Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

That $7,000 cabby

In News Reports on November 6, 2012 at 1:40 am

That $7,000 cabby
How do you catch out a person on a lie? Or maybe he wasn’t lying, just exaggerating, stretching the truth, so to speak. I get asked this question many times. I say that it boils down to rigorous reporting. Ask the question, make sure the person understood the question and then ask more questions to verify the answer. Don’t repeat the same question, silly! He’s not deaf, you know…

Then ask for evidence, and ask for other people who can confirm or back up the answer. In other words, you simply cannot rely on what journalists call a “one source’’ story. The heart of journalism is verification.

So it is with some sadness that I had to read about the cabby back-tracking on his $7,000 answer. He hit that mark only once; it wasn’t a typical monthly salary. I was even more distressed to read the reporter’s response to this back-tracking. In essence, she said that this was what he said, that her question was clear, she had a colleague to back this up plus video evidence.

But this isn’t enough, is it? A journalist doesn’t swallow everything an interviewer says, especially if what he said is incredible. If that’s the case, a journalist is no better than a tape recorder. The interviewee isn’t under oath either, like in a court of law, so he can really say anything he likes and doesn’t have to be too careful about the truth.

The thing is, if you are a journalist, you can’t call a person a liar to his face, not even if you have proof. After all, he’s doing you the favour by answering your questions. In fact, he doesn’t even have to speak to you. So you are left with your arsenal of questions. It’s which question to fire, how many you decide to shoot, from what angle, which direction, until you are sure the target is right. So it is with the cabby…

Q: Wow! $7,000 a month is a lot. You have a log book or not? Can I see?
Q: Isn’t it very tiring? What does your wife say about driving six days a week like this? You must be earning more than your wife?
Q: Any of your cabby friends make that kind of money? Do they know? You didn’t tell a single one? You are talking to a reporter now you know. I am going to write this…
Q. $7,000 a month. All the time? Are there some times you make less? Bad month or something?

I suppose we can speculate about why the cabby chose to give a different story now. That he was being ridiculed, faced pressure from his colleagues and so forth. May he DID make $7,000 a month and is now saying something different to take the heat off himself. Except that he quit what he said was a good job. Maybe he really wanted to say that $7,000 a month is do-able if you worked hard and smart. That when he said his taxi was a “money machine’’, he didn’t mean he was minting money but that his livelihood was dependent on it. Maybe he got carried away speaking to a reporter. Some people do, you know. They make things out to be bigger, better than they really are. And it’s no fault of the interviewee…he isn’t the expert.
The journalist is.


Facilitating only….

In News Reports, Writing on October 31, 2012 at 3:45 am

There’s one word which I am beginning to swear at – facility and its plural variant. Things that are physical are now a facility or facilities. It is the case for the mega ITE campus on ST’s page 1. It’s a facility and there are facilities, like a swimming pool, within this facility. And this facility is actually a merger of smaller facilities, which are the standalone ITEs.

Oh, and a productivity centre which was launched yesterday is also described as a facility. Likewise a business centre opened by Boston Consulting Group. You realise there is no longer space for recreation, but recreational facilities. Or space to play sports but sports facilities. I remember the days when facilities was a polite way to ask for the way to the washroom – as in, where are the facilities, pray tell.

And while I’m ranting…there’s also this word called facilitate. Nobody helps anymore, they facilitate.

Okay, I digress. Actually my main beef is about the way the media seems to wow, ga-ga and rah-rah whenever something new is set up. In fact, they actually write that you should go “wow’’ – like how “visitors to the ITE will be wowed by a massive atrium…’’. And how students will “benefit’’ from an authentic learning environment. And how one student is “eagerly’’ looking forward to studying there. A page 1 story on the facilities isn’t enough, readers will be wowed by a massive graphic in the inside pages.

This exuberant reporting extends to any kind of facility, like sports halls, shopping malls and gardens, whether commercial or state sponsored. If it’s state-owned, I wonder why the more critical question of whether these facilities are worth the taxpayers’ money aren’t asked. For example, what is going to happen to the current five ITE campuses that are going to be move to this mega-campus? I read in Today that they will be returned to the state, although what the state intends to do to these five facilities isn’t answered.

