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How she started her journalism career with a black metal concert
By Mary Wu
Nur Adilah_Singapore Press Holdings_SPH Scholars Choice
Berita Harian’s senior correspondent Nur Adilah Ahmad Mahbob has covered the general news beat for over a decade and currently works on news features for the weekend. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

SPH Media scholar says her job has opened her to new experiences, taking her out of her comfort zone

As an intern with Berita Harian’s (BH) news desk in 2006, the then 18-year-old Ms Nur Adilah Ahmad Mahbob found herself in the most unexpected of places – at a black metal concert.

“There I was, a tudung-clad lady amidst a crowd of hardcore fans,” she recalls. “It was a taste of what my journalism career would be like; sometimes unexpected, often pushing me out of my comfort zone.”

During this first foray into journalism, Ms Adilah was also exposed to many exciting facets of the profession, from crime and court to the general election, not to mention the adrenaline rush of meeting deadlines.

More on this topic: Revealing untold stories: She’s shining the spotlight on neglected corners of society

She also had the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, from the common man to movers and shakers in business and politics, which further deepened her passion for journalism.

That same year, Ms Adilah accepted a scholarship from Singapore Press Holdings (now known as the SPH Media Journalism Scholarship) and embarked on her studies in the National University of Singapore. 

The scholarship gave her a sense of security, knowing that she would not need to worry about school fees and her allowance while being assured of a job after graduating. This meant she could focus fully on her studies.

The scholarship also allowed her to do a six-month overseas exchange programme at the University of Toronto, Canada in 2009 where she took the opportunity to travel around North America. 

“The important thing is to be able to bring an issue to light without sensationalising it or ‘click-baiting’ readers.”

Ms Nur Adilah Ahmad, recipient of the SPH scholarship

Bringing a different perspective 

What may be surprising is that Ms Adilah does not have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, or the humanities. In fact, the scholar specialises in molecular and cell biology, in the field of life sciences.

However, it is not as unrelated to journalism as one might think.

“The rigour in science education instils a sense of curiosity about the world, a passion for learning, and critical thinking – values and skills which prepared me for a career in journalism,” notes the 35-year-old who is now a senior correspondent with BH.

For example, the hours she spent doing experiments and crunching data in the science laboratory taught her how to be patient and meticulous in her work – a quality she applies when covering highly technical topics. 

“Many of my colleagues also come from different backgrounds and fields: science, economics and business,” she says. “They learnt journalism on the job, bringing with them different perspectives and strengths from their respective fields.”

For Ms Adilah, her grounding in science has also proven to be useful when reporting on topics such as the pandemic, climate change and technology. Her deeper understanding of these subjects has helped her to better explain complex concepts to readers.

Writing stories that matter

It has been over a decade since Ms Adilah joined the company full time in May 2010, where she has been covering general news beats, from manpower to housing.

“Some topics I’ve covered over the years include the plight of gig workers in the community and the higher educational achievements of Malay students as well as the threat of radicalisation,” she adds.

Since July 2022, she has been working with a team to plan news features for the weekend. In her current role as a senior correspondent, she also works on her own stories and develops more in-depth features.

“I’ve been able to cover topics such as marriage and divorce trends in the Malay community, awareness of end-of-life planning and amendments to the Maintenance of Parents Act,” she shares. 

One topic she recently covered was social mobility and inequality in Singapore’s Malay community. While it has been heartening to report on the progress of the Malay community over the years, she says there are still many issues that need to be highlighted.

“It is important to identify the barriers that may impede the progress of certain segments of society and examine what we can do to help improve their lives,” she says. 

As part of her job, Ms Adilah has had opportunities to travel to Germany, China and Laos for work. She also gets to upgrade her skills through a plethora of courses, workshops and training programmes for staff.

She recently participated in the Temasek Foundation WAN-IFRA Young Media Leaders Fellowship Programme where she met fellow journalists from the region and discussed the future of the media industry in the digital space – a topic that is of deep interest to her. 

“Whether in print, online or social media, platforms may change, but the basics of journalism – the discipline to report accurately and responsibly, and the skill to tell impactful stories – will always be non-negotiable, especially in an era where anyone can publish anything online,” she says. 

As a journalist, Ms Adilah says she wants to make an impact by raising awareness on certain issues and tackling challenging narratives.

“The important thing is to be able to bring an issue to light without sensationalising it or ‘click-baiting’ readers,” she says.

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