RSJ student works with TV news crew in Malaysia
Tauli Anderson, a Reynolds School of Journalism and Center for Advanced Media Studies undergraduate, travelled to Malaysia this summer as an intern with assistant professor Stewart Cheifet’s production company, which was filming a documentary on the palm oil industry. This is her account of her experience:
I was given a unique opportunity this summer to travel with a professional news crew halfway across the world on a national journalism assignment in Malaysia. I went along as an intern, helping them out as much as possible and gaining all the experience I could!
Stewart Cheifet Productions’ crew, was working on a three-part television documentary series on the subject of palm oil — the working title is “Palm Oil: A Delicate Balance.”
Most people have never heard of palm oil, but it is a very controversial vegetable oil that is found in about half the packaged products you buy in the supermarket. It is also used for biodiesel fuel. It is controversial because some environmental groups believe palm oil farmers are not paying enough attention to issues of deforestation, climate change and biodiversity. It is also controversial because some claim it has amazing healthful nutrients, while others claim it is an unhealthy product that leads to heart disease.
Our job was to find out the truth in all those areas and produce programs — either three half hour segments or one 90-minute special — that would help shed some light on this controversy. While you may not care about palm oil, the business community does. The most successful IPO this year was for a Malaysian company called FELDA, the world's largest producer of palm oil products. In fact, it was the second biggest IPO of the year after Facebook!
Our journey started in San Francisco with a 36-hour plane trip to Kuala Lumpur —the federal capital of Malaysia — via Tokyo and Hong Kong. Totally jet lagged when we arrived, we nonetheless had to go to work right away checking out our gear and planning our two weeks of shooting.
Work began in earnest on Monday, Aug. 6, as we started traveling all over the country to meet experts, politicians, business leaders and NGO representatives. We also visited palm oil plantations, palm oil mills and factories. Kuala Lumpur is roughly in the middle of the country, so we had to drive hundreds of miles north and south to visit important areas and people. We also flew to the island of Borneo, where one of the controversial issues is the threat to the natural habitat of native orangutans.
My job was to document everything that was recorded and to keep a log of everything we shot. I also assisted the crew in setting up for the shoots, carrying gear, and generally trying to anticipate problems. We ended up shooting more than 25 hours of material, so there was a lot to do. Each night I would transfer my field notes to my computer and eventually turn them over to the producer and reporter for the program, Reynolds School journalism professor Stewart Cheifet.
Each day was an eventful and long day, usually lasting 10 hours or more, and we worked just about every day. There was very little time off. Traffic in Malaysia was a nightmare, and we spent hours being bounced around in our van or sitting in traffic jams. The climate in Malaysia is tropical, so every day it was over 90 degrees and humid. We were a smelly group! We also spent a lot of time in the rural areas where bugs and mosquitoes were the issue. Our director summed it up rather well when he said we were "bitten, bounced, and baked."
I can honestly say I had an amazing first hand experience with broadcast journalism! From the intelligent CEOs who I shook hands with to being able to walk through a palm oil plantation with indigenous workers, I can confidently say I have seen the extremes of life.
Probably the highlight for me was our trip the Malaysian state of Sabah, which is on Borneo, where we went to video the orangutans and visit the tropical forests where palm oil is grown. A day in the forest watching orangutans play and eat with one another is a memory I will never forget. I was within arms reach of these beautiful and intelligent creatures. How awesome is that!