Adam Salleh’s autobiography ‘Dari Porter ke Editor’, a nostalgic glimpse of Malaysian journalism

In the United Kingdom, John Major was a London Omnibus captain (read bus driver) before winning the Tory leadership, and later succeeded Maggie Thatcher as prime minister.

Here in Malaysia, Adam Salleh was a ‘starless’ hotel bellboy who made it good as a journalist before moving up the ladder to become an editor.

So, when choosing a title for his maiden foray into book publishing, he mischievously trawled his far humble start as a porter (general dogsbody) – all 18 years old of him, and his first job in 1984 – at the Puduraya Hotel.

It was natural that he gave this self-published book ‘Dari Porter ke Editor’, as its arresting title.

Directly translated into English, the book title – ‘From Porter to Editor’ – is his memoirs, chronicling a lifetime’s journey from a wannabe-writer to the exalted corridors of Berita Harian, Harian Metro, and Metro Ahad – all titles under the umbrella of one-time media giant; the New Straits Times.

In total, Adam served 12 years covering the entertainment beat, and 21 years in general news.

Adam’s late dad was Salleh Ghani – the actor and producer who was a contemporary of the great Tan Sri P. Ramlee.

After the glory days of Malay movie-making, from the Shaw Brothers of Jalan Ampas and Cathay Keris Studios in Singapore waned in the 1970s, many gravitated to Hulu Kelang, which became our version of the Hollywood enclave.

Here, Adam and his eight siblings grew up, got their education, and interestingly, had the Ali family – Datuk Seri Azmin, Azwan, Ummi Hafilda et al – as their next door neighbour.

Adam recalls being close to Azmin (ya, the erstwhile ‘Big Minister’ – that one!) who was a year older, as his constant playmate. In this biography, Adam judiciously touched on how ‘daddy’s boy’ Azmin would spend a lot of time looking after his father’s goats. Perhaps on another occasion, a book penned by Adam on matters around political shepherding and goat herding would be forthcoming?

Puduraya of the 1980s was a magnet for all of Kuala Lumpur’s denizens. It was busier and a million times more chaotic than it is today, as it was the main bus terminal to almost all out-of-state destinations from Kuala Lumpur.

The 15-storey hotel that offered Adam his first job was centrally-placed on top of the lung-bunging, carbon monoxide belching wall of toxicity from the diesel exhaust fumes of the express buses as passengers alighted or boarded down at the basement level.

Up in the rooms, indelicately referred to by those in the know as ‘reban ayam’ or chicken coop, illicit unions take place as the rooms are sometimes let out by the hour. This, after all, is a fast ‘turnover’, if not turnaround, business.

Adam recalls how, as a very raw recruit tasked with being a lowly dogsbody, he was faced with a request for a ‘chicken dish’ from a rather persistent guest – with the thought of gastronomic delights furthest from his mind!

Still a greenhorn to the game, Adam referred to his superior, who immediately provided the contact number of a well-known local ‘madame’. Needless to say, the guest checked out of the hotel four hours later with a sheepish grin on his face and a generous tip for Adam’s first fulfilling of a guest’s request, however outlandish!

From his vantage position, Adam can recall the presence of certain individuals who would dearly now prefer to remain anonymous. Ever the circumspect journalist, Adam says; “Let what happened at Puduraya remain in Puduraya.”

His writing career ‘took off’ in 1983 when he won the consolation prize for a piece on film appreciation for the youth section of the Malaysian Film Festival.

Adam went on to write a series on his father’s involvement in the local film industry in the popular Malay entertainment magazine URTV between 1986 and 1987, which led him to his job as a journalist with the little-known Mingguan Kota tabloid.

He worked for a few more tabloids before accepting an offer to write for Berita Harian. The rest, as they say, is history.

Just so I do not pre-empt and divulge too many details about what is within the book’s 400 pages, Adam does highlight the pitfalls of journalism, including where he caught a journalist creating a fictional report, false quotes, and thereby, getting scooped by a rival.

He also suffered the slings and arrows of newsroom politics where his personal columns were yanked out by his superiors for some dubious reasons.

Adam also makes some pithy observations about the uncomfortable nexus between advertising, sponsorship, airtime, and editorial coverage.

For the journalism community, Adam’s maiden publishing foray may bring on a wave of nostalgia to relive the good (and bad) old days. But for those in no way associated with the cut and thrust of newsroom journalism, the book may give a glimpse – in this age of social media and everyone is a journalist or a ‘news’ source – of what they missed.

The book can be purchased at Kedai Fixi, Sunway Putra, Kuala Lumpur, or contact Adam at +6013-9316565.

At RM90 a copy, that’s about a week’s worth of hipster latte by comparison.

Main image: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is joined by Adam’s wife Rafnaz Zirah and Adam (right) at the book launch at Hotel Barakah in Ampang, Selangor in June.

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