The little desk that could

The little desk that could
The Straits Times' award-winning schools team comprises (from left) journalist Nur Syahiidah Zainal, sub-editor James Jr. Quek, journalist Sheryl Quek, correspondent Debra Ann Francisco, art director Jaster Ngui, deputy editor Serene Luo, journalist Ang Yiying and editor Serene Goh.

SINGAPORE - Telling adults that your job is to get young people reading the newspaper is a lot like saying you are looking for a unicorn to ride to the North Pole.

Some think you delusional ("The young don't read the paper anymore, right?"), some are acerbic ("There's this thing called the Internet nowadays"), while others are just plain dismissive ("That's not 'real' journalism").

Most are ambivalent. Even if they have heard of the nine-year-old Straits Times News In Education (NIE) programme, they are unlikely to have paged through its weekly magazines for secondary and primary school readers, IN and Little Red Dot.

Even if they have read about its multiple awards, they might not know what these are for.

The upside? Our niche audience - young readers, teachers and parents - are extremely supportive. We receive a daily stream of calls and enthusiastic e-mail seeking to subscribe, while teachers champion its resources as a portable, economic way to "make reading cool again".

Our responses today are a far cry from when we began in December 2004.

For a start, our desk comprised three inexperienced reporters, one deputy and a nervous editor tasked to run The Straits Times Media Club for school reporters and launch a 16-page weekly for teenagers.

Instead of asking questions, we had to field answers, chiefly to confirm that "yes, we really are part of The Straits Times...".

Today, the team remains lean, despite its increased range of deliverables.

At any time, there are fewer than 10 people - reporters, editors and artists - producing content for its two weekly 20-page publications and outreach events, and books.

The same staff generate English learning resources for The Straits Times Education Programme (STep), and conduct media training workshops for parents and teachers.

The result: about 100,000 subscriptions among schools every week, and a familial response to its mission and events.

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