LIVING HISTORY

Tap into the future

Bhagyashree Garekar
Bhagyashree Garekar
(From left) Straits Times sub-editor Denise Chong, artist Manny Francisco and photographer Joyce Fang.
(From left) Straits Times sub-editor Denise Chong, artist Manny Francisco and photographer Joyce Fang.

ST editor Warren Fernandez says the paper remains true to the mission it set in its first editorial in 1845

It is difficult for readers today to imagine The Straits Times as a newspaper that appeared just once a week, every Tuesday.

The eight-page newspaper, which carried business notices, market reports, general news and a lot of advertisements, was largely put together by its staff of one, the editor. An English journalist, Robert Carr Woods, then just 29, arrived in Singapore in 1845 after a stint in Bombay, and talked his way into the job.

He convinced Catchik Moses, an Armenian businessman who had done a friend in financial distress a favour and purchased a printing press off him without a clear idea of what to do with it, that he should start a newspaper to serve the island's growing business community.

So, the first edition of The Straits Times and the Singapore Journal Of Commerce hit the streets on July 15, 1845, with Woods as its first editor. How's that for initiative, enterprise, and an unlikely beginning?

Now, fast forward through the years: from the introduction of home deliveries by boys on red bicycles in 1896, to the purchase of Morris Minor vans in a push to circulate in Malaya in 1931, to widen the paper's reach.

Then came the war years in the 1940s, when the paper's facilities were taken over and used to produce the Shonan Times and the Syonan Shimbun by Japanese propagandists. But just days after the war ended in 1945, The Straits Times was back on the newstands. By some stroke of good fortune, retreating Japanese officers handed the paper's facilities, albeit in a sorry state, over to local journalists.

Confrontation with the People's Action Party in 1959 would see the paper's leadership taking off to Kuala Lumpur, where they believed they would have more room to operate. Later, Separation of Malaysia and Singapore led to a split in the newspaper's operations in 1972, with The Straits Times in Singapore and the New Straits Times in Malaysia. By the 1980s, The Straits Times had come to reflect the rapidly developing city-state it served, reporting on the major economic and social changes taking place in the Republic.

More recently, the newsroom is again being transformed, moving decidedly away from its print-centred mode of operations to become a multimedia newsroom. ST news is now available in print, on our website and apps, on smartphones and tablets, and also comes in the form of videos, e-mail newsletters, social media feeds, and even on the radio.

  • The team behind LIVING HISTORY: 170 years of The Straits Times 

  • Editor
    Warren Fernandez

    Writer and project coordinator
    Bhagyashree Garekar

    Researchers
    Yuen Sin, Charmaine Ng, Louisa Goh and Madeleine Lim

    Copy editors
    Siva Arasu and Chang Ai-Lien

    Designer
    Denise Chong

    Artist
    Manny Francisco

    Graphic artist
    Lim Kai Li

    With special thanks to
    Angelina Choy, Joyce Fang, Mah Siong Ngoh, Peter Williams, Sim Mui Hoon, Stephanie Yeow and Zarina Mohamed

This process of adapting to change has been the leitmotif of the ST story. Through its 170-year history, the paper has survived political upheavals that led to changes of nationality, political regime and leadershipas as well as war, economic depression and foreign occupation. It rode waves of technological change - from the introduction of the telegraph and telephone to television and now the Internet - by constantly evolving to stay in sync with the times.

Most importantly, ST recognised the need to stay connected to the society it served, reflecting and respecting its values and social conventions, and always attuned to the changing political and social landscape. This is a critical role, as every society needs a proper sense of place and self - where it has come from, what its challenges are, where it is going, and why.

ST made this its mission right from the start. Its editorial in its very first edition said: "The arrangements made by the Proprietor will, it is confidently expected, ensure for The Straits Times a wide circulation, especially among the mercantile Community, whilst the principles on which the publication will be conducted are those which will ever identify The Straits Times with the general interests of the Settlement."

Today, 170 years on, we remain as committed to those principles, ever aware that our fortunes are inextricably tied to those of Singapore. And we remain sanguine about our future, despite the major disruptions in the media industry around the world. You might say we have seen as much before, and survived to tell the story.

Follow Warren Fernandez on Twitter @theSTeditor

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2015, with the headline 'Tap into the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe