Readers of Sumiko Tan meet her in person at askST@NLB session

Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan giving a talk on column writing at the Central Public Library in Victoria Street on Friday night (July 28).
Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan giving a talk on column writing at the Central Public Library in Victoria Street on Friday night (July 28).ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - For more than a decade, they followed her personal column faithfully.

On Friday night (July 28), they finally met in the flesh the woman herself.

Some 350 people attended Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan's talk on column writing - making it the most well-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 are personal yet relatable to her readers.

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

"I had expected that the session would be very structured and prim and proper, but it turned out to be an easy-going chit-chat session," said Ms Yeo, who works at a social enterprise. She had followed Ms Tan's writing for more than a decade.

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

Ms Tan took some time during her talk to answer questions from the attendees. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

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 looked so young. Ms Tan is 53.


Ms Tan 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," she said.

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.

More than 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.

Ms Tan also signed copies of her book, Sundays With Sumiko. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Her talk is the first of a new series of askST@NLB sessions, 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.

On Aug 25, 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 for them.

Ms Tan, who considers herself a very 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 about fake news.

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