When the media goes rah-rah over commercial facilities, I cringe. So we get a blow by blow on how many shops etc there will be and the wonderful play and eating facilities. I think to myself that the developers and private companies should take out an ad.
Look here, I am just asking for neutral reporting that would benefit the reader.

I think Today did the ITE story better. Four new courses, how many students, where they will move to, when, how big etc. Methinks ST tried too hard to factor in the big picture of an ITE that’s super, when it should just give info in some coherent order.

By the way, the ITE said it hoped the mega campus will change the “perception of the public to ITE education’’. In the next breath, the same ITE spokesman said that “locals sometimes still think that ITE is this dingy little workshop’’. Locals??? Gosh. I have to put my grass skirt back into my dingy little kampong house…

An unproductive time

In Money, News Reports, Politics, Society, Writing on October 1, 2012 at 1:14 am

What’s the job of the news media? It’s to make sense of what people are saying, put stuff in perspective and tell me what’s important. I read and re-read ST’s piece today on MOM Minister Tan Chuan Jin’s blog and kept wondering what’s the point he’s trying to make…After all, did he already say most of these things in Parliament before? Or is there some new nugget somewhere? All that mass of numbers – all to show that the G is on “the right track’’? I was having a very unproductive morning. I was wondering if I should whip out my calculator and see if there was more to the figures on WP, S passes etc and decided, in my laziness, that I should just see if Today did a better job. It did. And it also helpfully provided me with what Tan Chuan Jin said in his blog in its comment pages. ST didn’t do the minister any justice, I thought. What I found intriguing is the higher absolute numbers of Spass holders.
From January to June, the number of work permits for low-skilled workers increased by 20,600 – largely due to foreign construction workers – and S Passes for mid-skilled workers grew by 14,200. Employment Passes for managerial or executive-level foreigners contracted slightly by 700 – the first half-yearly reduction since 2009 when a recession hit.

The “strong growth” in S Passes is likely due to companies using them to bring in more junior-level professionals, managers and executives now that Employment Pass requirements have been tightened, said Mr Tan. “We are taking a close look at this group,” he wrote.
In Parliament, he had talked about the higher rejection rate. Seems this rate isn’t translating into lower absolute numbers, which is what people want to see. Makes you think there’s a loophole somewhere. Can’t get EP so see how to smuggle them under SPass?
Then of course, there is all this talk about raising productivity. When I hear about our productivity being so low, I keep wondering if we’re lazy or stupid. We’re not right? Anyway, MOM’s Tan went on in his blog about some Hotel scheme to allow workers to train to straddle different jobs. I wonder if this is one of the 160 schemes offered by the G to help firms raise productivity. I mean, 160???? So if there are so many schemes and we still so unproductive, what does it mean? The whole thing is too confusing for SMEs? If I were an SME boss, I’d apply for as many as possible – like a welfare shopper. Or maybe I will find myself strangled by red tape. As a taxpayer though, I wonder if agencies are duplicating each other in their efforts. Time to prune the tangle, as is now being done for welfare cases, so that the agencies will be more productive in their productivity efforts?

I had two other “unproductive” moments:
a. Having to read PM on page 1 of ST. It’s exhortation and dragged out to make a story. Seems a better news story is further inside, on how retail investors can now have a better shot at subscribing to a company’s IPO.
b. Having to read TNP’s Cecilia Sue story. Yesterday, it rehashed the whole court case albeit with a nice concept of Victim/Vixen and a piece on the court gawkers. There’s another piece on the gawkers today….Enuff already. Just tell me who those burly guys around her are!!!!

