THE New Straits Times (NST) turned 173 last Sunday. I am almost certain many of us did not realise it was the newspaper’s anniversary except for history buffs or people who follow the publication. I belong to the latter group.
The NST’s predecessor was a weekly journal known as the Straits Times & Singapore Journal of Commerce, which hit the newsstands on July 15, 1845, with a circulation of about 100.
A publication which has been around for almost two centuries would certainly have captured history. The NST and its predecessor has seen through the rise and fall of empires, two world wars and the birth of our nation and its formative years, which have led us here today. That’s a treasure trove of data, stories and photographs, if you think about it.
My family has been subscribing to the newspaper for as long as I can remember. My father remains an avid reader and he insists on having the NST and one Malay daily at the breakfast table every day. He may have switched his subscription to three different Malay dailies in the past two decades, but the subscription to the NST has remained all throughout.
Like many people in their 70s and 80s, my parents prefer to get the news from print compared to the news on television. They do read the occassional “viral” news on their various WhatsApp groups, but for them, nothing beats the newspaper.
As a child, I seldom read the news section in the NST, preferring to instead flip through lifestyle pages, particularly the television listings. The newspaper masthead looked very different when I was growing up in the 1980s. The second section known as Times Two had a masthead with a stenciled outline of the Sultan Ibrahim Building in Johor Baru, signifying that it was the newspaper’s southern edition. Back then, it was a very big deal when someone gets his photograph published in the newspaper.
My mother often related a story of how a photograph of my five-year-old self and her appeared in the NST. She had brought me along when we participated in a state-level National Day celebration in Larkin Stadium.
As a matron at the government hospital at that time, my mother was photographed standing in front a group of nurses facing the main stage and I stood out like a sore thumb, being the only child standing in a sea of white and blue uniform-clad nurses. We never kept that photograph from the newspaper.
I would be reminded again many years later about the joy of seeing one’s face in print when covering a political party annual general meeting.
A woman dressed in the party’s official attire, who had been starring at the copy of the NST I was reading, suddenly telephoned someone and asked that person to buy the NST because “our photos are in the paper, lah”.
As a staff of the newspaper, I learnt that it takes many people with different expertise to publish a newspaper. A team of journalists, photographers, editors, sub-editors, web publishers and staff from advertising, circulation, production staff manage a newspaper and these people now handle content which includes digital and online.
NST's online reach and influence has grown from 39.4 million page views in 2007 to a staggering 102.5 million page views last year. This was an increase of 260 per cent in 10 years.
In a fast-changing media landscape, the NST continues to thrive. Despite the many choices of English language media, be they online or print in Malaysia, NST is still regarded as a reference point for learners of the English language. That was one of the reasons why it has always championed the Newspaper-in-Education programme.
More importantly, the newspaper received accolades for its talent and the work it has produced . Three years ago, the NST broke a 35-year-monopoly of the Malay newspapers by winning the country's most coveted award in journalism, the Kajai Award.
The winning exposé by NST Associate Editor, Current Affairs Farrah Naz Karim, Production Editor Haris Hussain and journalist Aliza Shah Muhammad Shah, uncovered the explosive truth of how water contaminated with metals was being channelled from disused mining pools into the homes of two million residents in Selangor. The articles prompted the Health Ministry to review the Water Quality Act to ensure that residents received clean and safe water supply.
The newspaper won the Kajai Award for the second consecutive year in 2016 for its exposé on bauxite mining in Kuantan that led to the imposition of a moratorium by the federal government.
Some well-known Malaysian writers and one prime minister have been associated with the NST or the Straits Times in the past. Literary figure Adibah Amin , the late Rehman Rashid, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and iconic cartoonist Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid or better known as Lat, are among those who were contributors to the newspaper; while Rehman, the author of “The Malaysian Journey” was a former editor of the newspaper.
With such an illustrious alumni and long list of accolades, the NST is bound to achieve greater things in the future. Here’s to many more years of success, NST.
The writer, formerly the Johor Baru bureau chief, is assistant news