Thursday, January 12, 2006

I Knew It!

A while back, a friend of mine asked me for an opinion on YouThink, Singapore Straits Time's new youth column. I was a little hesitant, given Straits Time's track record for creative quoting, but since it was a friend who asked, I sent him a quote, and kept the original copy for myself.

Here's what Straits Times quoted.

"'YouthInk is a symbolic gesture in the right direction. I acknowledge the pressing need to make our youth feel engaged in Singapore's social structure. At the very least, it symbolises an attempt to show the youth of Singapore that their views actually matter.

'However, as a forum for youth expression, YouthInk has a long way to go.

'A young voice is powerful because it is young, free from the preconceived 'wisdom' that afflicts adults. It took a child to question the emperor's nakedness. Yet, in the articles I have seen, there wasn't a single one that posed the tremendously difficult questions that the youth are privileged to ask.

'Two articles on blogging advocated simple truisms without further analysis - that we should be responsible with what we write online. Why is no one challenging the conventional models of career success? Why does no one question why young people are flocking to the modelling profession in droves?' -- ANTHONY LIM, 29, currently doing postgraduate studies in San Francisco"

And here's my full text.

"I appreciate the vote of confidence. As you well know, I am not exactly a fervent supporter of mainstream media. If the objective is to get a counterpoint to how well YouThink is doing, you might have come to the right place. If the objective, however, is to get a quote useable by the Straits Times, I'm pretty sure you've asked the wrong person.

Nevertheless, since you've asked, here's what I think.

YouThink is a symbolic gesture in the right direction. I acknowledge the pressing need for mainstream media, and the Government by extension, to make youths feel engaged in Singapore social structure. At the very least, YouThink symbolises an attempt to show the youths of Singapore that their views actually matter.

However, as a forum for youth expression, YouThink has a long way to go.

A young voice is powerful because it is young, free from preconceived "wisdom" that afflicts adults. It took a child to question the emperor's nakedness. This is perhaps the greatest lesson that YouThink should take to heart. Before the eyes of youth, we are all naked.

Yet, in the six articles sent to me, I have not read a single one that poses the tremendously difficult questions that the youth are priviledged to ask. Two of the six articles simply advocate more of the same - a top down, government-driven approach to solve problems. The two articles on blogging advocate simple truisms without further analysis - that we should be responsible with what we write online.

Wherein lies the wisdom of youth? Why is no one asking whether the modern Singapore student wield so much power that teachers are unable to do their jobs? Why is no one challenging the conventional models of career success? Why does no one question why young people are flocking to the modelling profession in droves?

I do not know, nor do I wish to speculate as to this cause. What I am certain of is this - the day that such questions are asked and published is the day YouThink, and all of Singaporean society, has arrived.

I pray fervently for that day to arrive.

The parts in bold are the portions that Straits Times omitted. Not a terrible omission, but one that takes a lot of force out of my opinion. My wife points out the irony of the omissions - that the truly provocative questions have been omitted.

I believe these omissions speak for themselves.


jeffyen said...

oops, the math doesn't look too good... :) when i read the article in the newspaper then, i almost immediately had a feeling something was 'amiss'. the last paragraph didn't even make much sense by itself after the editing.

i was also asked to contribute my feelings about YI, but declined, probably cause i was scared about the final editing, and also because i had this :)

mini said...

son of a motherless goat! the article doesn't even flow. and most obviously they took out the part about the government.... intentional omissions aside they should at least show some pride in editing :p

cole. said...

some data must have been lost during the transmission ;)

Anthony said...


Glad you didn't - though honestly, if it were someone else who asked, I'd have refused outright.


I took some effort to ensure that my email flowed. I'm more miffed that the linguistic flourishes were taken out than the more provocative questions - which I knew would be taken out.


I'm pretty sure any data corruption was purely intentional.

Gloria said...

'Why does no one question why young people are flocking to the modelling profession in droves?'

KC, is this modelling thing a new development? Don't see the relevance of the last trend to the rest of the paragraph. I assume it's got something to do with young people rejecting the conventional career success path?? Just wanted to find out if it's some new thing int he news I'm out of touch with.

chrischoo said...

Hi Anthony, this is nothing really new. I've been writing for them every now and then and the same thing happens to our articles.

However, while I don't think there is a specific guideline which makes editors or sub-editors paraphrase things that you otherwise want mentioned, I think it's a matter of their own perception of reality that makes things sound different from what you originally said.

This is why I think there's still a long way to go. Until the papers are able to publish really sharp and stinging criticism, the unthinking public would assume that everybody in Singapore doesn't have very strong opinions on anything except for race and religion.