Signals from Singapolitics

In News Reports, Politics on September 3, 2012 at 2:33 am

For some reason, The Straits Times hasn’t made a big hooha over its Singapolitics page on its website. If it did, I missed it…and I couldn’t have because I know how ST can really blow its own trumpet since I’ve done it so many times before for the paper. I can only guess at the reasons:
1. It doesn’t quite know how to introduce the page in its print edition. I mean, what you do online, you can do in print no? So how to say this? Or is it a space problem, like why some Forum letters go online?
2. It thinks it will be less constrained online than in print, in terms of allowing less politically acceptable but still reasonable views to surface. In other words, testing OB markers might be easier here.
3. It wants to try to move away from the view that it is a Government mouthpiece by using another platform that is not so identified with its conservative print self. (Think STOMP – not very ST-like at all).
4. It wants to take away the space from bloggers and netizens who looked intent on owning political discussion in Singapore.
5. Too much publicity will tempt rabid netizens from descending on the page and tearing it apart before it has a chance to take off. (Hey, sooner or later, people will know lah)
In other words, the print version will remain its old self but online, it will adopt a slightly different, slightly younger, persona. So you can have Tan Cheng Bock and Opposition politicians etc have their say in the space. And if something it thinks is worthwhile (in whatever sense) is written online, it can always be published in print for the readers who do not trawl the Internet everyday. I wonder if that’s why the Saturday Insight pages seem to be anchored by outside writers these past few weeks. The regular journalists are too busy I suppose updating the online page…
Anyway, I think the page is a good idea. The online world needs a platform for moderate voices that are more centrist yet willing to challenge the norms. There is a “moderator’’ who edits out the immoderate comments and I am sure some people will take issue with this and the usual charges of censorship will arise. I have no problems with this, so long as moderation is of the light touch variety. In any case, those who claim to have been “moderated out’’ can always re-post their full unvarnished comments on other sites. Likewise I am sure conspiracy theorists will allege that this is a ploy to keep dissent under control. Some kind of subtle, nefarious, far-sighted agenda to “convert’’ the online space. (You know, some people think the same way about my blog…and I am so tickled every time I read this!)
Now it has called for readers to say what kind of Singapore they want to the PM. Feels like an Ask Me Anything – Obama-style. Except that the media remains the channel, the middleman. This is critical methinks given that politicians are reaching out to the people via online tools. The mainstream media risks being bypassed in any kind of conversation, national or not.
In fact, on a related point, I have mixed feelings about the media picking up from politicians’ Facebook and blog postings. Sometimes the MSM picks up wholesale, nary adding a thing to their article. It’s like printing a better written press release (since politicians are likely to use their own words, rather than bureaucratese). There’s like some kind of race among the media to make sure very little bit is picked up – whether it’s news worthy or not. Even politicians’ FB postings should be assessed – and questioned. Is Law Minister K Shanmugam merely floating a kite when he talks about a legal framework to settle neighbour disputes? Or is this going to be policy? Did the MSM need Shanmugam to write about bad road manners first, before doing a piece? Is Lawrence Wong’s comments about Singapore needing a big heart and the anecdotes he cites really so newsworthy? Journalists can just go to any Meet-the-People session and talk to people there to find out first-hand what they are saying to their MPs, rather than publish second-hand comments from MPs who decide to post on FB etc.
Anyway, I digress. Go read the Singapolitics page. At least, got first-hand material.

Not schooled in writing about pre-school

In News Reports, Society on September 2, 2012 at 5:46 am

I declare the Education ministry the worst communicator in the world…

Because I am interested in the pre-school changes which was reported on Friday, I took a look at the press statement on its website. And I found ….gooblededook, cluck cluck, yak yuck. Gosh, this is the Education ministry and the staff can’t speak/write plain English! So long as bureaucrats write like this, there will always be a need for journalists to do translation work.

I mean ….take a look at this.
The early years are important for a child’s development. Quality pre-school education will provide developmentally appropriate learning experiences for young children to develop holistically and nurture positive attitudes towards learning.

In other words, pre-schools will make sure the children learn to like learning.

It will also help the children develop foundational literacy and numeracy skills and build up confidence as well as self-management and social skills. This foundational development will enable children to have a smoother transition from pre-school to formal education in primary schools.
That means: They will help your children read, write and count, as well as learn how to make friends. This way the children won’t be shell-shocked when they move to Primary one.

