Asian Pioneers

By Rachel Bui

A piece about why I started Asian Pioneers.

Earlier this year, I was up in Sydney for a journalism event. The people in the room were mainly white intellectuals, most were former journalists. To my surprise, it was an event that was very antagonistic towards current journalism (thanks News Corp). I was relieved that the keynote speaker was pushing journalism towards the values we hold dearly at Asian Pioneers. Slow, deep, thoughtful, positive and timeless journalism.

I think any new entrant into an old industry has to be an innovator, it has to change the rules of the game. Our golden rule is to ask ourselves: “Would this be a high quality piece that we would be keen to read again in 20 years time and learn something from it?” This helps us allocate our limited resources to the most interesting topics.

The reason we started Asian Pioneers was because we wanted to read more about people like ourselves. We wanted to inspire the next generation because these amazing individuals weren’t being covered in the media unless one goes through five paywalls from five different magazines. We also felt mainstream journalism had let us down on providing an unbiased view, especially on Asia. The economic pressure of modern journalism means that journalists had to rush through a piece which they should have spent weeks on.

I didn’t know race would become such a prominent issue as it is today. A friend made a comment about the ‘Asian’ in the name when we first started just over a year ago, that I should include white folks in Asia and not discriminate against them so perhaps I should remove the ‘n’ — while that makes sense to me, it also doesn’t feel right. Then I realised that we’ve been institutionalised to automatically accomodate white folks.

While I love my white friends, the white privilege that exists in our society was the reason why we had to start Asian Pioneers in the first place. We don’t have an exclusion policy despite the name (we accept posts from non-Asian authors) but we do our best to make the world more inclusive, to give people a platform for their voice to be heard, and that is to prioritise and tell Asian stories that are currently being excluded by mainstream media. Furthermore, there is a good business reason. We actually think our whites friends would be curious to know more about Asia and its innovators. The general public is curious, they’re constantly looking for diverse stories. It is unfortunate that the media tycoons are out of touch, that’s the reason why the industry is failing.

The more I follow Asia over the last five years, the more I am also curious about Africa. I’ve been studying Africa’s development since I was 18. It’s been remarkable to see the continent’s growth over the past decade. The George Floyd incident that happened in the US in the last fortnight – and the overall systemic racism – is the result of many decades of unhealthy, negative portrayal of African Americans by the mainstream media. It’s time for the African community to have their own platform to tell positive stories about their community. I’d love to see an African Pioneers or something similar, so that we can read more stories about high achieving, bright Africans and African Americans.

If you happen to read this and have the passion to start something or do something about it, we would love to share our lessons learned at Asian Pioneers and help you in any way we can to get it up. Just let us know. We are with you.