5 June 2020: Yale-NUS alumni deliver breaking news on the COVID-19 pandemic

By Ethel Pang

Amidst the pandemic, we have been inundated with news surrounding the latest COVID-19 developments daily. These updates have kept us informed on changing issues related to the pandemic.

Covering the news during such extraordinary times requires both speed and an eye for details. Our Yale-NUS alumni, who are working at the frontlines in news reporting, share their daily lives in the newsroom and the triumphs and challenges of being a journalist during a global pandemic. All three have been involved in covering news relating to the pandemic in the last few months.

Mr Timothy Goh (Class of 2018). Image provided by Mr Goh.

Mr Timothy Goh (Class of 2018) has been a journalist with The Straits Times for about two years, covering news on Health, Science, and the Environment.

While there is immense satisfaction in keeping up with writing speedy yet accurate reports, he admitted that the past couple of months have been “very tiring”. During normal times, journalists’ work hours typically fall out of the conventional working hours of 9am to 5pm – working over weekends and sometimes over public holidays are also common. However, since most people are working from home due to measures introduced to contain the virus, the lines between work and personal life have become more blurred. Journalists have often had to stay up past midnight and work round-the-clock to ensure news, particularly important COVID-19 updates, gets delivered to their readers in a timely and accurate manner.

Another challenge for journalists, shared Mr Goh, was that they usually had to expose themselves to risky conditions in order to prepare for their stories.

He said, “While most people are able to stay safely indoors, many of my colleagues and I have gone to places such as clinics, hospitals, community isolation facilities, dormitories, cluster sites [and so on] to report on what’s going on at the ground level.” Although necessary precaution measures were taken, like masking up and adhering to social distancing guidelines, there was nevertheless still a risk of infection.

Although there were challenges that came with the job, our alumni shared that working at the frontlines, has nevertheless been exhilarating and rewarding.

Mr Justin Ong (Class of 2019). Image provided by Mr Ong.

Mr Justin Ong (Class of 2019), who is currently a journalist at TODAY covering news relating to manpower and transport, was happy to be offered the unique opportunity to do a story on the Singapore-Malaysia border closure. Standing at the Woodlands Checkpoint until the wee hours of the morning, Mr Ong interviewed the last few Malaysians crossing over to Singapore.

He said, “I could tell that adrenaline was still coursing through their veins and the relief at saving their livelihoods for the next few weeks (which turned into months) was palpable.” He also added that the magnitude of such a dramatic border closure was “one in a few decades” and the story was “a thrill to cover”.

Ms Jane Zhang (Class of 2018). Image provided by Ms Zhang.

Another alumni, who has found meaning in her work during such challenging times, is Ms Jane Zhang (Class of 2018), a writer for Mothership. She explained that a large part of Mothership’s reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic had to do with public health issues, which made her work feel like it held more weight.

She said, “It still feels so surreal that there are hundreds of thousands of people reading my articles every month, and that my work can actually have an impact on people’s awareness and understanding of different situations.”

In a similar vein, Mr Goh expressed that working on the pandemic coverage had given him many exciting opportunities to speak to people at the frontlines of the fight against the virus, and their conversations gave him hope that the situation was slowly but surely getting better.

Our alumni’s experiences highlight the critical and often thankless job of the journalists who work tirelessly at the frontlines to get the news to our (virtual or literal) doorsteps, and the need to be appreciative of those working in essential services during these challenging times.

Mr Goh, Ms Zhang and Mr Ong credited their experience at Yale-NUS College and its focus on broad-based liberal arts education for helping them prepare for their journalistic journeys.

“The liberal arts education and exposure to many different subjects have really prepared me well for journalism, where you have to quickly become the master of various seemingly random subjects throughout the week – one moment you need to be familiar with criminal law, the next – public health policy, then sociology, then ecology, and so on,” said Mr Goh.

For Ms Zhang, her time at Yale-NUS helped her to “develop a deep care for issues pertaining to injustice and inequality”, which critically drives the work that she does currently.

Our alumni are also appreciative of how the College has taught them to critically think, and interrogate different perspectives rather than being insistent on one version of events. Such skills are particularly relevant in making sense of today’s complicated and information-rich environment.

Mr Ong left us with a nugget of wisdom, “Always be curious about the world, and always read up what you can.”