Fans of Sumiko meet her in person

Love, life & loss: What does it take to write a personal column?
The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan (left) says she was nervous before her askST@NLB session yesterday, but says readers of her column were "very warm". Ms Tan signs copies of her book Sundays With Sumiko (above).
The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan (above) says she was nervous before her askST@NLB session yesterday, but says readers of her column were "very warm".ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan (left) says she was nervous before her askST@NLB session yesterday, but says readers of her column were "very warm". Ms Tan signs copies of her book Sundays With Sumiko (above).
Ms Tan signs copies of her book Sundays With Sumiko (above).ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

350 people attend Straits Times executive editor's column-writing talk

For more than a decade, they followed her personal column faithfully. Last night, they finally met the woman herself.

Some 350 people attended The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan's talk on column-writing - making it the best attended askST@NLB session since the talks began in May last year.

During the lively session at the Central Public Library in Victoria Street, Ms Tan shared tips on how she goes about coming up with stories that were personal yet relatable to her readers.

For one of her fans, Ms Yeo Hwee Lin, 48, Ms Tan was just as honest and "real" as the person she had imagined from reading her columns.

"I had expected the session to be very structured, but it turned out to be an easy-going, chit-chat session," said Ms Yeo, who works at a social enterprise.

Indeed, over half of the two-hour- long session was dedicated to a question-and-answer segment, where followers of Ms Tan's column fielded their most burning questions.

They were mainly personal questions for Ms Tan, including if she has ever regretted writing any of her columns, where she gets her inspiration from - and how she looks so young. Ms Tan is 53.

She said each piece takes around a week to write, during pockets of time she finds in between her other newsroom duties.

She added that she regrets a handful of them, including some written in the 1990s when she used phrases that "looking back now, were too judgmental of people and things".

As for inspiration, it often stems from something she feels strongly about. And honesty is key, she added. "You need to write from the heart. You cannot bluff your way through your column."

Madam Seow Hwee Tiang, 57, a management assistant, said it was interesting hearing about the process that goes behind putting a column together. "I can tell she really loves her job. I can't imagine working 11 hours or taking 15 hours to write a column," she said.

Over 2,000 people also tuned in to the session via a live stream.

A few questions were also asked about journalism, such as how readers can distinguish fake news from real news, to which Ms Tan replied that one way is to check multiple sources.

Her talk is the first of a new series of askST@NLB talks, a joint effort between The Straits Times and the National Library Board (NLB). There are 12 in each run.

In the coming months, 10 journalists and ST Schools teaching specialist Debra Francisco will be holding sessions. Ms Francisco will discuss the question, How to keep your children learning through the news during the school holidays?

Each session will run from 7pm to 8.30pm. Registration starts at 6pm and the 15- to 30-minute talks will be followed by a question-and-answer segment.

Next month, ST senior manpower correspondent Toh Yong Chuan will speak about making a mid-career switch, the challenges that come with it and how to be prepared.

Ms Tan, who considers herself a shy person, said she enjoyed interacting with her readers. "Before the talk I was very, very nervous, but when I started meeting them I felt I didn't have to be because they were all very warm," she said.

Though she expected most of the questions, some took her by surprise, such as the one on fake news.

"But it was good as it gave us a chance to talk about journalism."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2017, with the headline 'Fans of Sumiko meet her in person'. Print Edition | Subscribe