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In the thick of the action

MEETING new people, getting first-hand access to cutting-edge gadgets and learning something new with every story he writes are some of the best parts of his job, says tech journalist Lester Hio. The Straits Times reporter covers technology news, writing on subjects such as e-payments, cybersecurity, gaming and telecommunications companies. He also reviews the latest technology devices on the market, including smartphones and audio gear. Of the three years he has worked with the paper, two-anda-half were spent covering the tech beat. The rest of the time, he was on the general news beat. But his connection with Singapore Press Holdings began earlier — he was an intern at The New Paper in 2010. A voracious reader since childhood, Mr Hio was especially fond of the science and technology section in The Straits Times. He came to enjoy articles and opinion pieces by US-based political journalists Fareed Zakaria and Joel Stein, which he says have influenced the way he views the world. His love for writing eventually led him to pursue a career in journalism. “I was always good at writing, so I figured a job that was about writing was right up my alley. But several weeks into my internship, I realised that more than just writing well, reporting and talking to people were key in journalism.”

That was when he knew he was hooked. “I loved the thrill and excitement of going out and doing something new every day,” he says. As a result of his first brush with journalism, which lasted from March to July 2010, Mr Hio, 29, applied for, and was awarded, the SPH Undergraduate Scholarship. His parents were encouraging, as they could see how much he enjoyed his first foray into journalism. The scope of the scholarship was broad enough to allow Mr Hio to pursue a double major in English literature and philosophy, two subjects that he was passionate about, at the National University of Singapore. He also had multiple opportunities to travel, including a fourmonth study exchange to Dublin in 2012, and summer school in Hong Kong the following year. He graduated in 2014 with first class honours.

No two days are alike

Mr Hio relishes the variety in his work. Though on the tech beat, he has to cover breaking news when he is rostered for early morning or night duty. “Any journalist will tell you there is nothing typical about our day,” he says. A large part of his job entails conducting interviews or attending events such as product launches, at which he examines and reviews the latest gadgets. He has also had the opportunity to visit interesting places while on the job. These include hard-to-access locations such as the maintenance area of the Sentosa luge — which Mr Hio visited as part of an interview with a maintenance engineer — and the roof of the Pan Pacific Singapore hotel to watch fireworks during a media preview leading up to the National Day Parade in 2015. He has also covered major overseas tech launches, such as the Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin (Berlin Radio Show), the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Capturing memorable stories

One of Mr Hio’s most memorable assignments as an intern involved going undercover in Sim Lim Square in 2010 to purchase streaming boxes that contained pre-loaded, illegally downloaded movies and TV shows — with a photographer documenting the transaction from a discreet distance. The story made an impact. Several weeks after the article was published, Mr Hio returned to find Sim Lim Square plastered with notices warning vendors against selling such illegal products. After three years as a journalist, he has grown in confidence and maturity. He recalls: “Prior to becoming a journalist, I did not like talking to strangers, and found the prospect of approaching someone on the street only to get rejected terrifying. “But once you start the ball rolling and your adrenaline is pumping, things just sort of happen — you become more confident that you can continue doing so because you know you’ve pulled it off before.” Another perk: meeting famous people. Says Mr Hio: “I have met people like Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong questions, interviewed Razer chief executive Tan MinLiang, and shaken Google chief executive Sundar Pichai’s hand.” For him, telling people’s stories is the best part of the job. He enjoys speaking to his interviewees, learning about their lives and conveying their stories to others.

He recalls listening to the fascinating experiences and recollections of a group of ex-Royal Airforce men, now all in their 70s and 80s. Although Mr Hio spent hours speaking with them, he felt like he had only scratched the surface. Based on those interviews, he wrote two stories that were published in The Straits Times in 2015 and 2016. To the journalist, his job is more than just a career — it is a way to make an impact on the world. “Listen to your innate curiosity and don’t let society beat you into a certain way of thinking,” is what he would like to tell aspiring journalists.