Over the years, especially following the last major review of pre-school education in 2008, the Government has improved the accessibility, affordability and quality of pre-school education (these three always go together like a three-in-one formula) through strategies and programmes (both always together also) to enhance teacher, programme and centre quality (quality of all three things, in case you aint got the rhythm yet). Steady progress has been made (I don’t know if it is steadily slow, steadily fast or just steady lah). The Government will now step up its efforts to accelerate the quality improvements in the sector (sounds important doesn’t it? Not just step up, must also accelerate).

Okay, enough of the preamble already. What’s the meat? I picked just two:
Draw up a Comprehensive Kindergarten Curriculum
To encourage pre-schools to improve the quality of their programmes and benchmark themselves against recognised quality standards, MOE implemented the Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework (SPARK) in 20112. (Don’t you love acronyms? ) Currently, teaching and learning in kindergarten programmes are guided by MOE’s Kindergarten Curriculum Framework (Another fave of bureaucrats – framework) published in 2003 (which has what key points?) . For younger children, MCYS recently introduced the Early Years Development Framework (again) in 2011 (which is what?). MOE is refreshing (different from revamp, rejuvenate, remake, recreate? So just minor change?) the Kindergarten Curriculum Framework (again) to incorporate the latest research (like what?) on early childhood education. The revised Framework (again…are you asleep yet?) will also contain learning goals (thot the learning goal is to learn to learn) at the end of K2 to ensure children have a smooth transition from pre-school to primary one. It will be completed at the end of 2012, and made available to all pre-schools. (By now, I don’t even know what is going to be completed….)

To enhance programme quality (enhance is another fave word) and strengthen its delivery (like fast food like dat) across the sector, MOE will develop a comprehensive kindergarten curriculum (as opposed to its current slim one? comprising the updated framework (now which one is this?), a teachers’ guide, and teaching and learning resources (you mean books and stuff?) to support teachers in nurturing and developing (two verbs that always go together) children’s knowledge, skills and dispositions (usual three things in a row). Some of these resources will be made available by the first half of 2013. (I still don’t know what resources being talked about)
Setting up Government Pilot Centres to Catalyse Quality Improvements (catalyse? You mean spur on or something more chemical?)
As part of greater government involvement in raising (I think enhanced already used) the quality of pre-school education, MOE will set up several pilot pre-school centres over the next few years. These pre-school centres will allow MOE to incorporate the relevant research findings (still dunno which) on effective teaching and learning (two verbs that go together) in pre-schools, develop appropriate teaching resources and develop best practices (develop is a useful word…used soooo many times…you can develop anything…seriously). These will be shared with other operators in the industry to serve as catalysts (!) for quality improvements (vague enough term to mean anything). MOE will work through the implementation details of these pre-school centres, including the number and location of centres to be set up initially, and when these would be ready to take in students. (You mean, you will decide later when, how many and where these pre-schools will be located)
I mean, come on! Surely, the Education ministry can write better than this. Isn’t simple language skills and clear communication something you teach in pre-school? Aiyoyo.

Don’t hunt for pearls of wisdom

In Money, News Reports, Writing on August 30, 2012 at 1:14 am

I really really don’t like reading repeated stuff. But I had to endure this in ST:

Headline: Surprise for Pearls Centre tenants.

Deck: Most unaware of acquisition of complex for new Thomson line

Intro: News of the Government’s impending acquisition of Pearls Centre yesterday took tenants and residents by surprise. Neither shopowners, residents nor the building management saw the move coming, with most of them saying they have no choice but to accept it.

Enough already!

And frankly I doubt that the journalists spoke to MOST of the complex’s people. But I got through the article anyway because the Chinatown complex is a landmark. And didn’t get much satisfaction. So it’s strata-titled so I guess no one owns the whole building. But landlords, shopowners, tenants and residents seem to be used interchangeably. Story says that the 243 TENANTS have two years to move out. So the people who OWN the shops can stay? And are all the residents on the 11 floors of the complex tenants? How many shop units and residential units. How many owner-occupied and how many tenanted?

