Thinking Allowed, Thinking Aloud.
Meeting Jeff Ooi is very much different than reading his blog. You would not expect this quiet, dimunitive person to blog with such ferocity, that he has become the undisputed icon of Malaysian blogosphere. Yet, underneath the seemingly harmless and friendly persona, lies a seasoned cyber-activist that is commited to the causes he holds true. Sometimes to the point of being downright stubborn in not backing away from issues that might put him in an unpopular stance, especially with the government and authorities. I know of at least one organisation that breathes a sigh of relief when their ‘brand’ is not scrutinised by Jeff's blog, called Screenshots. He remains the leading advocate of blogging in Malaysia, and at least one leading online media for the ‘populist’ readership labels him, Malaysia's most influential blogger. He is also the most embattled.
Bridging Mainstream Media and Blogs
It is generally agreed that mainstream media in Malaysia leaves a lot to be desired. Then again, the same can be argued about blogging in Malaysia, where internet penetration and literacy is low, despite efforts by the government and a somewhat more lacklustre delivery of broadband availability by local telecommunications company. Jeff Ooi could not be bothered about the excuses they give, and is the leading propagator of online communities that band together in times when the common good needs a common touchpoint for discussion. A good example is community portal USJ.com.my, where residents of a predominantly upper middle class residential area bandied together and stopped ‘interested parties’ from building a food court instead of a much needed police station. This story has been featured in Global Voices, in an interview.
Challenging the Mainstream, Swimming against the tide
More than anything else, he challenges mainstream media to ‘clean up their act', and has strong links to senior editors and correspondents of both local and foreign mainstream media. These strong links might not be all that friendly, however, as a one journalist of a mainstream media puts it to me, “We can thrive of each other, but with Jeff, you have to have your guard up all the time”. Indeed, that is what bloggers should personify, by being a media watchdog and ensuring that the news that is disseminated is not ‘spun’ to achieve a certain political agenda, which Malaysian mainstream media is notorious for doing. It bears some note that the major media companies are owned, directly or otherwise, by the major political component parties that make up the dominant ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional.
Jeff Ooi is right in the middle of this vortex. He has taken up the task of putting his own spin, one which the public seems to react more positively to, on the stories that the mainstream media puts out. He has been thanked, on one occasion, by being villified on the front page by a major malay language daily, as publishing a commentary that criticised Islam. It created such a ruckus, that Jeff Ooi was subsequently called up and questioned by the police, with regards to several issues on his blogs, particularly the post that created so much fuss. It also raised Jeff Ooi's profile somewhat, helped by his engagement with the media on the issue. It also helped that the junior reporter who covered the story totally missed the point about blogging and the (changing) architecture of grassroot media, a term that seems threatening at one time. Not anymore.
Flashblog – The Jeff Ooi Interview
This blogger interviewed Jeff Ooi, rather it was a casual conversation on his blogging activities, and created a flashblog entry that so far has been read over three thousand times. It bears testament to the public's interest over this dimunitive man and his ‘Thinking', allowed and aloud.
Some of the things missed in that interview, which I uncovered later, was that he styled his blogging much after Dan Gillmor, a person he cites as the one whom moved him to start in the first place. He writes of meeting his role model here.
After all is said and done …
Jeff Ooi remains the leading blogger in Malaysia. Yet he is still, more often than not, marginalised by a country more prone to write about foreign bloggers and the global advent of blogging, and not mention any local bloggers in their story. He has made strides in embedding himself in the local media scene, with his army of ‘little birds', the term he uses for his sources, of which he maintains strong relationships with.
There are those who disagrees with him, as there will always be, but it is this blogger's opinion that a majority of Malaysians who are internet literate, find Jeff Ooi's blog, Screenshots, to be a source of news that matters to the man on the road. He is, above all, truly grassroots, in character, by nature and he uses his blog to reach out to Malaysian like himself, presenting a voice that is slowly, but surely, getting much louder.
[Link: Jeff Ooi's blog - Screenshots ]