Confessions of a young adult Singaporean reader

A man reading an online edition of The Straits Times.
A man reading an online edition of The Straits Times.PHOTO: ST FILE

GENEVIEVE LEONG

I am a young adult. I  get most of my news online. As most online newspaper versions have limited their free-to-view content, and I have limited finances, I read mostly the free-view articles, and only have one or two digital subscriptions at any one time. I read opinion sites such as the Huffington Post and Atlantic Magazine, as well as articles from think-tanks and blogs if they are publicly available. My reading interests include human interest pieces, environmental politics in Europe, East Asian affairs, as well as socio-political issues in Singapore.  I trace the evolution of my reading habits to two factors: my schooling in Singapore, and the privilege of attending university overseas.  While schooling in Singapore,  my teachers offered us the option to subscribe to Time or Newsweek and The Economist news magazines.  Most of us subscribed to get some sort of headway, I guess, in writing General Paper essays. However reading these foreign newsmagazines also gave us a glimpse into how the same news can be covered in different ways, and of the power of narrative. Moving pieces in Time or Newsweek opened my eyes to human suffering in other countries, such as in war zones. Pointed opinion pieces in The Economist shaped my thinking on economic policies. Looking back, I was sometimes too trusting of these pieces of news, but at the same time, I feel that more is better than less when it comes to news. Only when one is aware of an issue and shapes an opinion, however wrong or misguided that opinion may be, could one then begin to engage in debate.

Studying in a university abroad increased my interest in foreign newspapers and other types of news. I read the free ones and frequently paid for a copy of the major newspapers. Following the debates of the day, and also because I majored in social science, I began to read much more widely and realised the importance of understanding the reliability of news sources and opinion pieces. This is clear, for example, in the climate change denialism put out by neoconservative institutions such as the Cato Institute. I was angry at their continued attempts at in denying the weight of climate change and its urgency. Following the 2008 financial crisis,  I not only studied the economics behind the crash, but also about the politics that led to this from documentaries such as Inside Job by Charles Ferguson which illustrated the truism for me, that it is, indeed, truly "difficult for a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.

From just following the news, I began to take a personal view of what I could do with the information gleaned from these news sources when I started my Masters degree. I majored in environmental policy but also started taking an interest in East Asian affairs. Many students in my faculty were passionate and knew a lot about international human rights issues and could debate these issues passionately; their opinions were also informed. My experience there instilled in me a desire to learn about what was going on in the world and to stand on the side of the oppressed.  In my view, my educational path is not one that is taken by the majority albeit it is increasingly getting popular. To be sure, many of the older generation will not care as much about environmental issues. They  may care more about the Central Provident Fund (CPF) or the economy. However, many of my peers are displaying similar reading habits as mine, such as reading foreign websites and debating the slants of the news that appear in local newspapers, as well as pursuing the causes they believe in.

A way for The Straits Time, as the national newspaper, to bridge these divides is to introduce investigative journalism. There is much to cover without venturing into politically-charged territory. For example, it could investigate and report on the situation of exploited domestic helpers and other foreign workers in Singapore. In the region, it could investigate and report on the plight of trafficked labour in Thailand, or the truth behind the burning of forests in Indonesia. As a Singaporean I regret to say I know comparatively little about the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) but more about the places I studied abroad.  It would be advantageous for ST, if not to include in its already voluminous pages, to introduce a sister paper or a weekly section, devoted to investigative journalism in Asia. It would raise the profile of Singapore journalism, whilst attracting young talents to this profession. It would also be in the public interest to learn about the oppressed among us.