Telum Talks to… Evi Mariani, Managing Editor, The Jakarta Post
Evi Mariani is Managing Editor at The Jakarta Post. She received her Master’s degree in Urban Studies from University of Amsterdam. She was a 2011–2012 Hubert Humphrey Fellow at Philip Merrill College of Journalism in University of Maryland.
How and why did you start a career in journalism?
I began journalism when I was a Communication Science student in Social and Political Sciences Department and in Universitas Gadjah Mada in the 1990s, the New Order era. The Social and Political Sciences Department’s student press organization published Sintesa magazine, one of the most vocal student press in Indonesia at that time. Since my freshman year I worked as a reporter, layouter and fundraiser. The magazine published a cover story about 1965 communist cleansing and one about state violence. Later in 1997–1998 I began working on my own publication, called Langkah Bergerak, to campaign for political education among Chinese-Indonesians. I am a Chinese-Indonesian.
After graduation, I wrote for Pantau magazine; my editors were Andreas Harsono and Linda Christanty. In late 2002, I got accepted as a cub reporter at The Jakarta Post, and began my full-time career as a journalist. In 2017 I decided to leave the Post and I worked for about a year at The Conversation Indonesia. In March 2018, I returned to the Post as a Managing Editor.
I chose a journalism major in university, not public relations or advertising, because I thought that was the only job that would bring me places and I don’t have to pay for the travel. So far, so good, my dream came true; I have visited five continents. But as I grow older, I have found that journalism is way more than going to places. It is about becoming part of history in the making, it is about communicating important things to the public and making them interesting.
You’ve been writing a lot on urban issues. What have you learned from your experience covering these issues?
I fell in love with city reporting when I was still a Cub Reporter in 2002. It was an opportunity to meet interesting people with interesting experiences and ideas. In city reporting, you don’t sit around in air-conditioned rooms but you feel the heat, the smell, the tears and the warmth of the city people. You also get to know how creative Jakarta’s residents are when it comes to survival. I have been to several cities in the world, some are wonderful. But nothing compares to the streets of Jakarta, which are not just a space for cars and motorcycles but also a space for many things including social life. I can talk all day long about cities but right now I share an urgent global concern about inequality and I see urban areas as the place where social and class divide unveils before your eyes. My friends and I run an initiative called Kampung Kota Merekam (Archiving Urban Kampung) at kampungkota.net to help close the information gap. Residents of informal settlements, in kampung, are often at a disadvantage when it comes to media reporting.
Do you think female journalists face more challenges than male journalists? If yes, what are the challenges?
Women in journalism are just like women everywhere, facing more challenges than their male counterparts. In journalism, some of us face at least mild harassment from some of the sources or even fellow journalists. But in my personal experience, the difficult challenge is juggling between my family and career especially after I had my son in 2013. Once a woman journalist decides to have a child, her career will be put on hold for a long time. It is not the same case at all for men.
The Jakarta Post is a safe place for female journalists although it would be really wonderful if they had a daycare. I was lucky to work in a newsroom where most of my colleagues and bosses have a good understanding, and some even champion, of gender equality. But the news media industry in general, even in the United States, has been dominated by men and the glass ceiling for women is real and thick. Even The New York Times had its their first female Executive Editor, Jill Abramson, after 160 years. The Jakarta Post, Kompas, Tempo magazine have never had a woman as a Chief Editor with the exception of Hermien Kleden for Tempo English.
There still appears to be a lot of sexist and misogynist articles published in Indonesia’s media. Why is that? What should media and journalists do to tackle gender bias issues?
The simple answer will be when you have more men in journalism than women, you will see many sexist journalism works. But I am not sure if women outnumber men, the media will see no sexist article anymore. The patriarchy has been deeply embedded in our society in the world. I think men and women, journalists or otherwise, have to work together to uproot patriarchy. But I have to say, in Indonesia’s case, at this moment, women are the ones who have to work harder to tackle gender bias. But I have hopes because I have more and more brilliant women as colleagues and friends in journalism.
What is your most challenging reporting?
Reporting anything against the popular belief. I believe journalists should report without fear or favour. But in the era where favouring certain politicians are the popular thing to do, hence considered the right thing, criticising those politicians could put your social relations at risk. I admire The Jakarta Post’s tagline: Always bold, always independent. For me personally, being always bold and independent is not easy at all; it takes a deep examination about my own bias.
Most memorable stories you’ve covered?
One on sexual abuses in campus, my own alma mater, Universitas Gadjah Mada and another on a forced demolition of a fisherman kampung in Muara Angke in 2003. I also cherish all the times when I faced challenging situation like travelling alone in Sumba Island in East Nusa Tenggara to meet an environmental awardee (Kalpataru) and backpacking alone in Nias Island to write on travel and the culture there. I went to Putussibau, West Kalimantan to meet the traditional community that preserves their forests and rivers.
Assignments to foreign countries are of course fun, but Indonesian journalists tend to go abroad in a pre-arranged, group event. At the end of the day, the ones I remember the most are the independent, lone reporting I did. I reported for homeless publication in Washington D.C., Street Sense during my Humphrey Fellowship year in 2012, and I interviewed young people born and raised in disadvantaged wards in the city. That was memorable too, to have an opportunity to meet strong people. In my entire career, I have never shaken hands with any Indonesian presidents. I don’t think I miss a lot.
Your career advice for young women journalists out there?
The same advice I will give to any young journalists out there: follow ethics, report fairly, always remember that your first allegiance is to the public, not to companies or certain people, not even the Pope. Be critical of your own bias, be critical of anything the sources claim. Indonesian journalists must read a lot of anything — books, articles, journals. And one important thing: use your heart in doing journalism.
This one is especially for the women: When you are already advanced in your career, look up. If you see a glass ceiling, break it.
What does a day in the life of Evi Mariani look like?
Just like any other journalist in Indonesia, I guess: glued to all the gadgets constantly. I am in a perpetual attempt to talk to real people more, hug my son and my husband more, do some gardening and cooking, catch up on my readings (the last one always a failure). On the days I have to go to the office, which are most weekdays, I take a commuter line and then walk a short distance from Palmerah station to the office. I take the same way returning home at night. I consider my daily short walks as my exercise, the compensation for my unhealthy lifestyle, which consists of too much gadget and too much sitting. I know it’s cheating, but wish me luck.