ST holding reunion of past and present staff to mark 170th year

Straits Times staff gather for a group shot outside the Times House in 2002, days before the ST newsroom moved to Toa Payoh North. The iconic building had housed the ST office for more than four decades. On July 18 and 19, ST is hosting a reunion of
Straits Times staff gather for a group shot outside the Times House in 2002, days before the ST newsroom moved to Toa Payoh North. The iconic building had housed the ST office for more than four decades. On July 18 and 19, ST is hosting a reunion of its former and current staff, so they can catch up and reminisce about old times.ST FILE PHOTO

Cigarette smoke hung in the air, and amid the incessant clatter of typewriters and frenzied ringing of telephones, editors yelled and reporters thumped out stories as the news of the day took shape.

The Straits Times newsroom of old was loud, gritty, filled with larger-than-life characters and a camaraderie found nowhere else, according to former journalists who joined the broadsheet in the 1970s and 1980s.

For more than four decades, the ST office was housed in the mustard-coloured Times House building at 390, Kim Seng Road, before moving to Toa Payoh North in 2002.

"The air was perpetually foul. Many journalists smoked in the newsroom," said freelance writer Philip Lee, 73, who joined in 1974 and spent more than 20 years at the paper. In 1987, editor Leslie Fong banned smoking in the newsroom.

Mr Sunny Wee, 66, who spent 15 years at ST and was once its associate news editor, remembers the pressure to get a scoop. "We had to put in the extra effort to get our stories," he said.

"We came in early and left work late. Even after work, we had to meet our contacts to get tip-offs."

With editors demanding high standards, strategic communications senior manager Shirley Tan-Oehler, 55, a reporter in the 1980s, recalled how tough her bosses were. "I was once scolded by an editor and had my story flung back at me because I missed the angle. But she was nurturing and through her, I learnt the importance of sharp writing."

There were no partitions between desks so if someone was scolded, everyone knew about it.

But the open office also led to a strong camaraderie.

Come July, former ST editors, journalists, photographers and administrative staff will get to catch up and reminisce about old times, together with current staff.

Two special alumni nights will be held for them on July 18 and 19 at the ArtScience Museum.

Thousands have worked for The Straits Times, Singapore's oldest English-language daily, which will celebrate its 170th anniversary in two months.

The first issue was printed on July 15, 1845.

The alumni nights are being organised in line with the paper's upcoming free exhibition, Singapore STories: Then, Now, Tomorrow, which will run from July 17 until Oct 4 at the museum. More details will be released soon.

ST editor Warren Fernandez paid tribute to the dedication of the paper's staff over the years. "Each of them has played a critical role in chronicling the big stories of their day," he said.

"And each has contributed in his own way to shaping the ST into what it is today. I am looking forward to meeting many of them, and honouring their work."

Former employees keen on attending one of the alumni nights, which will start at 7pm, can e-mail their name, contact details and preferred date (July 18 or 19) to stalumni@sph.com.sg before next Friday.

calyang@sph.com.sg