Cover Story: 10 Years of Ipoh Echo – Standing the Test of Time

By Ipoh Echo Team

Time really flies and before you know it, Ipoh Echo is well-nigh past its 10th anniversary. The country’s only community newspaper, by definition and orientation, has outlived prediction and speculation that, “it would not live to see tomorrow” when the first issue came out in print form on January 1, 2006.

The passage of time has seen many things happening to the tabloid ranging from its format to its circulation. From a modest print-run of 5000 copies it has now ballooned to 20,000 copies. From eight pages to 16 pages and from an antiquated Ipoh-based printer we have now migrated to a more sophisticated printer in Shah Alam, one who employs the latest in printing technology. Initially, we used 70g facsimile paper which was much more expensive but of better quality only to fall back onto newsprint, as part of a cost-saving exercise in order to increase print run, expand readership and reach a wider audience.

Moving into the 2nd decade as Voice of the Community

Our critical-reporting style of yore has now been replaced by a more compliant style, a change borne out of necessity rather than a requirement. While there are still those who pined for the abrasive Ipoh Echo of old, prudence has taught us otherwise. The maxim, “discretion is a better part of valour” holds true.

We have experienced discomforts before such as being given a show-cause letter by the Home Ministry and having our office vandalised by those who could not accept the truth. Recently, our photographer was questioned by the Special Branch for taking snapshots of an Indian temple. The complainant thought he was an Islamic State terrorist out to destroy the Gunung Cheroh Indian Temple. There are many more instances but these are some of the glaring ones that are worthy of mention here.

Notwithstanding these glitches, life has been exciting for Ipoh Echo and having surpassed the magic figure of 10 we are moving head-on into our second decade. What awaits us in the future we have no way of telling.

Reaching Out to Readers

The Ipoh Echo team reached out to avid readers from all walks of life for their critical comments and unique insights on our community newspaper.

We have plenty of long-time readers who have been with us from the very beginning. “I have read every issue since No. 1 and still have a copy of all 10 years of issues,” Commander Ian Anderson, Director of ipohWorld shared. Similarly, Swiss-born Peter Bucher, who made Ipoh his home in 2007, remembers the first Ipoh Echo office at Syeun Hotel.

What keeps us going is the footprint our newspaper coverage has left on the sands of time for the community. “An NGO such as Ipoh City Watch (ICW) has benefitted greatly from the transformation that is happening in Ipoh Echo. Being a self-funded NGO, we depend very much on newspapers to give us the publicity we require to help us push our agenda in helping the people. Ipoh Echo has stood with us from the very beginning,” Associate Professor Dr Richard Ng, the President of ICW said.

“We appreciate Ipoh Echo’s constant support for community events, like Toastmasters, Gavel clubs, Sharpened Words Literary Happenings and the arts in general,” Peter Bucher added.

“The contents now are more appealing to a wider range of age groups and to people with varying interests. This is a contrast to 10 years ago where the tabloid’s reporting was more critical on local council and government inadequacy and inefficiency. Ipoh Echo today has now become the voice of the people. Contents today are more balanced and highlights both good and negative issues. While it occasionally can be critical, however it also offers suggestions on how an issue should be handled,” Dr Richard explained. His favourites are the community and environment columns as well as Musings, which expounds on Ipoh’s food scene.

According to Peter Chan, chief executive officer of The Haven Resort Hotel & Residences, the paper is a convenient way to disseminate information to the people in the city. “The editors are people of principle who are not afraid to transmit the truth. They serve to ensure that the city progresses well for the benefit of the people. There is no conflict of interest for them and they are doing it without fear or favour. This role is of long term benefit to the city,” Peter, who has been reading the Ipoh Echo since it commenced, opined. “To the Haven, it has helped reduce unfair negativity about us,” he highlighted.

Hence, what keeps the reader’s faith in Ipoh Echo? Ipoh-born Jasemin Sibo, an international author, had this to say, “With the right leaders leading Ipoh Echo and passionate talents adding value to the company, I cannot see why Ipoh Echo can’t be a Mediacorp equivalent in Northern Peninsular Malaysia.” She has been following Ipoh Echo online for about five years, especially when she was living overseas so that she could keep abreast of the latest happenings in Ipoh.

“In days gone by I edited a local paper. Consequently I believe they are necessary to highlight forthcoming events, local activities like clubs and associations and point out shortcomings in the city and its administration. Such things are rarely covered by the National Press,” Ian Anderson remarked.

“The Ipoh Echo came into my life sometime in August 2012. Most of the articles interest me, being a community-orientated person. I thought, why don’t I contribute some community stories? When my first two articles were published, I passed around about 100 copies allotted to me. Then, I had a not-so-surprising response that people enjoyed reading the paper,” Neal Nirmal Ariyapala, an amateur naturalist and environmentalist who distributes the Ipoh Echo in Taiping, said. According to him, all the 200 copies are snapped up from his distribution points and friends at the town of many firsts.

“Getting the copy from Canning barber shop, my favourite is the hard hitting editor Colonel Fathol’s column. Keep doing what has been done all this while,” lawyer Augustine Anthony expressed. Another loyal follower of the editorial piece is Thomas Kok, ILTI principal, “Reading since its inception, it is truly an Ipohites’ paper,” Thomas commended.

