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ST multimedia journalist gets to the heart of the matter

Captions: Ms Cheow Sue-Ann’s first assignment as a reporter made her realise how a good story can make a difference to people’s lives. PHOTO: JASPER YU

By Audrey Ng

It was an assignment that would have shaken even senior newshounds.

Ms Cheow Sue-Ann was then only 18 and just two weeks into her job as an intern reporter at The New Paper (TNP). She had been assigned to speak to four children who had lost their mother to colon cancer and their father two months later in a tragic motorcycle accident.

She recalls attending the father’s wake which was held at a HDB void deck in Woodlands. The mood was sombre and the situation felt intimidating. Standing at the back, she nervously pondered over how to approach the children. Finally, she plucked up the courage to ask someone if she could talk to the eldest daughter who was then 13. 

“I felt so guilty for bothering the family during such a difficult time. Till today, it ranks among the most difficult assignments I’ve been sent on. It even made me unsure if this was the right job for me,” she says. 

What Ms Cheow did not expect was the outpouring of support from members of the public after her report was published. Along with the messages of condolences were offers to give food, tuition and money to the children. “I think that was when I realised how powerful a good story was, and more importantly, how much impact journalism can have,” she says. 

That was back in 2013 and today, Ms Cheow, 26, works as a multimedia journalist at The Straits Times. Poised and confident, she relays the day’s headlines with her co-host on ST News Night, a live news programme that airs at 9pm on weekdays on The Straits Times website and social media channels.


The accidental journalist 

As a student, she was looking at scholarships and had applied to Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) as it entailed writing – something she enjoys. The 2013 internship at TNP was part of the scholarship requirement and the experience convinced her she had made the right choice.

In journalism, no two days are ever the same, she says.

“One day, I would be on the streets of Geylang tracing the steps of a slasher, and the next day I would be interviewing celebrities at fancy hotels. It was a backstage pass to Singapore and the lives of people,” she says.

The environment at TNP was welcoming and her colleagues there inspired her with their passion towards their jobs.  

“The energy in the newsroom was one of ‘nothing is impossible’. I was surrounded by experienced journalists, committed to getting their stories. They were also friendly and approachable, even though I was just a rookie, and would invite me out for drinks,” she recalls.

Sponsored by the SPH scholarship, Ms Cheow obtained a Master of Arts (Hons) in English Language and Literature from the University of Edinburgh. 


Life lessons on the ground 

One important lesson Ms Cheow has gleaned from her work is how to be adaptable, especially when out on video shoots, as there are other unpredictable factors such as weather, lighting and noise that can affect her work. 

“No matter how well you plan something, you always have to be ready when nothing goes according to plan. I’ve had to learn to be resilient and resourceful,” she says. 

This mindset also comes in handy in adapting to the fast-evolving media landscape and ever-changing needs of news consumers. Which is why Ms Cheow believes it is important for today’s journalists to be flexible and learn to tell stories through different mediums. 

As an intern at The Straits Times in 2014, she recalls being involved in a project that used interactive graphics and video clips to take people on a guided tour of the newly developed Marina Bay area.

“It made so much sense to me. We were no longer just telling people what we were seeing, we were taking them with us to let them see the world for themselves,” she says. 

“Multimedia journalism is not just the future anymore, it is our present.”

However, becoming a multimedia journalist was a steep learning curve. She recalls her “baptism by fire” experience doing live on-site reporting during last year’s general election. Putting together a video news report requires more resources and teamwork than traditional print-only journalism, and she wanted to push herself and acquire new skills. To that end, she learnt basic video editing to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, to keep up with the job’s demands. 

“From tone of voice and pacing, to moving images, music and graphics, there are more tools at your disposal to make a story engaging, but at the same time, you also have many more things to worry about,” she explains.

Ultimately, no matter the medium, Ms Cheow hopes to tell a good story with each of her reports, one that resonates with readers and viewers.

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