If you're not someone who watches the news regularly, chances are you've probably never heard of Leong Wai Kit. Well, until this month that is. The Channel NewsAsia reporter recently saw his fame skyrocket on the world wide web when the recruitment video he shot for the TV news channel went viral. The 38-year-old Singaporean, who has been with CNA for seven years and is now a senior reporter there, impressed netizens with his multilingualism (he can speak English, Mandarin, Malay, Thai, Cantonese and Japanese as well as a "smattering" of Tamil) and passion, oh so much passion, towards his job. Case in point: In the video, Wai Kit, who was awarded Journalist of the Year in 2016 at the Mediacorp News Awards, opines: “If you don't have passion, you wouldn't want to stay in this job for long, ’cos that is your battery that will last you through the long hours, the demands of the job [and] the time that is taken away from your family and friends.” The video, which was posted on CNA’s Facebook page on May 3, has since garnered over 90K views. But, no, he’s not one to get caught up in his own hype.
8 DAYS: First of all, we must say that we’re very impressed by your language abilities.
WAI KIT: Thank you. I can speak English, Mandarin, Malay, Thai and Cantonese fluently. It’s a pain to hear me speak in Hokkien, but I can still converse with uncles and aunties in that dialect. I speak a smattering of Tamil too. I learnt Japanese back in university [Ed: he studied in the University of Queensland where he majored in Journalism]. But that was 10 years ago. I was very fluent in Japanese back then, but after I graduated, I gave it all back to my sensei. But I have an interest in languages, so it’s easier for me to master them.
Were you an overachiever in school?
Before Queensland, I studied business in Nanyang Poly. But I was playful and didn't enjoy my business modules. I skipped so many lessons that I got kicked out of poly. But I managed to appeal and NYP gave me a second chance. As a result, I took four and a half years to graduate instead of the usual three years. I always joke that I graduated from NYP with a diploma with honours ’cos of the extra years. But I gained a lot in my extra years. I felt that because I was given a second chance, I needed to take my studies and my life more seriously. Which is why by the time I served NS, I looked at it with more maturity and later in university, I did well enough to graduate from the Dean’s list.
Your language skills must come in handy on the job.
Yeah ’cos if you speak someone’s language, you can take the conversation further. For example, in August 2016, there was a series of blasts in Southern Thailand, including Phuket. I was in Phuket covering the blast. When I asked the natives in English, “Are you scared?” They said, “No, we’re not.” Then, I switched to Thai and they shared that they were actually very afraid. Sometimes it’s the language barrier — there’s only that much they can speak in English. But if you speak their language, they tend to share more with you. So it has opened more doors for me in terms of getting the “real” stories out of people.
Why do you think you were chosen to star in CNA’s recruitment video?
I have no idea (laughs). One day, the boss of our digital team said, “We want to do a recruitment video. Can you help?” And that was it. At first, when they asked me to be involved in this video, I suggested to my boss that instead of doing something positive, I wanted to share all the negative things about work. Maybe gather all my colleagues to collectively bitch about work and unreasonable deadlines, and how jaded we feel ’cos we don’t have time for our friends. And the tagline would be, “We’re in the business of telling you the truth and this IS the truth of the business. BUT we are still here ’cos…” and then we share the good things about the job. My boss said, “Er, maybe not.” (Laughs)
Did you expect the video to go viral?
Actually, as a media professional, I would expect it to go viral 'cos people might pick up certain things. But for me, I didn’t expect it 'cos I didn’t know there was interest in the work that we do lah.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from the vid?
I made it a point not to read the comments. Just as I don’t want to read bad comments, I also try not to read the good ones. It’s a way for me to keep my ego in check ’cos sometimes if you get too much praise, inevitably, you feel big-headed. And I don’t want to get that. What I’m heartened by is that I had three colleagues who came to me and said they had been feeling jaded but the video reminded them of their passion and why they were here in the first place.
You work on public holidays and on your personal trips as well. Are you constantly on the lookout for news?
Always. Most of us work even on public holidays or weekends — it comes with the job lah. News is 24/7, so we’re scheduled to work on certain PHs and we’ve come to terms with that. And when something happens and you’re a news person, you’ll want to react. But I always remind myself that if I were to see, say, a car accident or explosion, and the first number I were to dial is the newsroom, then I have to examine myself lah. ’Cos I’ve always taken pride in myself as a human first, and a journalist, second. I don’t want to come to a day where I see something [newsworthy] and I immediately call the newsroom instead of the emergency services. Once, I was working on the night shift. Sometimes, we man the phones. So someone called us and said he witnessed an accident. I got all the details. Then, I asked if he had called the police or the SCDF. He said, “No, I haven’t ’cos I’m driving." I thought, “Okay, you can call me but not the SCDF?” Then, I hung up. Less than a minute later, he called back and said, “By the way, should I give you my number ’cos there’s incentive [for giving tip-offs] right? Voucher or something?” That was upsetting. It’s good to share the news. But let’s not forget to be human in the midst of sharing the news. I know there’s an urgency to break the news. But I think saving lives should be a priority.
What keeps you going on the job?
The TV news industry is very fast-paced. The nature of our work is that the stress is always there and you always need to be fast. When I first joined, my boss assigned me to a story to be aired that very night. Mind you, this was while the news was already airing. The news was at 9.30pm. I was given the assignment at 9.40pm. So I had to write the story, cut the footage and have it ready to go on air before 10pm. Thirty seconds in, I stood up and said, “Guys, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” I froze and my hands were very icy. Then, my senior colleagues, without asking any questions, immediately organised among themselves. One said, “I’m going to do this.” Another said, “You do this, and I’ll do that.” So everybody jumped in to help. And at the end of the day, the news was aired. Sometimes, you don’t even need to hear a colleague saying he needs help. The moment you see instructions being given to someone, and the person looks stressed, you know what to do. The teamwork is very strong. Somebody will restore archive footage, another will help to create the footage, and another will run on your behalf to get the video editor to standby — this goes on every day lah.
In the interview, you mentioned that you’re “hungry for news”. What’s the greatest extent you’ve gone to get a scoop?
Nothing drastic, but when I want to get information from someone, I try to be sincere lah. And I always tell my interviewees who are in the centre of very sensitive situations that they can talk to me on record, and if they were to change their mind before the telecast date, and they don’t want the interview to air, I’ll erase all the footage. So I always give my interviewees the assurance that we’re not here just for the news. And if it’s an accident, I try to convince them that if they talk to us, they may spur other people to be more careful. For example, there was an accident [in 2015] where an elderly woman's hand was severed in a lift accident at an HDB block along Tah Ching Road. We got in touch with her son and I told him, “If I were you, I wouldn’t speak to the media ’cos I want to protect my mum. So you can say ‘no’ to me and I wouldn’t be offended. But if we were to share your mum’s story, we could help other people or it could be a closure for her.” In the end, he said "no". But if you treat your subjects with sincerity and earnestness, to me, that’s going far to get a news story.
MAIN PHOTO: EALBERT HO
OTHER PHOTOS: LEONG WAI KIT