence in 1957 was about to be obliterated at the polls.

For Hybrid, it provided the perfect backdrop for a pilot project on Asian Correspondent to cover a national election live as a small newsroom… without over-exhausting man hours or racking up thousands of dollars in expense claims.

The election was also an excellent opportunity for Hybrid’s editorial interns to get a taste of the action – at that point, Malaysia had become the focal point of all media reports on Southeast Asia. Hundreds, if not at least a thousand, media personnel from publications around the world had already converged on the Malaysian capital to report on the election.

The media attention made the environment all the more challenging for Hybrid. Editor-in-Chief Clara Chooi said with so many larger international media organisations already committing massive teams and editorial resources to the election, Hybrid needed to employ a different strategy to stand a fighting chance in the competition for online eyeballs.

“We’re not in direct competition with the online dailies because that’s neither our content strategy nor our brand identity. But ultimately, we’re all vying for the attention of the same pool of readers.

“Plus, I wanted us up there in the big leagues,” she said.

But with five websites to run at once and a team of writers with very different specialisation areas each, Chooi said the biggest challenge was finding a way to maximise involvement without hurting daily workflow or output on Hybrid’s four other websites. Apart from Asian Correspondent, Hybrid’s KL editorial team produces content for Tech Wire Asia, Study International, Travel Wire Asia, and the publisher’s latest web brand, global enterprise technology site TechHQ.

After some planning, Chooi said it was decided that the best way was to run a Live Blog on polling day.

“Live blogs are great as they keep readers on your site the entire day… as long as the feed is constantly updated with fresh info,” she said.

Next, to ensure all Hybrid’s websites had fresh content on May 9, the editors of each brand got their teams to prepare stories in advance. These were then stockpiled and scheduled for rollout that day.

“Then we had a total of three team meetings – the first was to announce a rough idea of what we’d be doing on May 9, the second to run live tests on the Live Blog app and the third was a briefing on Malaysian politics for our foreign staff,” Chooi said.

For its live blog, Hybrid used the cloud-based 24LiveBlog publishing tool which it embedded into a custom-built web page on Asian Correspondent put together by lead developer Koh Beng Chuah.

Koh also incorporated a “live counter” on the web page to provide visitors live updates on the total number seats won by the incumbents and their contenders – as the numbers came in.

In total, Chooi said the entire project took a little over two days to finalize, including development time and testing by the team. “Minimal effort for maximum results,” she said.

 

A screenshot of the #GE14 live blog on Asian Correspondent.

For ground coverage on May 9, Chooi divided her editorial staff into six teams – five scouting teams and one office-based. The scouting teams were led by Hybrid’s Malaysian reporters and were each assigned specific seats in the city to cover that day.

The office-based team was put in charge of writing and posting morning articles on the site and on social, and keeping the Live Blog up and running until the scouts returned to base.

“My Malaysian staff already needed to be out to vote that day anyway… so it made sense to have the interns, who are all British citizens, join them where they were voting,” Chooi said.

“That way, while the Malaysians were queueing up to cast their ballots, the interns could snap pictures and videos, interview voters and candidates, and live-blog everything.

“It was a great opportunity for them to test their reporting chops in an environment very different from what they’re used to… not to mention attacking a very different topic – Malaysian politics!”

 

Hybrid’s Emily Devonald speaks to a Malaysian voter during the May 9 polls. Source: Azim Idris

Shortly after noon, the scouts returned to base for a spot of lunch and to continue with their usual work day.

To keep the Live Blog rolling until polls closed for the day, writers were told to curate content from the social media accounts of select personalities, parties, publications and groups. They then repackaged the content into short posts relevant to Asian Correspondent’s international audience and posted them on the Live Blog.

“By working that way, we managed to cover all 222 parliamentary constituencies across all of Malaysia without having to be in 222 places at once. It was crowdsourcing at its best for us at Hybrid,” Chooi said.

The system worked perfectly and polling day went by without a hitch. The effort also drove up Asian Correspondent’s organic reach that day, with tens of thousands of readers tuning in to the site’s GE14 Live Blog and sharing it across social media.

“And that’s not all. The best part was that everyone enjoyed themselves that day – they got to work together as a team and went home knowing that they had a hand in what turned out to be Malaysia’s most historic election,” Chooi said.

So what’s next? Chooi said the success of the project meant the same strategy could be applied to cover other key events taking place in the region.

“Ultimately all we need is a reliable team… and some truly kick-ass writers. And that’s exactly what we have,” she said.

Contact

To contact Clara Chooi for comment please email clara@hybrid.co or call +60 392 126784

For job opportunities please contact Hayley Dugdale – hayley@hybrid.co or call +44 117 244 3189

About Hybrid

Hybrid is a global influencer, creating rich and relevant content for brands wishing to connect with audiences in a more effective way. Powered by a progressive collective of journalists, strategists and business minds, Hybrid moves with unparalleled pace across five independent brands in high-growth markets. Hybrid has offices in Bristol (UK), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and Sydney (Australia).