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Career Decisions – The Phnom Penh Post

The JMSC’s Careers and Internships department will periodically profile a regional media outlet as part of a series aimed at helping JMSC alumni with career decisions.

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Every summer, journalism students leave the JMSC with reporting and technical skills that equip them to work in a variety of old and new media. For some, testing their newfound skills in the tough, traditional newspaper environment still holds the greatest allure, and one such news outlet, the Phnom Penh Post, has become a popular proving ground for JMSC graduates and current students alike.

Justin Heifetz (MJ ’11), Paola Barisani (MJ ’12) and Anne Renzenbrink (MJ ’12) all started working at Cambodia’s main English-language daily soon after graduation. Heifetz joined the Post as a web editor in charge of crucial changes at the paper, including redesigning the site to allow breaking news in real time, and adding a social media presence. He moved on to a similar role at the Post’s sister publication, The Myanmar Times, before joining Mizzima in Yangon.

Barisani had interned for the paper over her winter break and went back after graduation to take over from Heifitz, serving as the web editor through the spring of 2013. The role was a challenge for Barisani, who is from Italy and who, as a non-native English speaker, found the pace of online editing daunting. But she improved quickly and lauds the paper for trusting her with the role. “The Phnom Penh Post gives young reporters a chance to prove themselves in a tough environment. There are always numerous opportunities,” she said.

Paola Barisani, former web editor for the Post and MJ '12.

Paola Barisani, former web editor for the Post and MJ ’12.

Renzenbrink also interned for the paper before becoming a business reporter last fall and finding herself covering an area of the world where good business stories abound. “There are a bunch of interesting developments in the business sector, not just in Cambodia, but also regionally across South East Asia,” Renzenbrink said. Her articles, including a recent story describing China’s influence on Cambodia’s economy, are archived here.

Alan Parkhouse, an Australian, is the Post’s editor-in-chief. He has worked extensively in Asia Pacific and the UK as a sub-editor for such papers as The Bangkok Post, The Nation, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Telegraph and The Telegraph, and he has a theory about the allure of his current paper for students and graduates: “You gain a hell of a lot of experience – experience that they wouldn’t gain elsewhere – simply by the nature of the stories we get to report on in Cambodia. News here is much more cutting-edge and exciting because of the issues people face in Cambodia,” he said.

Those issues include a country that is still recovering from decades of civil war and genocide. Many of the paper’s stories involve land rights and human rights abuses. The U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal is in the process of trying the surviving leaders of the Cambodian communist party, which carried out the genocide – one of the biggest human rights court cases in history. Parkhouse said the paper rotates journalists, including interns and new recruits, to cover the proceedings.

The paper has two floors of office space in a small industrial estate minutes from the centre of Phnom Penh, and a printing press on the outskirts of town.  It employs about 200 people, many of whom speak Khmer and work in tandem with English-speaking reporters. The Post has a regular daily print readership of over 12,000, a number Parkhouse said is dwarfed by an online readership that he estimated as much as 100 times higher, largely due to the exodus of Cambodians who fled the Khmer Rouge regime and are now living outside of the country.

The Post has become something of a regional standout, winning seven international and domestic awards in 2012 alone, including prizes from the Society of Publishers in Asia and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. The paper’s only English-language competition is a small, pamphlet-like publication called the Cambodia Daily.

Anne Renzenbrink, business reporter for the Post and MJ '12.

Anne Renzenbrink, business reporter for the Post and MJ ’12.

According to Parkhouse, the Cambodian press enjoys a level of freedom that is unusual in the region. “We don’t have any censorship here,” he said. “Occasionally, we get angry letters and phone calls from the government over stories we’ve run, but we’ve never been sued….There are no subjects that we cannot write about.”

The Post has been a popular internship destination for years. It’s especially appealing to students who want the opportunity to report and write multiple stories independently.

Current MJ Soo Jin Kim, who interned with the Post over the 2013 winter break, found a wide range of roles available to her at the paper. “The internship experience at Phnom Penh Post is very hands-on and exciting,” she said, “I worked for three desks: national, lifestyle, and business. I’ve done a wide range of work, from sub-editing, to pulling news wires, to editing the layout, to writing articles.”

Fellow MJ and 2013 winter intern Stephanie Ip said that the editors were “very open to your ideas and willing to let you write articles for them” – something she said she didn’t think a lot of other papers would to offer to novice journalists. Ip’s articles are archived here.

Parkhouse said interns are treated no differently than the rest of the reporting staff. They are given a few office-based days to get to know how things work, and are then sent right out on stories. “We coach them, give them contacts, and make sure they are provided with support. Editors make sure they are given all the help that they can. But they are encouraged to be, as quickly as they can, just another member of staff,” he said.

Heifetz thinks skilled graduates can really make a difference at papers like the Phnom Penh Post. The paper needs the up-to-date skills and experience that current JMSC graduates bring, he said, including online and data journalism skills. But, he warned: “If you want to be hand held, this isn’t the place for you.”