Is there a major landlord? Or plenty of small landlords who rent it out? If so, what sort of rents do they command? That would give an indication of the worth of the shops. And what about the residents? Very good location. So how much rent do they pay? Or what was the last sale price?

Eh, how to find pearls of wisdom when don’t even have nuggets of basic information leh? How to analyze or comment on the issue like dat?

The most interesting bit of information was actually towards the end of the story – that the un-named building management had actually started the process going for an enbloc sale. So it must have SOME idea of the value of the place and what it can fetch. Seems to me a lot of people are going to be unhappy about losing not just the shop but the potential windfall they can reap if the sale goes through. In fact, BT had someone referring to this in its story – whether the enbloc potential will be factored into the Govt’s compensation.

The ST story ends with AT LEAST one tenant being happy that there is a “closure” and how it’s a “good thing” that the Government has given an end date. So it ends uncontroversially….Really!

AFTERNOTE: I just read Today’s version. It was better-angled. Referred to the enbloc process in intro. Also, it gave breakdown of commercial and residential units. Tone? Less rah rah.

Nursing the doctors in SAF

In News Reports, Society, Writing on August 25, 2012 at 2:00 am

Sometimes I think the men in this country forget that there are women here too. I am referring to ST Page 1 story on SAF to tap expertise of civilian doctors. If I was a mother with a son doing national service, I would be dead worried. Because nothing is said in the story about the “current” situation regarding medical treatment for our boys in green. In fact, I don’t even know how many guys there are in NS. Apparently, 40,000 NSFs, according to Today. But how many doctors or medical officers (what’s the difference)? What’s the ratio? All I have is six to eight doctors sign on each year. And the number is 20 per cent more today than 10 years ago. This has always been my beef with journalists. What in heaven’s name is 20 per cent more?? From 10 doctors to 12? From 100 doctors to 120?

Also, what is the current standard of medical care in the SAF? How many guys see doctors? For what ailments? And what if they need specialist help? What about number of doctors stationed at training exercises? For this, I have to read Today to find more, just a bit more. But at least more. So it seems there’s gonna be a Pilot Physician Partnership thing and the NS doctors are going to be rotated to the hospitals before they become full-time SAF doctors.

Of course, the papers went to town with the announcement of the new medical training facilities. TNP even had a very nice graphic. Well and good. But hey, can get answers to critical questions first before going rah-rah at yet another innovation by the G, which I don’t even know people need….?

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.

A new lifestyle

In Society on August 9, 2012 at 2:30 am

The thing about being unemployed is…sooner or later, you have to find employment. So for the past few days, I have running around University Town, trying to get administrative details such as staff passes, office keys and the all-important how-to-pay-me mechanics settled.

It’s a part-time job and I have a title : Journalist-in-residence. Ahem. Now I am wondering what to do as Journalist-in-residence…But hey, the place is real nice. I am based in Tembusu College. College, mind you, not hall. In fact, this is getting constantly drummed into me…that it’s NOT a hostel like the one I spent three years in many moons ago. It is a place for intellectual engagement…and there is plenty. There is a cosmopolitan hotch-potch of fellows who conduct seminars and run activities for the students, seminars with strange sounding names because they seek to combine various disciplines. On the nature of blindness (not just cannot see), humanising technology, being human and post-human. All sounds very esoteric but have a practical objective: getting students to think critically and to see links, join dots and derive conclusions. I was supposed to conduct one too, but a bureaucratic snafu put paid to that idea. I wanted to run a seminar on the craft of journalism and critical reading. Until last week, I thought I was being real prescient! I mean, so much fuss with the Media Literacy Council going on and there was I doing a seminar on the messages in the medium. Students can be assessed in several ways (no exams!) and one Fellow (note capital) actually had an interesting method: Having the students keep a scrap book in which they jot down their thoughts and observations of every lesson.