That's obviously not correct. It's just that we aren't seeing those opinions in the papers, although admittedly there's slightly more liberal stuff in the papers these days than ten years ago.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Media distortions, yeah. I am very aware of that.

And this is not the first time I have heard stories of how the protrayal of an event or even a quote is nothing like the original.

Even if it is taken out of context.

US/UK media, local media, etc are all guilty of that. Ack.

I can sympathise with you. As for journalists/reporters, I have not much respect for a lot of them.

Xia_mi_mi said...

Call this propaganda? Or is this just a mere filter of sensitive topic?

Anyway it seems natural for them to do so. Almost expected. Becoz I remembered not so long ago I say a paragraph in fine print at the bottom of the forum section which states this: When you write to the Straits Times Forum Page, we take it that you agreee at no charge to allow us to archive, resell or reproduce the letter in any way and any medium

Anonymous said...

May I ask, isn't it contradicting to say that youths should be given more power, then comment that youths today have too much power? If some you feel that youths deserve more of a voice, then you have to accord this same power to all youths regardless of their grades or schools or family incomes. Inevitably some will abuse the power to lord it over teachers, and some will make good use of it.


Unknown said...

Welcome to the club.
They do it so often it must be part of the induction programme at SPH.

The quoted version:

The actual version:

Anthony said...


It was in response to one of the articles I read, which happened to be about modelling and how "dangerous" the profession could be.


Right on the money.

Shyue Chou,

That does happen. It's -how- it happens that I'm a bit concerned about. I've spoken to my wife, a former journalist herself and she assures me that there -is- a better, more ethical way to have managed a letter of this length.

Xia Mi Mi

I suspect that Straits Times will respond, if they respond at all, that they were editing for length. Except that one wonders why the less provocative questions were not cut.


Only if a teacher's power amounts to censorship. The reason I asked that question is to provoke some thinking along those lines - why are teachers reduced to removing specks while ignoring whole logs? The blogging thing didn't seem like a big deal to me - don't they have bigger things to attend to, like the gang problems found in some schools?


Glad to have joined the sacred ranks then.

jadeite said...

I do feel a lot of the time I'm sure the editing isn't done expressly with the goal of distorting your view in mind. Journalists do edit for clarity and length and how it fits into an article. While I haven't read the article and cannot comment, I'd like to warn against paranoia and conspiracy theory. Sometimes it's purely lousy editing on the writer's part, rather than intention to deceive. Especially with YouthInk writers who tend to be younger and less experienced.

The writer did not twist your words or modify your comments, which I think is perfectly fine; as previous experiences have shown total misquotes.

Anthony said...


Fair enough. I note that my argument is an argument of extent, and by diluting extent, one dilutes both intent and force of argument.

However, I take your point that there's no conspiracy theory involved. That's not my argument, though it still doesn't say a lot for Straits Times - considering the number of times they have been holding themselves out as the shining beacon of Singapore journalism (as opposed to bloggers who are just trashy yellow journalists).

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I didn't think most of your piece was worth publishing. The language was laborious to read in several places and your so-called flourishes didn't add to the article in any way. And what about the trite phrases like "we are all naked"?? Omg.

I'm no ardent supporter of the ST, but I think they're fully within their right to edit out convoluted language, if for no other reason than that space comes at a premium in our national newspaper.

Anthony said...


Perhaps the editors saw symmetry in publishing trite, labourious letters in response to their trite, labourious articles?

I understand fully their right to edit for space. That does not explain why ST chose specifically to edit away my question on top-down approaches.

Anonymous said...

147th out of 163 countries for press freedom, ggkkthx.

Anonymous said...

it is with much regret that i m typing this. some people only knows how to criticise and be a cynic, but do not really come forward to really put their thoughts into actions. why speak so bravely when u peeps only know how to slam meekly?


Anthony said...


Actually, I did come forward and do something. I posted the letter, in its original form, to show people what sort of editing was done, and let people like you make your own judgments about it.

Of course, if you were talking about parading around an MRT station wearing white elephant T-Shirts, I can't, cos I'm not there. If you're talking about staging a leveraged buy-out of the Straits Times, sorry, I neither have the credit rating nor the savings to do so.

If you're asking me to run for elections in the opposition, I ask you honestly what that would achieve.

In short, I ask you what realistically you would have me do besides put up my letter in its entirety.

BunnyButt said...

Hey KC, I've been hibernating and only now saw this article. I can't believe they actually ommitted the question about teachers and students.

I would really like an answer to that and many other burning questions because until then, teaching has lost it's meaning for me.

Teaching was an ideal for me but it has become something I only used believed in, now crushed by the general *ignorant* public (spat and trampled on, I might add). I'm quite sure you know how that feels like.