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What Maggie Agusta meant to 'The Jakarta Post'

News Desk

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, May 10, 2019  /  06:59 pm
What Maggie Agusta meant to 'The Jakarta Post'

Margaret Rose Glade Agusta (JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)

Margaret “Maggie” Rose Glade Agusta was the first head of the Check Desk and senior mentor at The Jakarta Post. She passed away on Thursday due to anaphylactic shock after an earlier allergic reaction. Her passing shocked her colleagues and prodigies since she touched so many lives at the Post, from retired senior editors to young cub reporters. The following are words about Maggie by Post staffers, past and present:


Nezar Patria (Editor-in-chief):

The last time I talked with Maggie was on May 2, when she told me she was making journalism films to be screened for our cub reporters. That day, she told me she was concerned about post-election developments and the subsequent polarization. She was really committed to this nation’s history, the unfinished chapter, like with the 1965 tragedy. She said young Indonesians had to know our history so we did not repeat the same mistakes. “I am an Indonesian citizen, I love this country”. Those were the words I remember from her. 

Raymond Toruan (Former editor-in-chief and CEO)

From the beginning, she was the one who set the English language standard of The Jakarta Post. She had also been a good friend to her colleagues. Rest in peace. 

Ati Nurbaiti (Opinion deputy editor)

It's thanks to Maggie that women employees also have the right to a pension. Maggie raised the demand at one of the annual meetings that the Post used to have. Most of us were not aware there was such discrimination; apparently the Post was among the typical organizations that assumed women were dependent on their husbands. I forgot Maggie's words but she spelled out clearly her message of equal rights.

The Post is also reflective of Indonesian society, which derides gender minorities, though in private, of course. In one meeting evaluating new cub reporters, one editor was making fun of one of the feminine-looking male cub reporters. And Maggie raised a very angry voice, expressing she was having none of it. Again, I have forgotten her words but everyone knew that the jokes weren't funny and were against the ideals of the Post for an inclusive civil society.

On her Facebook account, she shared a story of a parent embracing a gay son. This may be more normal in her native US, but this message was especially poignant and bold in Indonesia's more conservative society. Her late husband, the poet Leon Agusta, is from West Sumatra. I only knew the other day of her article in Magdalene of parenting a gay child; it's precious and I'll share it to conservative members of my family who might agree with the legal stoning of gays in Brunei.

Linda Hollands Sjahlim (Head of Check Desk)

When The Jakarta Post was published in 1983, its first editor-in-chief, Sabam Siagian, and other senior editors were aware of the need for consistency across the English daily, but it was not until 1995 that Margaret Agusta, an American-born editor and The Jakarta Post’s first head of the Check Desk, took the initiative to develop this internal guide.

Maggie’s degree in library science informed her selection of primary source materials, including the seminal journalism style guide, the AP Style Guide. During the heyday of the New Order era, the newspaper followed a straight news writing style, and so the internal guide was similarly technical in nature.

Harry Bhaskara (Former managing editor)

Maggie Agusta was the embodiment of The Jakarta Post English language quality. She was the unsung heroine behind what the paper looks like today, having edited the language of the paper literally from day one. She was the person who almost single-handedly set up the solid team of expat language editors the paper has today and she did it from scratch.

She was an absolutely dedicated editor with such a rich local knowledge, despite being an American when she first came to Indonesia a few decades ago after marrying a very talented Indonesian poet (it is not an easy feat to adapt to a new country while working long hours in a newspaper office). She was a wonderful colleague to work with while at the same time demanded a very high standard of English from us Indonesian reporters.

She will be missed by all of us. She may have gone but her legacy lives on.

Evi Mariani (Managing editor)

It is hard to imagine walking to the office and not seeing Bu Maggie at her desk. Generations of Post reporters had experienced her strict yet kind mentoring. Bu Maggie was an inseparable part of The Jakarta Post and I feel like we lost a limb when I heard she passed away. I have never met anyone kinder and what made her even better is she was a feminist.

Damar Harsanto (Managing editor)

I had been fortunate enough to work with Maggie to mentor cub reporters since 2012. On many occasions during the board of mentors meetings, Maggie personally defended some “difficult cub reporters” who were unlikely to make the cut out of her strong belief that the reporter had untapped talents and potentials. She would spend hours upon hours listening deeply to young journalists to get the best out of the persons she was mentoring. She proved us wrong many times, as we witnessed that she eventually came up with well-polished diamonds of our newsroom.

