PICTURES

ST Forum letter writers feted at annual gathering

Retiree Geoffrey Kung, 68, at The Straits Times' 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writers at the News Centre auditorium in Toa Payoh on Friday, Oct 11, 2013. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Retiree Geoffrey Kung, 68, at The Straits Times' 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writers at the News Centre auditorium in Toa Payoh on Friday, Oct 11, 2013. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
(From left) Straitstimes.com editor Eugene Leow, Forum editor Jack Hee, Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez and social media editor Ernest Luis at ST's 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writers at the News Cen
(From left) Straitstimes.com editor Eugene Leow, Forum editor Jack Hee, Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez and social media editor Ernest Luis at ST's 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writers at the News Centre auditorium in Toa Payoh on Friday, Oct 11, 2013. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
(Onstage, from left) Straitstimes.com editor Eugene Leow, Forum editor Jack Hee, Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez and social media editor Ernest Luis listen to a guest at ST's 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writer
(Onstage, from left) Straitstimes.com editor Eugene Leow, Forum editor Jack Hee, Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez and social media editor Ernest Luis listen to a guest at ST's 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writers at the News Centre auditorium in Toa Payoh on Friday, Oct 11, 2013. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Forum letter writers (from left) Kuek Jia Yao, Ng Qi Siang, V. Subramaniam, Muhammad Husein Fahmi, Cheang Ko Lyn speaking to Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez (right) at the ST Forum Writers' Dialogue.
Forum letter writers (from left) Kuek Jia Yao, Ng Qi Siang, V. Subramaniam, Muhammad Husein Fahmi, Cheang Ko Lyn speaking to Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez (right) at the ST Forum Writers' Dialogue.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

260 guests field questions ranging from press freedom to paper's layout

Things escalated very quickly for Cheang Ko Lyn, 15, when she wrote to The Straits Times Forum page this year.

Her letter about having faith in Singapore was noticed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who ended up quoting her in his National Day Rally speech, saying: "It is imperative that we do not forget we are building this country together."

The student said last night how she likes being able to share her views. "You can just put your ideas out there, and people can read about it," she said. "It's a free market of ideas."

She was one of 260 guests who attended this newspaper's 11th annual gathering for its Forum letter writers at the News Centre auditorium in Toa Payoh last night.

Also present were representatives from the civil service, companies and other agencies, as well as ST section heads. Highlights included a question-and-answer session moderated by social media editor Ernest Luis featuring ST editor Warren Fernandez, Straitstimes.com editor Eugene Leow and Forum editor Jack Hee.

During the hour-long session, readers posed questions on topics including press freedom, the use of pseudonyms and the paper's layout. Last year, The Straits Times received a record high of nearly 34,000 readers' letters. More than 27,000 have already been submitted this year.

The hottest topic has been the Population White Paper, drawing over 300, with the haze as another top issue, Mr Fernandez revealed. He said ST has introduced new Forum features - including some on social media - to stay relevant to its readers.

"Many of you are on Facebook, sending SMSes, using Twitter, and the Forum page has to keep up with that," he said.

To do this, the paper has been posing questions to readers and inviting responses on Facebook and Twitter every day. A Facebook column also runs twice a week in the Forum page.

A Writer of the Week column featuring forum page contributors has also been started.

The youngest participant to speak up was Primary 6 pupil Mariessa Jam, 12, who asked what the paper was doing to stay accessible to young readers.

Mr Fernandez said ST has set up a section on Wednesdays for youth writers, which has given a voice to younger readers.

Several readers wanted to know how to increase their chances of having their letters published. "It should be an issue of public interest, which affects people," replied Mr Hee.

Student Ng Qi Siang, 17, asked if the paper will consider allowing the use of pseudonyms for Forum letters.

Mr Fernandez said names are required for these as in the case of online comments, anonymity has sometimes led to "very wild, ugly comments".

However, he added: "If there's a serious wrongdoing going on, please come and tell us."

charyong@sph.com.sg