Lisa Siregar

Features Editor - Jakarta Globe | On adjusting to new perspectives, avoiding the spotlight, and bringing voices of women to the forefront.

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“Not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing.”

Lisa Siregar

Features Editor | Jakarta Globe
On adjusting to different perspectives, avoiding the spotlight, and bringing voices of women to the forefront.

 

 

One can leaf over any given newspaper today and most likely find a column depicting unique perspectives for the abstract, hilarious, fascinating or downright horrifying world around us. This is the world of feature writing – a place that can, at times, offer softer spaces for contemplation and understanding from the hard-format crisp and of everyday news.

With equal parts creativity and curiosity, the feature writer selects, examines and scrutinizes culture and society in its endless facets – books, history, science, television, sports, film or the arts – and funnels ideas through an internal maze of possibility to produce creative and inventive work at varying depth and length.

As the editor of the features desk at Jakarta Globe, Lisa Siregar stands on a unique literary foundation; A love for writing and culture synthesized with unique experience gained as a social researcher for Kompas Litbang, LIPI (The Indonesian Institute of Sciences and the Ford Foundation in her earlier years.

Manusia had the privilege of interviewing the speakers of this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, where we had a short chat with Lisa. In this interview, she reveals the opportunity and responsibility of her position to bring fresh perspectives of women in culture to Jakarta Globe’s readers. She also tells a story on learning adaptability on an eye-opening experience researching in a small village in Central Java, what has become more important to her over the years, and more!

 

You worked as a a social researcher for Kompas Litbang, LIPI (Indonesian institute of sciences) and the Ford Foundation. For those who don’t know, can you give a brief explanation of what a social researcher does?

 

I studied sociology in university, and that is simply about gaining a deeper understanding of society and the changes that happen in it. Social research mostly requires talking to people, and there are of course a lot of different methodologies involved, such as quantitative (using computational, statistical, and mathematical tools for results), and qualitative (understanding underlying reasons, opinions, and motivations) research.

It’s challenging and exhausting work. You have many focus groups and discussions, and have to call people endlessly on the phone. At Kompas they would have a room where they give you a list of phone numbers, and a list of questions. You just had to call these people, say you’re from Kompas doing research about a subject, and ask them these questions.

Many people weren’t keen, but you just have to do it! All of this work is for a data bank that is needed by the Kompas journalists. So, it’s like a research and development department for the statistics in the news.

So, as a journalist with a background in social research, I can trust the statistical information I get, because I was there too doing the social research work, and therefore I can also understand the philosophical issues behind whatever phenomena I am confronted with. I get the best of both worlds!

“I get the best of both worlds!”

 

What particular project you worked on gave you the most excitement and why?

 

It was a university assignment when I was studying Sociology in University of Indonesia. In my third year I had to go to a village in central Java for two weeks to conduct some real social research for the first time!

I was researching political education and wanted to find out how politics affects the people there, or if they even bother thinking about it. I realized how hard it was to do; not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing. They all had such different perspectives.

For example, I would ask where I could meet a particular person, to which they said he was close, when in fact he was an hour away! Even their sense of distance was completely different from mine!

“Not everyone will understand where you are coming from and what you are doing.”

 

I had to change the way I talked, how I looked and acted just so others wouldn’t be so scared or hesitant! It’s a whole different mindset and you have to blend in to become one of them.

I lived in Jakarta, and so the experience was so transformative for me because I got to see what these villagers talked about – and it was so out of touch with any aspect of modernity that I was used to – and yet – I still had to find a way to make them understand what I wanted to ask. I had to be adaptable, and it was the most challenging and rewarding experience I’ve had. I loved it.

“It’s a whole different mindset and you have to blend in to become one of them.”


You’ve written about a diverse amount of topics as a feature writer. What are some the themes that you are personally most attracted to and why?

 

 

I like the topic of gender, and I consider myself a feminist. I like to look for women in my stories, and I like delivering their voices. Working in media, I do have some power and responsibility to push these voices to the front and bring them to a larger audience.

Even in my panels, I like to refer to them and ask women what they think. I want to challenge the stereotypes here and I want people to see it happening. So that applies to writing about film, music, and fashion; I would tell my reporters to get stories about women!

“I like to look for women in my stories, and I like delivering their voices.”

Are there any Books, Music or Movies that have played an important part in shaping your life?

 

 

I enjoy any movie with a female leading role. Frances Ha by Noah Baumbach is my favorite movie, as I can relate to the story! Amelie (by jean-pierre jeunette) is another one.

More recently could be Sekala Niskala by Kamila Andini – a truly beautiful one. It has incredible Balinese dancing choreography made with local communities. I do traditional dancing as well – both Balinese and Javanese – and when I saw this movie, I cried! It had everything that I loved.


What has become more important for you over the years? and what has become less?

 

 

It’s a tough question! At the beginning of my career, I was surrounded with such great people and I wanted to appear great as well. I was sort of obsessed with making my name known and wanted to see my name on the byline on the paper!

But now, because I run the desk, and in fact, I became the editor of the desk that I started with. I’m only concerned with the topics and the message that we present and send out. I personally think that keeping your name out of the spotlight is better! You just feel more comfortable and have more room to work.

“I was sort of obsessed with making my name known and wanted to see my name on the byline on the paper!”

 

If you would like to get in touch with Lisa, you can do so at :

Email: lipsiregar@gmail.com

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