berthahenson

Posts Tagged ‘breakfast’

Training the untrained

In News Reports, Society, Writing on August 18, 2012 at 2:37 am

The thing about being employed is, well, you have to work….So here I am (physically) at Tembusu College in U-town on a Saturday, in a nice studio apartment, hammering at the keyboard, facing some trees. Not Tembusus though. And I forgot that on Saturdays, the residential college’s dining hall doesn’t open and had to contend myself with an expensive breakfast at the nearby 24-hour Starbucks. A breakfast that costs more than $6 is expensive in my books…

Yep, Starbucks is at U-town, so is Fish&Co, Subway, an Italian restaurant, a Korean one and Old Hong Kong. Cheap and good by working adult standards though I am not sure how many undergrads can afford a coffee at Stabucks everyday.

I am waiting for the start of Family Day or actually, waiting to see how a group of aspiring journalists will go about covering the event. This is assignment No, 2 and I am already thinking to myself: What did I let myself in for?

Assignment No. 1 took place on Thursday, a forum with four experts on that gigantic topic known as Climate Change. Truth to tell, I have never been too interested in this issue in my past life. Carbon credits, sustainable development (so glad I was to hear one expert describe it as mere rhetoric!), and all that diplomatic-speak about frameworks and conventions…sheesh. Just keep Singapore clean lah.

But, man, I had to be an instant expert on this. The great thing about journalism though is that, whatever the topic, the principles of reporting and writing are the same. But after being so long in newsrooms among trained people who share them, it was a bit of a shock to find out that I had to start from scratch with the un-trained.

I was glad to have good students; ready and willing to take advice and who would ask me questions. One told me that I had rocked all the assumptions about journalism she learnt in school when I suggested a different way of writing an article. “But is that a news story?” she asked. “Or is it feature?” Frankly, I never bothered about such distinctions in my former professional life. Every article is about story-telling, after all.

Another who was all wound up to interview the Forum’s chairman, Prof Tommy Koh, rang me before the forum started with what he said was a “tragic update” (very journalistic I thought). The Prof wasn’t turning up, he said. Never mind, I said, his article (to commemorate the 20 years since Prof Koh chaired the first Earth summit) was still good to go.

Another wanted some basic tips on how to ask questions – Go up to the mike, introduce yourself and ask the question, I said. What question do you want to ask anyway? Turns out he had some general idea but hadn’t framed anything yet.  (I find this a common problem – nobody knows how to ask questions anymore, and if they do ask one, it’s a general question like How do FEEL or What do you THINK?) Anyway, we formulated a proper question for him. I caught him rehearsing his one question in the college lounge before the forum started. I was pretty chuffed to see that he was the first one at the mike at question-time. Wow. Thick skin, I thought.

Most of them didn’t have thick skins – a basic pre-requisite for a journalist. Or maybe they didn’t prepare themselves well enough for the trauma of speaking to someone they don’t know. There we were in the multi-purpose hall with the speakers already present.  There was still time to “get” them before they went on stage, I said. Go, go, there’s the woman you want to get. How? How to do this, was the reply. Guess it is not in everybody’s DNA to just go up to someone, introduce themselves and make small talk.

So I got up instead, hoping that the rest will follow. They didn’t.

Nor was it easy for the less thick-skinned to do a door-stop methinks. Go get a copy of that fellow’s slides at the end of the forum, I said. In the end, I got up myself because the expert was about to exit the building. The good news is, they followed and had their own interview with a couple of the speakers. I gathered that another student cornered an expert outside the hall on his way to the car. Way to go!!

They might be shy and not fast enough on their feet (not by my standards at least), but they sure are bright. They pointed out contradictions in the speakers’ speeches, and wondered whether some ideas made sense. I heard plenty of opinion, which is very good. If the College aims to raise the level of intellectual discussion, well, looks like it has collected enough mental matter to make it happen.

But hey, this is reporting, I said. You have an opinion, you write a column. You don’t like what he said, I don’t care. Is it worth reporting? Yes? No? What’s the most critical thing here? What? Will anyone WANT to read something like that? Then there was a general lament over my two-hour deadline for submission of reports. By the time we were done, it was already close to 10.30pm. And there I was thinking that undergraduates do not go to sleep especially if they live on campus….I mean, that’s how I lived my own undergraduate life.

Ex-colleagues who were interested to know about how the first assignment went have chided me for being too kind, soft and mellow. “Favouritism! You would have torn us a new one!” one of them told me.

But, hey, I am having a blast!

PS. My apologies to those expecting some kinda critique of current affairs. Sometimes I get into a self-indulgent binge.

