Life lessons for future journalists.
With his unorthodox, on-the-spot reporting style and light-hearted personality, Patpon “Artie” Sabpaitoon has arguably become Thailand’s most adored journalist, particularly with the younger crowd, for his coverage of the protests. We got in touch with him now that he is on a sabbatical from The Bangkok Post to uncover his real dream, his journey from self-described “lost” international relations student to professional journalist, and how life is now that his name is on everybody’s lips.
How did it all begin for you as a journalist?
It was random. At the time, I was quite lost—“Kafka on The Shore” kind of lost. I [had been] eliminated from the MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) list. I didn’t know where to go. I was devastated, doubting myself whether I was good enough. When I finally moved on, I wanted to do something where I could utilize my skills as an international relations student. I found the [job] ad. Applied. Got the job.
Have you always wanted to be a journalist?
No. Not once did I think of becoming a journalist. The love for the profession, however, flourished as I was growing in this path. There are misconceptions about my dreams and what I wanted to become. To set the record straight, all I ever wanted to do is sing. Singing is my life, my only purpose. That’s all I ever wanted to do, to write my own songs and sing them.
What’s the most important quality a journalist should have?
Open-mindedness. When you cover an event, pretend as if you are a camera: capture the moment without filling it with your biases. As a student of humanity, I have learned to respect people around me. We all have stories to tell. Don’t just make assumptions about someone’s life; listen to them, look through their own eyes. You’ll never know someone or something until you really get the chance to talk to them and experience it.
How do you conduct yourself when it comes to politics?
When I first started out as a journalist, the editor asked me which “desks” I wanted to work on. “Life,” I replied, because I love art, film, and music. He decided to send me to the politics desk. Working as a politics and foreign affairs journalist was an excruciatingly painful experience, but it also taught me numerous priceless takeaways, which I will forever be grateful for.
What do you think of the situation [of the protests] right now? Do you see a way out?
Politics is nothing but a struggle for power. It bores me to death. But I advocate freedom of assembly and freedom of expression with all my heart. Nobody can take those away from the Thai people. And, well, If I can come up with a solution to bring Thailand out of political quagmire, I would probably get a Nobel prize. Don’t you think so? [laughs]
What’s the situation between you and Bangkok Post? What happened?
Okay, how do you feel now that you’ve been thrust into stardom?
I hate being famous as a journalist, trust me. It’s so damn hard to work. People will form narratives about you and “who you are.” They won’t give you a chance to explain yourself because they have already made up their mind about the “real you.” But everybody’s entitled to their own opinion.
When the #saveARTIE hashtag rose to number one on Twitter Thailand, it got me feeling so anxious. I never wanted to become famous as a journalist. The only thing I want to see on any number one lists are the songs I wrote.
What has been your favorite memory or moments from reporting at the protests?
When the people helped hold the camera for me.
What would be your advice to aspiring journalists who, someday, might want to become like you?
Don’t become like me. Don’t idolize me. Idolize the profession—be the voice of the voiceless. Be the voice of reason. Seek truth. Report only fair, unbiased, and accurate info, and report it honestly. Then the truth will carry you wherever you want to go.
What’s next for you?
A Pulitzer or Grammy perhaps? [laughs]