World Association of News Publishers

Award-winning Malaysia case provides a model for innovation

Award-winning Malaysia case provides a model for innovation

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The R.AGE youth initiative team at The Star in Malaysia won WAN-IFRA's top World Young Reader Prize in 2016, becoming the World Young Reader News Publisher of the Year. Here's why publishers everywhere should pay attention to their approach.

Malaysia is not an easy country in which to do journalism, so one might be surprised that a model for how to involve young people in taking the next steps in news publishing would emerge there.

In 2016, Malaysia went up one notch in the World Press Freedom global rankings based on freedom of expression and of news media, but only to number 146 out 180 countries. Historically, digital news sites have managed more maneuvering room than print and broadcast operations, but that is deteriorating. In March, the respected online news portal, The Malaysian Insider, closed its editorial operations after the state media regulator blocked local access to its site after its stories about a major financial scandal.

The R.AGE team. Editor Ian Yee is seated at center.The R.AGE team. Editor Ian Yee is seated at center.However, there is much to learn  from Malaysia about how to approach the future, specifically from the team at R.AGE, the youth initiative of The Star Media Group. In short, the R.AGE team continues to get it right when it comes to innovation that keeps journalism, compelling storytelling and audience involvement at the heart of the work.

Led by Ian Yee, this team has been named WAN-IFRA’s 2016 World Young Reader News Publisher of the Year for an inspirational set of innovative actions based on a commitment to journalism and a smart approach to digital space. When they arrive, team members first learned to embrace the basics of serious, professional reporting, learning from veteran editors. Since then, the R.AGE team has routinely led the way in exploring new frontiers.


In a blog about the 10th anniversary of R.AGE  (, Yee explained how his older editors insisted he do serious journalism, despite his own skepticism that anyone would care. “They kept us churning out heavy feature stories on politics, social issues, student rights, and so on – even when the reporters didn’t always enjoy it,” he recalls.

“In hindsight, our editors were right all along. Young Malaysians have always cared about social issues – they just never had a platform they were comfortable with to learn about and discuss them. They weren’t being empowered to make a difference. I was getting emails from people telling me how our stories were making a difference, especially with marginalized communities like young people living in urban poverty, or people living with HIV.”

Those skills became honed even further as the R.AGE team helped train younger people (ages 16 to 19) in those same values and skills as part of an annual youth reporter programme called BRATS (Bright, Roving And Annoying Teenagers, a name the first participants developed themselves).


When it came time to embrace social media, the skepticism was from elsewhere:  “The common joke back then was that young people only used social media to tell everyone what they had for lunch,” he wrote. “We weren’t buying it.”

The R.AGE staff was the first to take its brand of serious youth journalism (and some fun) to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram “and pretty much every new platform that came up.”

“It allowed our journalists to send out news to our followers faster than any of our competitors at the time. I remember live tweeting from the slums of India (using a SMS Twitter gateway – anyone remember those?) while other journalists were waiting to get back to the hotel to file their stories. Everyone does it now, but back then, we were streets ahead.”

He said that social media also allowed readers to engage them directly, perspectives to stories. “Our #RAGEchat Twitter Q&A series was almost like a full feature story being written live on our timeline, with young people sharing their stories and expert guests chiming in,” he said.

By 2013, his wisdom about comment moderation was a key element in an international WAN-IFRA publishers conference for the Middle East and another conference on digital reporting in Poland.


Now the innovation is in video. R.AGE began by launching a video campaign to help stagnant participation in an annual Cheerleading competition it sponsored by showcasing the raw athleticism, grit, determination and art involved. The sport also suffered some push-back from conservative Muslim groups. The strategy was two-sided. “Not only would this revitalize the CHEER brand but it would be a great way for R.AGE brand to show its support for healthy, positive and empowering activities for Malaysian youth,” Yee explained in his World Young Reader Prize entry. The campaign also featured celebrity supporters and live broadcast of competition finals on social media. Sponsorship money poured in, although the team stuck to its small initial budget of $12 500.


Then management allowed the team to reinvent R.AGE as a video first platform.

R.AGE TV had begun with five print journalists and some video cameras obtained in exchange for some native advertising. “The R.AGE team is now almost completely self-sustaining,” Yee reports. The team of 12 “thoroughly committed multimedia journalists” does it all:  shoots, edits, writes, takes photos, does web design, basic programming, graphic design and organizes events.

They specialize in documentaries, accompanied by an in-depth feature package on a website with interactive and social functions for audience engagement and sharing.


And the stories they do revert back to team’s journalistic origins and earned front page coverage as exclusives in the main print edition of The Star:

• They spent a week living with an indigenous tribe deep in the Malaysian jungle to investigate claims of child deaths from a mysterious illness. The print edition made it the main front page feature and the Malaysian government reacted by sending aid to the tribe.

• An undercover documentary project investigating child sex predators on mobile chat apps. The first episode alone yielded more than a half million video views

• Stories of World War II survivors on the 70th anniversary of the end of the war that sparked interest from old and young.

R.AGE team members are not probably going to be able to cover government misdeeds, but they nonetheless offer an example of how innovation can occur for news publishers: teach talented young staff the core values and practice of getting to the bottom of the story, then let them teach younger people those same values, then give them the room to make innovations that will ultimately serve the whole company.


Doing that is not easy, and Yee agrees. “I believe many youth teams in newspapers struggle to get any kind of real recognition,” he said. “We're often seen as just a bunch of plucky kids in some corner of the newsroom who aren't quite real journalists, but this award helps us break that stereotype. [Getting this top World Young Reader Prize]  reminds everyone that young journalists, armed with technology and the freedom to innovate, can be forces to be reckoned with. We can be disruptive to the newsroom - but in the best possible way. Awards like this will only encourage young journalists to continue being disruptive, to continue challenging traditions, to continue pushing boundaries; which is exactly what it has already done for R.AGE.”


Over the past year, The Star's R.AGE team has created a successful new formula for multimedia journalism, combining hard-hitting mini-documentaries, feature stories and interactive web content to drive social change among young audiences.

This is most evident in its recent Predator In My Phone campaign, where R.AGE took advantage of Star Media Group's print, video, digital and radio platforms to expose online child sex predators in a series of undercover sting operations. In less than three months, the campaign has received public endorsements from the Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, the Inspector-General of the Royal Malaysian Police and various prominent NGOs. The mini-documentary series has been viewed over 1.5 million times, making it one of Star Media Group's most watched videos of the year.

The success of this campaign and R.AGE's overall content strategy affirms The Star's long-standing commitment to empowering young people through journalism and embracing digital media innovations as part of our company's DNA. We believe R.AGE is already inspiring a new generation of multimedia journalists across the country, which can only stand us in good stead in the years to come.



Aralynn McMane's picture

Aralynn McMane


2016-09-01 09:24

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The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) helps newspapers, parents and teachers work together to engage the young to create a literate, civic-minded new generation of readers all over the world. Read more ...