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Catcha News Wednesday,  6 June 2001
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  Malaysia's virtual newsroom logs on to savings

HONG KONG, June 6 (AFP) - In the notoriously penny-pinching world of newspaper journalism, one publisher has found a high-tech way of cutting costs -- scrap the newsroom and get reporters to buy their own computers.

With costs of newsprint on the increase and competition from multi-media emphasising the need for constant investment, Malaysian newspaper Utusan has opted to blaze an innovative trail into virtual reality to save cash.

Utusan's executive chairman Kamarul Ariffin told sceptical fellow media chiefs at the World Association of Newspaper's annual conference in Hong Kong how new developments in communications were allowing most of his reporters to operate from home.

"The advancement of computer technology in the last two decades of the last century has enabled newspaper companies such as Utusan to transform ... its work place from an over-crowded hovel to a nearly empty editorial suite," said Ariffin.

Using laptops and palm-held computers, Utushan's journalists receive their daily assignments by logging on to visit the paper's virtual newsroom, where they can also gain access to a library and database.

This enables the paper to base its staff across the country, while a mobile hit-squad remains on constant call to tackle major breaking news.

Ariffin said initially reluctant staff were persuaded to roadtest the new working method by the prospect of avoiding traffic jams, escaping the crowded office, enjoying life at home -- and presumably avoiding the formidable dressing-downs familiar in newsrooms around the world.

"With careful planning and re-writing of the journalistic manuals, the human-power requirements could be halved, thus making a good financial saving and more so enabling journalists to spend more time with their family."

He added that the concept was proving so successful he had even persuaded employees to part with hard-earned wages to pay for their own home computers.

Senior staff have also jumped at the chance to head as far away from the office as possible, Arrafin said.

"When the editor-in-chief discovered he could edit and decide on the lay-out of all our newspapers from far away places like Havana, Cuba instead of Kuala Lumpur, we could not stem the tide of his enthusiasm."

All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed. All reproduction or redistribution is expressly forbidden without the prior written agreement of AFP.

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