August 14, 2002 - The Straits Times was picked the Newspaper of the Year in the Pacific at an annual conference of over 300 newspaper publishers from the region in Adelaide, Australia, on Wednesday night.
It beat leading Australian and New Zealand newspapers to clinch the top award given by the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association (PANPA), which has members from 14 countries.
The citation for the award commended The Straits Times for its ability to connect with its local community through its School Pocket Money Fund and its extensive foreign news coverage and analysis.
Among other things, the judges were looking for a newspaper with the "capacity to make a positive difference to the community’’, and consistency and excellence in writing, illustrations and layout.
The Straits Times, flagship English newspaper of the Singapore Press Holdings Limited (SPH) with a daily circulation of 400,000, has won several PANPA awards previously for design, technical and marketing excellence.
Its Sunday Times scooped the best designed newspaper award for two years running in 1985 and 1986.
The Newspaper of the Year Award - considered the most prestigious of all the PANPA awards - was launched in 2000. The Straits Times was among the three finalists last year but the award went to a Sydney paper, The Australian.
Straits Times political editor Han Fook Kwang received the award on Wednesday night at a dinner held at the Adelaide Convention Centre.
Commenting on the award, Mr Leslie Fong, Straits Times’ editor, said: "We accept the award with humility. It is gratifying to know that our effort to provide quality content in the most engaging way has not gone unnoticed.
"That we have been able to deliver, despite severe budgetary and other constraints, is a tribute to the dedication, talent and hard work of all my colleagues.
"The Newspaper of the Year award belongs, rightly, to them. I am sure it will spur them on in our never-ending quest to be among the world’s best. ’’
The Straits Times was also one of four finalists in this year’s PANPA marketing award for community events, which went to The Daily Telegraph, an Australian newspaper, on Tuesday night.
The Singapore broadsheet received recognition for helping to raise pocket money for thousands of needy children through its School Pocket Money Fund, which was launched two years ago.
The fund raised S$2.5 million last year and now supports 4,300 needy children who get between S$30 and S$50 a month to help them buy textbooks, uniforms and meals in school.
Acceptance speech by Straits Times’ political editor Han Fook Kwang at PANPA’s Newspaper of the Year Award presentation ceremony on August 14, at the Adelaide Convention Centre, Australia.
Thank you very much for this award. It is especially gratifying for The Straits Times to win this award in what has been a very interesting period in our 157-year history.
I think I can speak for many of my colleagues when I say that never before had so much happened in so short a time in our newsroom over the last two years. We are only beginning to catch our breath now, so, it’s rather nice to be also getting an award in the meantime.
I’m not sure how many of you follow events in our little red dot of an island but last year we experienced not one, not two, but three life-changing events almost at the same time.
First, for the first time in more than 16 years, The Straits Times had to contend with a direct competitor when a morning free sheet, Today, was launched in November 2000 with this very seductive line: Why pay for the news when you can get it free?
When you’re faced with a life-threatening experience I think your focus and the reason for your existence become crystal clear.
So, we began to promote and brand the paper, something we’ve never done before, and most important of all, to make improvements to our content, including sectionising the paper.
That’s when we started the ST School Pocket Money Fund to raise funds for students from poorer families. As with most good ideas this came from the bottom up, from our Community reporter whose pounding of the beat made her realise there were many children from low income and broken families in need of financial help to buy books, uniforms, even daily pocket money to buy food from the school canteen. We raised S$1.3 million in the first year and S$2.5 million last year.
We also strengthened our regional coverage which we’re very proud of. They say newspapers thrive on the misfortune of others and unfortunately there’s a grain of truth in this.
Ever since the region’s problems, the upheaval in Indonesia with Suharto’s downfall, Anwar Ibrahim’s arrest in Malaysia and the Asian Financial Crisis, there has been a hunger for news of the region.
We believe the ST is uniquely placed in Singapore to cover these events and events in greater China. We’re part of the region and can offer a perspective which no other English language paper can.
That was a year ago. I’m happy to report today that, contrary to our earlier fears, circulation of the ST has not dropped. We beat off the competition. There are 400,000 people out there in Singapore willing to pay 60 cents every day for our product even when there’s a free alternative.
The second life-changing experience: we went into television. Looking back I have to say, it was either very foolhardy or brave or possibly both.
Here we were, a newspaper company with absolutely no experience in TV with ambitions to start two brand new TV stations, one in English, the other in Mandarin to take on a state-owned company with more than 30 years experience.
The ST was called upon to produce a half-hour nightly news bulletin.
Can print journalists do TV? We didn’t know at the time this debate had gone round the world several times, and the answer was mostly no.
I remember a meeting we had with John Simpson of the BBC (Simpson’s World) who was passing through at the time, and he told us it couldn’t be done, that newspaper people were very different from TV people and never the twain shall meet.
It was a very hectic period. We had to train from scratch: there was voice training, and writing for TV, and a hundred other things to look out for.
Our camera men had to double up with the video camera. Our news editors had to look out for stories which would do well on TV. Slowly but surely we were becoming an integrated newsroom and our journalists amphibious.
One year or so down the road, we’re still getting our act together but if you ask me now whether print journalists can do TV I say: yes, some can, and we’ve got a few gems in our newsroom.
In the middle of all this, came the third major shock of the year: the Singapore economy went into its most serious recession since independence in 1965.
There were budget cuts, and a wage freeze and we had to lay off some people.
We’re still profitable but the revenue squeeze has meant some adjustments in the newsroom. The biggest challenge has to been to keep morale up. When your staff has delivered on two major projects successfully -- seeing off the competition and getting TV off the ground -- you really want to reward them instead of freezing wages and cutting budgets. But that’s the reality of life.
So, under the circumstances, this award is especially meaningful and we’re very grateful to Panpa for recognising our achievements.
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Main board listed Singapore Press Holdings Limited is the leading news and information provider, offering quality content for print, Internet, TV and radio. It is licensed to publish 11 newspapers in the four official languages and six lifestyle periodicals. Everyday, SPH newspapers reach 2.68 million individuals or 89 percent of persons above 15 years old in Singapore while online publication of its six main dailies enjoy some 120 million pageviews a month. SPH has ventured into the broadcast medium and operates two popular free-to-air TV channels, Channel U in Chinese and Channel i in English.