No one’s in journalism for the money,” says reporter Toh Wen Li.
It’s a startling statement to hear, especially from a Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) scholar, but the 25-year-old stands by it.
According to her, it is a common sentiment in the newsroom.
After all, being a reporter involves working long hours, being able to think on your feet, and coping with the stress of multiple deadlines, often just hours apart.
“You’ve got to really believe in what you do, because journalism isn’t one of those nine-to-five professions where work ends the moment you leave the office,” she says.
So why is she in it?
“Growth,” she says simply. “I hope to grow. I want to be a better writer and journalist — it’s as simple as that.”
Honing her craft
Ms Toh’s answer has remained the same ever since she first stepped into the newsroom seven years ago as a fresh-faced intern at the Life
section of The Straits Times.
English had always been her forte throughout school, so a career in journalism seemed like the next logical step.
“In the newsroom, you get thrown into the deep end fairly quickly,” she recalls. “But that’s a good thing, because it gives you a clear idea of whether journalism is for you or not.”
Fortunately, it turned out that journalism was most assuredly for her.
During her five months at The Straits Times, Ms Toh’s keen nose for a good story and acute news sense made her an easy choice for the Singapore Press Holdings Scholarship (Overseas).
During her four years studying at the University of Cambridge, she continued to seek out opportunities to hone her journalistic skills, scoring placements in The Guardian and regional newspaper Cambridge News. Both gave her valuable insight into how other newsrooms operate.
One such attachment even saw her spending several weeks in Edinburgh to review plays for an online publication, Broadway Baby.
But it wasn’t all work, all the time. At Cambridge, she helped organise a TEDxCambridge conference, dabbled in poetry writing, and participated in a volunteer work stint teaching English to primary school children.
All in a day’s work
Today, after obtaining a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English and a Master of Philosophy in American Literature, Ms Toh has come full circle.
She is back in the newsroom at Life, but this time as a full-fledged reporter who has earned her stripes.
As an arts reporter, she writes several arts-related stories a week, and also reviews books and plays.
She also contributes to The Straits Times’ #OpinionOfTheDay column, and co-hosts a books podcast called Bookmark This! every month.
It is a lot to cover, but Ms Toh relishes the work nonetheless.
“There’s no typical day in the life of a journalist,” she says. She could be profiling a doctor providing low-cost healthcare for migrant workers one day, and exploring an ex-national swimmer turned composer’s healing journey through calligraphy the next.
“It may sound like a horrible cliché, but being a journalist allows me to do what I love, and get paid for it,” she says.
“I get to write about issues that matter, and have conversations with fascinating people from all sorts of backgrounds.”