Crossing Over

Some of you may not know me. Some of you may know me pretty well because I’ve worked closely with you. After all I’ve only been in the tech reporting industry for 1 year 5 months. Before that I was an editor at Dow Jones for 2 years. I am what many consider still fresh-faced and new.

Hello, I’m Kaylene. I am (or rather, was) Asia Reporter for The Next Web. Yes, I’m leaving TNW. Today is my last day. For those who don’t know, I wrote stories about developments in the tech scene, but my strength was particularly focusing on China trends.

Why am I leaving and where am I headed to?

It was a really tough decision that caused me plenty of sleepless nights, but I’m crossing over to what journalists jokingly call “the dark side” i.e. PR. I’m headed to Xiaomi, starting 1st October, to join its communications team.

One of the reasons I left was because I felt increasingly depressed about the state of journalism as I see it now. Do keep in mind that it’s a personal thing, as I bet many of you have entirely different views from me and I definitely respect varying opinions on this topic. After all, it’s painful for me to admit that journalism isn’t what I thought it would be. I graduated with a mass communications degree specialising in journalism. I came out into the workforce thinking I could tell the stories of people and make an impact on the world. Instead, I see the rise of listicles. I see how people share click bait stories on Facebook that are ultimately trash. And yes, even I am guilty of indulging in these easy-to-read online posts.

Whatever happened to solid content (like a recent feature story on SCMP about Afro-Chinese marriages in China, which restored my faith in journalism)? I found that in general, people love clicking on stories composed of a single sentence or a photo, because they’re cool links and/or videos that elicit a wow. On the other hand, I could take days to interview people, transcribe these interviews, formulate a story… and eventually see its traffic tank.

It occurred to me that people didn’t really like reading the content that I invested so much effort in. That I wasn’t reaching people with stories that I felt deserved a wider audience. That, sadly, I was far from making an impact on the world.

Maybe it was my fault—maybe I should have tried harder to make my stories more palatable. But anyway, during my stint as a reporter, one of the companies I worked very closely with was increasingly-popular smartphone firm Xiaomi.

I remember when I first went down for its Mi 3 unveil last September, I was one of the rare few foreign reporters interested in Xiaomi, and therefore given a lot of access. I spoke with Lin Bin, one of the co-founders, and gradually came to understand more about the company and its innovative model.

Eventually, when former Google-Android executive Hugo Barra started spearheading Xiaomi’s global expansion, a lot of foreign media attention turned to Xiaomi and everyone wanted a slice of the company. During its recent Mi 4 unveil, the number of foreign reporters had probably more than doubled. And there were even more articles from that event in foreign press as many journalists and bloggers were remotely reporting from Xiaomi’s social media updates.

So to be honest, I was rather taken aback by all the backlash coming from the tech press about how Xiaomi “ripped off” Apple and basically compared Xiaomi products to fake branded goods, when so many of them hadn’t even touched a Mi phone in their lives before.

(P.S. I’m aware that it is a sensitive topic when writers switch over to join companies that they covered, but in my case, the stories I wrote for TNW were never biased one way as I always sought to provide a balanced point of view. That goes without saying, but I want to make it clear nonetheless.)

Initially when Xiaomi approached me to sound me off about possibly joining the company, I was very hesitant—mainly because I really wanted to stick to journalism. But after reading all the vitriol against Xiaomi, I thought to myself: hey, there are stories untold here. As a Singaporean Chinese, I am more in touch with the Chinese culture, and Xiaomi is (obviously) a very Chinese company. I could understand certain nuances like how the Apple comparisons came about because the Chinese audience just loved comparing, whereas a lot of foreign reporters felt they deserved it for being stupid. I also got the opportunity to spend time with executives including Bin and Hugo, so I had a more in-depth view of this fast-growing company.

And now I’m presented with this chance to tell the story of Xiaomi to more people around the world. It’s going to be an immense challenge. But I do think my journalism skills will be put to good use, and I’m truly excited about this new chapter in my life.

Thank you to all who have worked with me in one way or another at TNW—I’ve had a great ride here and learnt so much. Hugs all around for my colleagues who have been the best virtual family anyone could have.

Wish me luck on my new adventure!

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