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Hard Copy

In News Reports, Politics on May 11, 2012 at 11:46 pm

Finally, they arrived – with a “ketang” as they were hurled against the wooden door. 6.45am – too late by my reckoning. I was already on my iPad for my fix…So, the iPad gets turned off and I have hard copy in my hands again. I am officially a subscriber! I get all the English-language newspapers delivered to my home – except Today, which I used to read in the newsroom. But yesterday, I found out that my neighbourhood 7/11 stocks them – under the counter. It was only when I was paying the bill, and a woman stretched out her hand from behind me that I discovered that the check-out girl was hoarding them. I asked for a copy too, and it was handed over reluctantly. Maybe it was a service for regulars,  maybe it was stocked for the karung guni man. I mean, get your free newspaper and sell them…not a bad business idea particularly when you have space to store them.

Anyway, clutching hard copy beats fingers doing the walking anytime. I so totally identify with that Angus Ross winner featured in ST who said smelling a book stopped  her from vomiting. My newspapers have an addded use – I use them to wrap vegetables….

Bye-bye by-election?

The biggest news for me today was that the Hougang woman had decided to beg out having her by-election application heard in court. Of all the things that her lawyer, M Ravi, had done in the past, this was probably the most useful move done on behalf of Singaporeans. I guess they were being pragmatic, as the by-election is already called and is now  fact. But hey, what about the bigger political question? So will we now never know if the Prime Minister really has unfettered discretion on whether to hold a by-election when a seat falls vacant?

In the past, when Members like Ong Chit Chung and S Balaji died, the answer from the incumbent has always been that their work of serving the residents can be spread out among the other GRC members. And when they WERE held, there were political imperatives for the incumbent – to bring in new blood and secure a mandate for the then PM Goh Chok Tong as in the Marine Parade GRC by-election in 1991. So I suppose the Hougang election is being held because it was a single-seat ward with no “cover” from fellow GRC members? Or is it again some kind of political imperative, that the ruling PAP thinks it has a chance to wrest the ward back from the WP? What happens the next time round when another seat falls vacant?

Anyway, if the courts aren’t able to decide on the matter, let’s hope that Parliament does. Nothing to stop an NMP or MP from proposing a motion in Parliament to have the issue debated fully. There are plenty of lawyer-MPs who surely know other lawyers with some expertise in Constitutional law.

 

 

The word STOUT

In News Reports, Writing on May 10, 2012 at 11:36 pm

And I don’t mean the beverage. Funny how the media describes a defence as “stout”, like they did with Saw Phaik Hwa. I mean, I have never seen a newspaper report which said someone put up a “weak” defence….But that SMRT COI hearing is getting to be real interesting. So here’s what I hope will come out of the hearing today, after reading different media reports and their different slants.

a. That maintenance budget: Is it underspending? Saw said the parameters might have been wrong. So what were they? And why was that October board meeting called off?

b. Saw said SMRT’s checks were more stringent than required. Really?

c. Then that very intriguing issue of whether it was LTA who wanted services resumed quickly after the first big breakdown – despite reservations by SMRT. Looks like some buck passing going on….

As for the Hougang by-election, I wish media wouldn’t say the candidates were “unveiled”. We all knew who the candidates would be for quite some time. Anyway, it sort of gives the impression that the candidates were behind curtains which parted and…voila!

But it was wise of PAP’s Desmond Choo to keep making the point that he was his own man and wants to keep the campaign local. Although how much of his “own man” he will be scrutinised over the next 10 days or so when the party bigwigs start descending on Hougang – as I am sure they would. So how much talking will they do on behalf of their “own man”? More likely, they will train their guns on WP and Low Thia Kiang’s handling of the Yaw Shin Leong affair (no pun intended). Better than over-praising their man and giving him the kiss of death….BTW, are both the candidates Teochew-speaking? No one’s mentioned that so far, and it was such a big deal in the old days of Low TK. In fact, is it still a Teochew-dominant constituency?

Hougang by-election

In News Reports, Politics on May 10, 2012 at 3:23 am

Okay, my first day in unemployment and the paper had to be filled with a big political story. It’s about time. That there was a by-election, that is. I supervised and reported the last one, the Marine Parade GRC by-election in 1992. That was when then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong threw down the gaunlet and decided to re-contest the GRC, pulling along Teo Chee Hean with him. Renewal of the ranks, he said. And I guess he wanted a firm mandate on his leadership as well. The thing I remembered about the introduction of Mr Teo, then Commodore, later Rear-Admiral, now Minister, we asked him about his family and he said his father worked in a bank. We were thinking teller? Loan officer? And George Yeo who introduced him piped up to tell us his father wasn’t just ANY banker, but a really big shot in OCBC. I guess at election time,  you don’t want to boast about your pedigree. Would probably be the same this time round too, with both candidates stressing their man-on-the ground credentials. So, what are we going to see? A repeat of Anson? I found it weird that political watchers actually thought that a GRC would be up for grabs. Since Marine Parade, none had been put to the ground, never mind a missing Member or two.  Now I really want to know more about Hougang, a real close-up look at the constituency of just 25,000 voters. State of town town council, number of blocks (any rental? upgraded), what sort of shops…coz I am betting that the fight would be more local than national. And not personal, I hope. I mean, I wouldn’t care what Yaw Shin Leong did in his spare time in the past…