She remains alive with me today. She connected me with a dog that has become my best friend in the past five years.

Imanuddin Razak (Special Report editor)

Maggie was basically a pioneer in setting the standards – both for journalism values and English writing – among nearly all Post journalists. She was a person of persistence with high demands for quality and a strict obedience to rules and principles: things that people of the younger generation often tend to ignore or pay less attention to.

She was one of the mentors when I was myself a cub reporter in 1993. I was in intense cooperation with her when I was the head of The Jakarta Post's Education Center from 2016 to 2018.

May you rest in peace and have a pleasant place beside God – the Almighty.

Sita Dewi (National Desk editor)

I will never forget the year when I was a cub reporter. I spent so many evenings sitting next to Bu Maggie, my mentor, as she scrutinized every single word I wrote. She could spend three straight hours just to fix my 600-word piece. Those three hour sessions are what made me who I am today.

Irawaty Wardany (City Desk editor)

Walking past the cubicle where Ibu Maggie used to sit, reading the newspaper while waiting for new reporters to be mentored by her, choked me to tears as it is now empty. It was like a void was created in my heart when I heard of her passing.

Ibu Maggie had always had a special place in my heart and, I believe, in everyone’s hearts that work or used to work for The Jakarta Post. She was a motherly figure to most of us who are not from Jakarta. She always gave us her ears, listening to any problems we faced, and encouraged us not to give up no matter how bad the hardships were that we were facing.

Maggie was mentor who shaped many writers at the Post. We lost a great soul.

Tama Salim (World Desk editor)

My family has known Maggie's for more than I can even remember, but it was a chance meeting with her through her son Paul and a cousin of mine that she suggested I sign up at The Jakarta Post. Up until that point, I was just getting out of another job, and being a casual reader of the Post I decided to go for it. We met again for a chat, and I ended up signing up. Without her kindness and warm encouragement, I don't think I would have joined the Post.

Once I got in she became my very first mentor – and instilled in me the confidence to continue on the path of journalism. She had taught me (and probably everyone else before and after me) how to "connect the dots" and find personal context in the stories we write. Without her unending patience and generosity, I don't think I would have stayed long enough to find my own way at the Post and get to where I am today.

I owe my world to her.

Rest in peace, Mama Maggie.

Margaret Aritonang (Reporter)

“Be compassionate. And if you want to change the world with your job, do it compassionately”, was Bu Maggie’s message that I hold onto in my heart dearly. It has become my personal creed as a journalist, and a human being.

I didn’t understand the first time she told me this. I just joined The Jakarta Post as a cub reporter, full of bitterness and resentment toward the world. I wanted to do something and believed journalism was the way. I didn’t expect that I would be more troubled as I went deeper into my work. I was exposed to more social injustices, exploitation and misuses of power at all levels.

I became even more resentful, although the dream to change the world, whatever that means, was still in mind. There were also times when I was too carried away, losing myself in public recognition for “doing a good job” with my reports. At such times, journalism appeared to be more about self-fulfilling instead of an instrument to create a better life for all. There were times when I wanted the universe to revolve around me.

Bu Maggie helped me see that the world is not a broken place to fix. She taught me that attitude is key, that attitude puts things into perspective. She also taught me that I am important but I am not the world. I am just a tiny part of a grand cosmic project; so tiny but so important that without my contribution, the project will miss a puzzle piece.

I am truly blessed that Maggie Agusta was the first person I met at the Post. As a mentor, she compassionately helped shaped my journalistic skills, and continuously encouraged me to use them responsibly. She taught me that journalism is not just a job. It is a calling. She acted beyond her mentorship role. She was my friend. 

Josa Lukman (Features Desk reporter)

I knew Bu Maggie as an inspiring woman. It might sound cliche, but she was, and still is, an inspiration to us all.

I think Bu Maggie is responsible for me being at The Jakarta Post. Through her mentoring, I discovered the reason why I wanted to write in the first place: to inspire. Now, the topics I cover aren't the serious, political stories, but Bu Maggie assured me that lighthearted or evocative articles on the arts and entertainment remind us all that fire and fury are not all that we are.

