Sense of social justice drives ST's triple award winner

Awards won by Toh Yong Chuan among 11 bagged by ST

The Straits Times' senior manpower correspondent Toh Yong Chuan became a journalist only in October 2011 when he was looking to change career.

"I got restless with my civil service job after spending 18 years across seven agencies," he recalls.

It turned out to be a smart move. Yesterday, the 45-year-old became the first journalist to score a hat trick of awards at the Singapore Press Holdings' annual awards ceremony for its English/ Malay/Tamil Media group.

As well as being named Journalist of the Year, he won Feature of the Year for a piece that saw him step into the shoes of a Singapore taxi driver for 11 days. He also shared Story of the Year with Ms Carolyn Khew for a story on former Chinese tour guide Yang Yin, who allegedly misappropriated $1.1 million from a widow.

Mr Toh, a father of two, said: "As a labour reporter, it's not just about writing May Day Rally speeches, but having a sense of social justice and being the voice for ordinary workers."

It took him over two years to put together a series, published last year, on his experiences as a security guard, a taxi driver and an eldercare worker. He spent three weeks of his own time training to obtain taxi and security guard licences. "The more I spoke to these workers, I realised that they have stories to tell which are not often told," he said. "The biggest reward is when things change and readers respond."

Paying tribute to his wife, who works in a voluntary welfare organisation, Mr Toh said: "She waits for me every night and keeps me company to have dinner, no matter how late it is."

His three awards were among 11 won by ST out of 19 given out. ST won Feature Picture of the Year for photojournalist Kevin Lim's image of a former drug addict and his mother.

Commentary of the Year went to senior health correspondent Salma Khalik for a piece on punishments for errant doctors. ST also won several multimedia awards, while photojournalists Alphonsus Chern and Caroline Chia won Best Video for their eight-minute feature documentary on the Singapore Navy's "hell week" combat diver training.

ST editor Warren Fernandez said: "All of us in the ST newsroom are proud to have such great journalists among us. They have delivered some outstanding journalistic work, breaking stories with major public impact and reach, from the Yang Yin saga and the insider view of the life of a taxi driver by Yong Chuan to Salma's pieces on SMC's role and the shortage of Class C beds.

"I am also really glad our push into being a multimedia newsroom is making good progress, as seen in such world-class projects like the Ocean's Fury e-book to mark the 10th anniversary of the Asian tsunami by our foreign desk and a gripping video on hell week by Alphonsus and Caroline."

The New Paper clinched four awards while The Business Times won prizes for excellence in enterprise and the Infographic of the Year. Berita Harian won a special award for excellence in teamwork and the Headline of the Year, which it shared with ST.

ateng@sph.com.sg