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Mightier than the sword

Mr Tee Zhuo has always believed in giving a voice to the voiceless. Perhaps this is best illustrated by his time as a Philosophy, Politics and Economics undergraduate at Yale-NUS College, during which he spent his senior year helping create sexual misconduct policies for the college.

Over the course of several weeks, he listened to the accounts of survivors of on-campus sexual violence, repeatedly petitioned the school to take action, and finally helped establish a committee to formulate and enact policies.

It was, in his own words, an emotionally draining and exhausting experience.

“But it also shaped my ethical beliefs, taught me the importance of empathy, and also showed me the need for activism in seeking justice and holding people to account,” he says.

But rather than enter the legal profession or don the badge of law enforcement, the 25-year-old chose a rather different path — he joined the print newsroom.

“I’ve always loved writing and the written word,” says the recipient of the Singapore Press Holdings Journalism Scholarship (Local), who is now a breaking news reporter with The Straits Times(ST). “But more than that, I believe in the function and duty of journalism to bring truth to light and hold people in power to account.”

A force for good
As such, it comes as no surprise that the defining moment of his budding career thus far was the publication of his first opinion piece last August.

In response to a vice-principal at St Joseph’s Institution barring an activist from the Inter-University LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender)
Network from speaking at a school event, Mr Tee took to the pages of ST to contend that rather than being a force for division — as said vice-principal had argued — activism was necessary and vital for society to progress.

The publication of the op-ed was crucial to his growth in multiple ways. It helped him gain a better understanding of the editorial process,and find his voice and write critically about other social issues.

Spurred by the overwhelming response to his work, Mr Tee has gone on to write extensively on a plethora of subjects including colonialism, discrimination and racial and religious issues in Singapore — all within his first year with ST.

Navigating OB markers
Of course, being a young firebrand in the newsroom often put him in conflict with his editors, particularly when it came to their views on reporting on topics deemed “sensitive” like race and religion, politics, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues.

But in time, he learnt to work more productively within the constraints imposed on him.

“I learnt to accept my editors’ opinions even if I disagreed with them, and to express my personal opinions within the editorial line of the newspaper,” he says.

Editorial constraints aside, he makes no illusions about the difficultiesof being a journalist, something he impresses on scholar hopefuls who
approach him for advice. “Think carefully about what being a journalist means to you,” he says.

“Don’t take the scholarship if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices.”

By his own admission, there are few perks to being a newshound. The pay is mediocre, the working hours can be brutal and reporters are often faced with the reality of not being able to write what they want.

Still, the satisfaction of a story well told is worth it.

“I have many colleagues who face challenges both within and beyond the newsroom just for doing their jobs,”he says.

“But it was worth it for them to raise important issues ranging from LGBTQ rights, to migrant worker rights, to sexual violence, to inequalities in society, to mental health and other important issues.”