As for suggestions to help make us better, Dato’ Dr Wenddi Anne Chong who co-owns Marianis@7, proposed, “Perhaps the addition of a column to share some recipes on Ipoh favourites.” She enjoys reading food reviews by See Foon Chan-Koppen in the paper which is readily available in her restaurant.

Rita, a retired school teacher, shared Wenddi’s sentiments, “Have a recipe column or an interactive column for the children to brush up their IQ and general knowledge.” Every two weeks, she will obtain 50 copies of the paper from the Ipoh Echo office in order to deliver it personally to the Dementia Day Care Centre at Jalan Foo Choong Nyit, her friends at church and family members. A reader of nine years, her favourite sections include the editorial and See Foon’s column.

Another thought was from Mohd Taib bin Mohamed, President of Perak Heritage Society who said, “Try wider coverage of news from other districts in Perak.”

“Ipoh is indeed very fortunate to have a free newspaper of such high calibre. I receive my copy online, and every issue seems to have something for somebody – a rare quality in this day and age. I have known the Ipoh Echo Editor, Fathol Bukhari, for the past 11 years and have always found him to be a person of high moral fibre, and well able to articulate issues of concern in the broader community. Being a former army officer, he understands the ex-service communities, in Malaysia and other countries, particularly those who participated in the Malayan Emergency and the Indonesian Confrontation,” Ken McNeill, the International Liaison Officer of the National Malaya & Borneo Veterans Association Australia enthused. The Tasmania-based Aussie veteran is the organiser of the annual commemorations in Taiping.

“This paper can do no better than continue its mission; to fearlessly write about the Ipoh community, (the good, the bad, and the ugly), regardless of colour or creed, that is the way forward, and this paper has leaders who are not afraid to take it that way,” Ken concluded.

Promoting Ipoh’s Food

SeeFoon Chan Koppen our intrepid Foodie-at-Large has been writing the Musings column for seven years and has garnered for herself a huge following, some of whom wait eagerly for every issue,  to discover yet another gem of a restaurant or hawker stall to add to their repertoire of places to eat.

Working often as a team with her foodie ‘kaki’  Ginla Chew, who forages out  little  tucked-away treasures in her peripatetic wanderings around  town, SeeFoon has been responsible for putting many restaurants on the culinary map and has been known to increase a restaurant’s business two or three fold with one positive review.

One-of-a-Kind Training Ground

Former staff too shared their stories and memories of working with Ipoh Echo.

“It’s an ideal place for someone who wants to start a career in journalism.  Working with the Ipoh Echo helped me establish my contact base in the newspaper line,” Ramesh, our former marketing manager back in 2006, highlighted.

Ista Kyra Sharmugam, was a contributing writer for us back in 2010. “It was a great start for me into journalism. I gave it a go as I thought the prospects of wetting my feet in writing for a community paper would be a valuable experience. I got great feedback about my writing which gave me confidence to explore further,” Ista shared. Since then, she has written for New Straits Times, Malaysian Insider and Malay Mail.

“Being a member of the team that won the 2013 Perak Tourism Awards for Best Tourism Publication remains the highlight of my time with the paper,” Emily Lowe, our stringer since 2011, said.

Our former reporter, Nantini Krishnan reflected, “It was really challenging and fun at the same time. I learned so many new things at the Echo. I’d like to contribute something to the community as well.”

Ipoh Echo in Retrospect

Flipping through the annals of Ipoh Echo the past 10 years gives us a sense of fulfilment and, to a certain extent, some regrets. By not highlighting some of the more pertinent issues relating to our arduous journey would only do injustice to the hardworking and dedicated Echo team who has slogged day and night, seven days a week, through rain and shine, to bring to our loyal readers, the happenings in our neck of the woods.

Besides feeding the gastronomical needs of readers in our foodie column, we have also brought hope and cheer to the helpless and needy in orphanages and old folks’ homes. We have given shelter and food to some who are in dire straits through donations from the authorities and well-wishers. We had even made the blind see through the generosity of Hospital Fatimah and Dr S.S. Gill.

By highlighting Dementia and Parkinson’s disease we made people aware of these two very misunderstood disabilities and how best to cope with them. We have not even forgotten our four-legged friends in our reporting, as some were being timely rescued following our revelations.

On the home front our reporting on the poor maintenance of various gardens and parks such as the Ipoh Railway Station, Ipoh Padang, Gunung Lang, Taman DR Seenivasagam, Polo Ground, to name a few, have seen some significant improvements.

We are not able to list down all of our achievements in this article. Our biggest setback is our failure to clean up our beautiful city. Illegal dumpsites and littering are still rampant in spite of attempts at improving the image of the city by mayor, Dato’ Zamri Man. This is an attitude problem prevalent in Ipohites who, unfortunately, are imbued with untidiness as an inherent habit.

However, being listed as the sixth must-visit city in Asia by Lonely Planet’s news portal vindicates our pessimism that Ipohites are beyond reproach. Although the listing by the world’s largest travel guide book publisher has come about largely due to the numerous boutique cafes and hotels in Old Town, Ipoh Echo’s subtle role must be given its due, as the tabloid has been promoting these outlets from time to time.

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