Rest in peace, Bu Maggie. I'll send you that fashion article one day. 

Gisela Swaragita (Reporter)

The first time I saw her was when I and my batch of cub reporters were sitting in a training class. Suddenly, this wrinkled, slow-moving lady walked in slowly with the help of her cane. She looked so frail but her eyes were shining brighter than anyone's in the room. Her voice was so soft but her words were so sharp, like a curving knife that opened our minds.

But Bu Maggie was more than just a mentor. She was our friend. She always made sure that we knew she was always available for us.

During Idul Fitri last year, she texted me "Do you have anyone to spend Lebaran with? If you don't, you can come to our house and have a Lebaran dinner." I went and ate and sat and talked with them as a family.

There were also ridiculously overwhelming moments where all I could do was to run to her and cry.

Talking to her always cooled down my burnout and restored faith in myself, which many times I lost. She always knew how to make you feel special in the most loving and sincere way.

This frail looking woman, the old elephant, had been a rock to many, countless souls that had been far from home and lost confidence in themselves.

Cub reporters of 2019

We're lucky to have known her even if it was only for a short period of time. As a mentor, she inspired us through her dedication, knowledge, support and kindness. Her spirit will always live on through our work.

Ana Cecilia Regalado (JP alumnus)

If one were to describe Maggie, it would be that she always knew more than she had the time to tell or explain. In her steps and in every expression that crossed her features, there was a range of emotions and thoughts that thundered behind her kind eyes. There was always something about her smile that was warm and infectious. It was mischievous and yet playful, but also held an air of many years of experiences from a feisty youth to the still-feisty and strong-handed older lady she grew into.

Her countless stories about her days out and about in a country she barely knew but eventually called home were like the tales one could find in memoirs of some great heroine – though unlike a heroine, there was nothing naïve about her.

I would have to say that instead of “sagely” advice, her advice was more “spicy” in flavor. It was full of vigor and energy, an energy that charged her words so that they did not weigh heavy on one’s mind, but caused it to fly free and seek whatever sky one was searching for.

Maggie was such a personality that even after months of no contact, it is impossible for even I to forget the way she spoke, moved, winked and ground her teeth in an endearing manner that was characteristic only of her. Though she is a light that has moved on to a better place from this world that she loved very much, she left behind many fantastic writers at The Jakarta Post who will continue amazing good work in her wake.

Emmy Fitri (JP alumnus)

The news of her passing surely broke the hearts of many of us who ever worked with her. Memories of days with her, countless conversations and her wits as well as her morsels of life all came knocking on the door.

With her undoubted passion for words and knowledge, she had always been the go-to person for dealing with confusion, hesitation and sometimes frustration with the then-daily mundane tasks as a journalist.

Ibu Maggie, whom I met first in the late 1990s, was one member of The Jakarta Post’s big editorial family that made the dreadful parts of trying to make sense of the muddled world less painful. The clarity of her thoughts demonstrated her depth of understanding of life and the liberty of her mind; qualities that I admired most and looked up to. She almost became an office mother for many of us, myself included; she was a selfless soul who would sit and listen to us patiently, pat us on our shoulders for even unnoticeable small achievements and tirelessly challenge our ideas to hone our thoughts.

Her legacy will live on. Think of her still as the same because she is just away. Rest in love, Ibu Maggie.

Bruce Emond (JP alumnus)

An artist by education, Maggie was bright and gifted enough to be able to turn her talents to the craft of subediting. She had been at the newspaper since its founding in 1983, and emphasized to us newbies the goals of the newspaper, pluralism and the importance of respecting our Indonesian colleagues. Above all, she was loyal and committed to the Post; she was truly the instigator in the effort to achieve a quality product with excellent standards. She took care of the headline pages and the editorial so they would be word perfect.

Maggie was a strong woman, someone who was opinionated and preferred things her way because she believed she was right. She was also intelligent, thoughtful, creative and artistic, an adept translator who understood the nuances of Indonesian and the intricacies of Indonesian culture, in all its diverse permutations. She was also unflaggingly passionate about the causes she believed in, especially women's rights and the arts. 

Hearing of Maggie's passing is saddening to me, because she truly made a difference at the Post and, I believe, in Indonesia. She is someone who truly will be missed.

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