Strong content the way forward for newspapers - Feb 16, 2006 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

Strong content the way forward for newspapers

By Natalie Soh
Feb 16, 2006
The Straits Times

THE Internet is brimming with news, but traditional newspapers can still hold their own by delivering exceptional and credible content.

To achieve this, they must consistently invest in journalists, teach comprehensive news gathering, clear writing and idea generation, and the ability to make judgments about the worth of the information they collect.

This was the message from the editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay Newspaper Division, Mr Cheong Yip Seng, who made a 'back to basics' call at the company's annual ceremony to celebrate its best journalism achievements yesterday.

The Straits Times made a near clean sweep of the awards, including Story of the Year, on the emergence of presidential candidate Andrew Kuan, and Feature of the Year, on the plight of the poor in Singapore. It also took awards in design and photography.

The Young Journalist of the Year prize went to Sunday Times reporter Jeremy Au Yong.

Business Times won an award for Commentary of the Year, on the cool response to Neptune Orient Lines' cash returns to shareholders, while Berita Harian's 'SEIYU-nara?' - on the Japanese department store's sale to local company CapitaLand - won Headline of the Year.

For her work exposing the extravagance of the National Kidney Foundation prior to its overhaul, Ms Susan Long, who is now the paper's Saturday Special Report editor, received an award specially created by the judging committee.

The story, published in April 2004, was not eligible for an award then as it faced legal action almost immediately after it was published. But the story created waves that would eventually result in a wholesale restructuring of Singapore's charity sector.

Mr Cheong's speech came a week after he wrote an article on the challenges posed to print journalism by other sources of news.

His solution: Invest in quality journalism by promoting serious journalism, but at the same time, do not neglect what HDB heartlanders want to read.

Newspapers also have to keep pace with changing lifestyles, he said, which is why The Straits Times, which already produces a 'rich buffet', introduced the Mind Your Body and Urban weekly supplements in October 2004.

He noted that, while publishers everywhere are putting their money into the Internet and other platforms, they are keenly aware that it is still newspaper readership that will 'pay the bills for a very long time to come'.

Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang cited the award-winning stories as examples of how investing in talent, space and time can pay off.

In the story of the year, for instance, it was the time spent with his contacts that got crime correspondent K. C. Vijayan the tip-off that Andrew Kuan was the next presidential hopeful.

Mr Kuan would only talk to veteran political reporter Chua Mui Hoong, whom he trusted to get the story right. It was a winning combination which produced the scoop of the year.

For their winning feature, reporters Theresa Tan and Vivi Yanti Zainol spent weeks researching the poor underclass in Singapore. Their work was spread over eight pages in January last year.

Said Mr Han: 'This is the kind of significant commitment you have to make with resources and time to do an important story like that well.'

The educated and better informed readers of the paper will accept no less.

To illustrate his point, Mr Cheong shared an anecdote from a newspaper editors' conference in Davos, Switzerland.

It was late at night, he said, after a long day discussing the future of news, when a young man who was not a journalist stood up.

'His message to us was: You have a unique asset - your credibility and your brand. It is worth a lot. Who else on the Net has that?'