Friday 19 October 2012

Spirited dialogue at ST Forum gathering

Record 30,000 letters submitted last year, with one in six published
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2012

MR BRYAN Chow may be only 20, but he has already been published on a slew of issues such as economics, social work and law.

Instead of blogs and social media, he took to The Straits Times Forum Page to air his views.

"Its readership is much wider (than social media) and provides for more credibility," said the second-year medicine student at the National University of Singapore.

Last night, he was among 200 guests who attended this newspaper's 10th annual gathering to engage Forum letter writers at a session held at the News Centre auditorium in Toa Payoh.

In attendance were published letter writers and representatives from the civil service, private and volunteer agencies, who met ST editors and section heads.

Throughout the spirited 90-minute dialogue, readers peppered a panel of editors with questions on ST's coverage of hot-button topics like the recent online vice ring case and last year's general election. Some even pitched in with story ideas of their own.

The panel comprised ST editor Warren Fernandez, 46, Forum editor Yap Koon Hong, 57, and straits editor Eugene Leow, 40. This was Mr Fernandez's first Forum dialogue since he took over as ST editor in February.

Last year, a record of almost 30,000 letters were submitted to the Forum. One in six was published, with the top three topics being the general election, public transport and property prices.

To commemorate last year's record number of contributions and last night's dialogue, the paper is, for the first time, reprising selected Forum letters from last year in a two-page spread.

In his opening remarks, Mr Fernandez outlined the steps being taken by the paper to stay relevant to its readers in the face of societal, technological and generational shifts.

It was a view shared by Mrs Tara Dhar Hasnain, 62, an adjunct English lecturer at Singapore Management University, who talked about how difficult it was to get her students to read newspapers.

Some, like Mr Anthony Goh, 74, a senior consultant at a port company, felt the Forum can be a good conduit to drive the national conversation.

Writer Patrick Low, 68, agreed: "Perhaps through the forum of Forum writers, the Government can organise a form of national conversation."

Mr Fernandez said he found it very useful to hear what the contributors were thinking.

"We'll continue to engage our readers to make sure the paper remains relevant to them."

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