60something

A new chapter: High points in my 40-year journalism career

-- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL
-- ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

Launching Life! and editing it for 12 years were high points in my 40-year journalism career

As I prepare to leave The Straits Times - my last day is on June 19 - I look back on my 40-year career in journalism with gratitude and pride.

Gratitude, because I loved my job, and ST was where I could best serve my talent and abilities. Not many people can claim to love their jobs where they can make the best use of their abilities.

Over the years, my editors have been good to me, mentoring me, encouraging me and giving me precious real estate in the paper where I wrote reports and columns. My colleagues too had been supportive. I hope I had made a difference to the early careers of some of them.

Pride, because I was responsible for launching the Life! section in 1990 and was its editor for 12 years. Life! came into being just when the arts scene was taking off and I believe the section played no small part in helping it to grow and flourish. It still does, under the watch of the paper's associate editor Helen Chia who, incidentally, started her career in the paper in the section.

The first few years of Life! were difficult. "What is your yield per page?" was the first question then-Singapore Press Holdings' executive chairman Lim Kim San asked me when I had my first meeting with him. Life! had to be a selfsustaining supplement and not be subsidised by the main paper.

Advertisers were resistant to place their advertisements in the section. Many of the corporate head honchos were middle-aged and saw Life! as a throwaway section although our surveys had shown that its readership was very high. But their children grew up and many of them read Life! before the main paper, which must have helped to convince them that Life! was a platform for their advertisements.

As Life! editor, I felt I should join my marketing colleagues in going out to woo the advertisers. I went to many business lunches, which I found I enjoyed, and an additional benefit was that the advertisers provided a lot of story leads which the Lifers (as I called my younger colleagues) could follow up on.

Gradually, as the arts scene grew and the lifestyle industry took off, we had fewer problems with advertisers coming into Life!.

The 12 years as editor of the section were some of the best years of my life. Work was fun and, indeed, I had tremendous fun. My editor-in-chief then, Cheong Yip Seng, and my editor Leslie Fong invested much of their energies in Life! and, together with my supervising editor Bob Ng, guided me in running the section. I am thankful to them for I learnt much from them.

I am proud too to have been appointed The Sunday Times night editor in 1996, on top of being Life! editor. Till 2002, I put the Sunday paper to bed every Saturday night.

Another high point in my career was when my editors picked me, together with my colleagues Sonny Yap and Leong Weng Kam, to work on the book Men In White: The Untold Story Of Singapore's Ruling Political Party in 2002.

We were taken off daily operations and, except for the regular briefings with Cheong Yip Seng and then-editor Han Fook Kwang when we had to go into the office, we operated independently from home. Such was the trust that Cheong and Fook Kwang had in us that they left us pretty much alone.

When we first embarked on the project, then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong told us it should not be just their version of the PAP story, but our version of it, with as many opposition voices as possible included in it. Except to facilitate the interviews with various PAP office holders and grassroots leaders, the party kept its hands off the project.

We were glad that when the book was launched at an official function, many old opposition members whom we had invited turned up for it. They had seen that it was not just a propaganda exercise.

I played a smaller role when I finally returned to the office. But I am grateful to Fook Kwang and current editor Warren Fernandez for extending my tenure from age 62 to 65.

I will not be smelling the roses when I retire. I will carry on as a writer and editor, but as an independent operator. I believe I still have 10 good years in me.

Life will be different without a regular pay cheque and there will be many adjustments to be made. I will have to deregister my car in June next year, for instance, and rely on public transport. But as I have proved to myself more than 10 years ago when I nearly went bankrupt, I have the necessary reserves in me to adapt to change, maybe not quickly, but in good time.

I must say I am glad that I qualify for the Pioneer Generation Package scheme. I do not know what illnesses will ambush me when I grow old. The scheme will be a great help. If there is one thing I wish the Government would do, it is that it reintroduces the reverse mortgage scheme, albeit on better terms. I love my present three-room HDB flat and will be sad if I have to downgrade to a studio apartment.

But, when worse comes to worst, as my one-time favourite Hong Kong actress Cheng Pei-pei, 68, said: "I'll live in an apartment for the elderly run by the Hong Kong government and spend the rest of my life there. Money and mansions are physical stuff. For me, one bed is enough."

To my readers, thanks for reading the column and writing to me. Here's my fond farewell.

ricklim@sph.com.sg

This is Richard Lim's last column.

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