Photo Caption: The SPH Journalism Scholarship gave Mr Heng the opportunity to study at three renowned universities: Peking University in Beijing, Tokyo’s Waseda University and Yale University in Connecticut.
By Sanjay Surana
As a journalist for Lianhe Zaobao, many stories have left an impression on 30-year-old Heng Kang Wei. One encounter included interviewing an unvaccinated woman who contracted Covid-19 and had to be put on an ECMO machine for life support.
“Getting vaccinated is a small decision which people put off, but it can have such a huge impact,” he says.
The incident served to remind Mr Heng about his responsibilities.
“As journalists, we can make a difference by sharing meaningful stories,” he says. “If a story can inspire one person to get vaccinated and save a life, then we see the effects of what our work can do.”
A thirst for knowledge
Even as a child, Mr Heng was highly inquisitive and read books on everything from physics to astronomy and history.
“I always wanted to find out what was going on and acquired knowledge through books or talking to people,” he says. “That is why I want to be a journalist.”
After his A levels, Mr Heng landed an internship at SPH Media (formerly Singapore Press Holdings) where he got to work with staff who showed him the ropes in the news environment.
“Being a good journalist is not something you can pick up in school – you have to learn on the ground,” he says.
Armed with aspirations to become a journalist, Mr Heng applied for a SPH Journalism Scholarship which allowed him to pursue a Bachelor of Laws in International Politics at Peking University in Beijing, a Bachelor of Arts in International Liberal Studies at Tokyo’s Waseda University, and a Masters of Arts in East Asian Studies from Yale University in the United States.
“Over five years, I learnt from the best in three countries,” he says. “Being a journalist means communicating effectively. Abroad, I saw how others dealt differently with situations compared to back home.”
While naysayers see journalism as a waning business, Mr Heng describes it as “a watershed moment” in an era of innovation.
“There may be changes, but we are also more open to new ideas. Who would have imagined viral campaigns 10 years ago? If readers want news via TikTok, why not?” he says.
Starting off as a crime reporter (he won the Best Breaking News Award 2019 for a story on a homicide in Chin Swee Road while on that beat), he chose to work in the Chinese Media Group because he is convinced that journalists can effect social change through their stories.
“Those who work in the media can help to preserve important aspects of our culture,” he says.
The new structure of his employer SPH Media – now a Public Company Limited by Guarantee (CLG) that is not beholden to shareholders – has energised Mr Heng.
“This is a time of great change. Previously, we had to maximise profits for the company. But under the CLG, we are not profit-driven. Money can be reinvested to equip us with the tools needed for transformation.”
Looking ahead, he says: “No matter what the medium, the core principles of journalism must stay the same – to deliver accurate news and timely information to our readers.”