All very new. And very brave of NUS to pioneer a new learning lifestyle for undergraduates.  It can be pretty jialat for them I think. They have to attend college programmes before or after classes in the main campus. Thinking back to my uni days, I don’t know how many times I couldn’t get myself up for regular classes, because I was too busy playing into the night…Life was so, so full of fun, fun, fun. Now I wonder what I will say to those who turn up late for MY classes, or do not turn up at all. There’s no way to hide because class size is small which makes absenteeism very visible.

So now I have been asked to conduct masterclasses in aspects of journalism. Perhaps, I was lucky. That syllabus for the seminar totally stressed me out, because it had to fit certain academic standards. I will be getting a softer landing, teaching a subject that I had been teaching to practitioners for more than 10 years. I have great plans to make the best of my stay in Tembusu, helping interested students hone their thinking, questioning, reporting and writing skills. I will make journalism Jedi Knights out of them!!!! Yeah!

PS. I wrote the above to explain my absence over the past few days. In fact, Bertha Harian is probably mis-named. Bertha Minggu?

Paralysed by more than the PM

In News Reports, Politics, Writing on August 4, 2012 at 1:09 am

I wonder if DPM Tharman was surprised that his speech made page 1 of ST today. And if he did, did he think the reader would get beyond the first par.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday that more must be done to level opportunities for young children in Singapore.

Or what this minister thought:

Education MInister Heng Swee Keat yesterday reminded aspiring teachers to uphold their roles as models of good behaviour.

And this  minister too…

Labour chief Lim Swee Say yesterday warned that economic  restructuring will get more painful for both companies and workers – given that Singapore does not have the luxury of an unlimited pool of manpower.

I have written a couple of posts in the past about journalists being paralysed by the PM. It seems other ministers have the same effect too.

Well, I read each article beyond the first par, persevering to the end. That’s because I am an information junkie and old habits die hard. I am interested in journalism. And I am a masochist.

In any case, I read each to the end wondering whether there was anything new at all. I mean, if DPM says more must be done, then I suppose there will be news on WHAT was going to be done. No, nothing.  Instead, exhortations that the culture of communities and schools must be “geared” to do so. Oh, and he is referring to pre-primary and primary school children. I guess this is what I am supposed to read into this mass of words: That we can expect some changes here? But what? He didn’t say. And the media didn’t find out.

It looks like his speech was reported fairly fully, with two sets of anecdotes. One phrase was used – about giving even those who left school a “ladder” to success. Nice word I thought.

But his speech, or the report of his speech, was hardly engaging. I know that messages need to be reiterated but there are plenty of ways to make the messages less of a yawn. I mean OF COURSE, more must be done to level opportunities for young children…

So what’s the story? Really got no news? If so, how about…

NO society has all its children starting out from the same line, but it can intervene early, while they are in pre-primary and primary school, to pick up and push on those who are falling behind their peers. Grumblings about how  early education benefits the better-off families has reached the G, with DPM Tharman calling for “early intervention” “upstream, not downstream”, to level opportunities for every child. He said the culture of schools and communities should be geared to do so, but left out mention of whether the G would take the lead.

And what about that lecture to aspiring teachers? Frankly, I have read this before. Ministers have said this at functions that involve educators. So it’s like a repeat lecture for remedial students…But I guess it has to be said given that there seems to be no let-up of scandals  involving teachers. Rather than focus on the lecture, can’t we turn the spotlight on these aspiring teachers? What do they say about going into a profession that is so tarred? Don’t they get ribbed? Are there some things they would be careful about doing/not doing once they get posted to schools?

As for that “warning” to companies and workers that there will be  a tough journey ahead because we don’t have enough workers. Okay. So? Now how?  Read on and Lim Swee Say says some sectors will hurt more than others in the restructuring exercise, he named the hotel sector. Wouldn’t it be better to get him to elaborate on this point so that the message can get more specific? And hotel workers can start “bracing themselves” instead of just “raising their eyebrows” at what he said?

It’s funny that you have reports of three ministers talking TO people (through the media), but later in ST’s insight pages, you have a report on three ministers talking WITH people (without the media). Nicely written report too. Time for the media to take a  hard look at the role it plays in the public ENGAGEMENT exercise, no?