In Conversation with Ms Tan Ee Lyn

By Rachel Phua, Year 2, CNM

Being able to succinctly convey one’s messages and stories in writing has never been more essential than in these media-saturated times. Whether the objective is to pry a fifteen year-old’s eyes away from the Katniss-Everdeen-braid tutorial video and direct them to the plight of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, or to catch and sustain the attention of your boss and her board of directors, clear, concise and audience-oriented writing is what is needed in our times to communicate some of our most important ideas and feelings.

So boy, am I glad I signed up for  NM2220 Introduction to Media Writing this semester, and got to hone this essential life skill. Now I’m looking forward to enhancing this skill, and sharpening it for catalysing social change in the follow-up class, News Writing and Reporting (NM3211).

Even better, I got to speak with my tutor, and former Reuters journalist, Ms Tan Ee Lyn, about her zest for developing these vital skills in as many people as possible. Below is the first part of my conversation with Ms Tan:

Why do you think it’s important for students to undergo a rigorous curriculum in news writing, whether or not they aspire to be journalists?

NM2220 Introduction to Media Writing gets students to become more effective writers. Whether or not you want to be a journalist, a PR professional, or anything in the communications business, you will want to be able to inform, educate and persuade your target audience when you go out to work. This course teaches you that – to be a more effective writer because you can pitch your messages in a way that can be best absorbed by people you want to persuade and convince. I can’t think of any white-collar job that doesn’t require a person to write these days, whether it’s a report, proposal or just a simple email. The world outside is entirely about persuading and convincing your boss, colleagues, clients, customers, even your adversaries. So if you consider effective writing a tool that will get you ahead, then it is absolutely necessary.

From next semester, I shall also be teaching News Reporting and Editing or NM3211. This course is for students with specific interest in journalism. It will show journalism in all its fields – politics, general news, business and finance, health and science, sports, entertainment, etc. This course shows them the ropes and the inside story, the twists and turns, the secrets. We will have exciting assignments, including simulations. It will be a blast. Both courses will be fun.

What are some of the new topics you have included in both NM2220 and NM3211 and why have you made these new adaptations?

For media writing (NM2220 Introduction to Media Writing), I will be adding the element of unpredictability because that is what happens in the real world. It will be woven into assignments and more. But I can’t say anymore here, because it’s meant to be … unpredictable. I will want students to come up with original content especially for the conventional media part of the course. They will have the chance to get their hands dirty, doing interviews and building a story from scratch.

For news reporting and editing (NM3211), I am adding separate sections on political and general news, business and finance, which are the staples of journalism. Students will be shown how these stories are done, what background research is needed and the writing styles that are particular to each of them. There will be a new section on reporting in hostile and conflict environments so students get a peek into what operating in extreme conditions means for the media.

For both courses, I am adding the element of purpose. Writing has a higher calling than just write. We write because we want to bring attention to neglected diseases, marginalized and disadvantaged peoples. We write because we want to push for change. If you pare writing down to its soul, toss out all its clothes and skin and bones, this is what you should find. If we manage to awaken that sense in you, then you would have taken something precious from this learning and made it a part of you.  This should be why we write.

Many people may find writing a chore. Why do you think it’s good, and even exciting, for us to practise writing?

Writing need not be a chore. In fact, it can be a joy. Yet, even if a person never ever gets to love writing, it shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do. It shouldn’t be frightening. It should be easy. With the right frame of mind, such as keeping it simple, clear and short, you are already making your first steps to tackling writing, and perhaps, even liking it.

Who are some writers or journalists who have inspired you with their writing?

Some of my favourite journalists are Jim Flannery, Maggie Fox and Paul Majendie. They are my former colleagues, whose pieces were always a joy to read. The writings of these journalists are simple, fun, enriching and memorable. Maggie now writes for NBC. Helen Branswell at The Canadian Press, I admire her work greatly.

My favourite authors are Victor Pelevin, Malcolm Gladwell, and James Thurber, just to name a few. My all-time favourite is Thurber’s The Wonderful O, about this crazy pirate who hated everything that was circular in shape after his mother got stuck in a porthole and died. He turned into a ruler and started banning everything that was round, including wheels. At the end, he banished all words with “o” in them, including freedom, hope and love. You can imagine the ending.

Ms Tan wants to guide students to make a difference in the world through clear, concise and audience-oriented writing

 

In Conversation with Visiting Professor Jeff Peterson

By Trudy Chua, Year 4, FASS

Visiting Professor Jeffery Peterson taught NM2104 in Semester 1 of AY2013/2014. A proponent of community-based participatory research, Jeff involved students in photovoice projects that turned out to be fulfilling for both students and teachers in that class. He shares with us his background, his experience in CNM, and some words of wisdom for students.

Tell us a little about yourself – where you come from, what you do and where your interests lie. 

Visiting Professor Jeffery Peterson hopes that NM students will find a good balance between studies and other aspects of life

I was born in Thailand during the Vietnam War at the end of 1968. My mother is Thai and my father is American. I lived in Thailand till I was four. I grew up mostly in the United States, but I had also lived in Italy for three years, and grew up being very conscious of culture and ethnicity, being a person of mixed heritage and race in the United States, so that was always at the forefront of my mind, and is why I decided to make that my specialty. I also taught English in Japan for three years.

Right now, I am a Visiting Associate Professor from Washington State University and I do qualitative research. My interests have to do with culture, communication and social change. Usually, it’s around health, access to health and healthy living, but also health, in relation to social issues. Issues of access usually brings me in contact with marginalised groups, or groups that, for some reason, aren’t part of the dominant groups. In the United States, these issues coincide with being an ethnic minority. In my research, I look into and question how all these  marginalised groups view their health, why they are not healthy and what could be done to improve their lives. My research is community-based and participatory. In this kind of research, I ask, “what if we thought of the people themselves as the experts, what if we asked them? Who’s more of an expert on their lives than they are?” In other words, I tend to privilege the point of view of the community I am working with. They define the problem and suggest the solutions.  The expertise lies with the people in the community, not the social scientists examining their lives.

Could you tell us more about NM2104, Qualitative Communication Research Methods, the class you taught? How has that class been for you?

That class has been awesome. Although for the first several weeks, I had to admit, it was very hard! It was tough because in the US, my biggest classes have 30 to 35 students. My graduate classes have about seven students. So when I came here and they said, “You have 133 students, and it’s in a lecture hall”, I thought, “I haven’t taught that way in a long time”. Plus, it’s a difficult subject, which I used to teach only to graduates,  because it really requires that you do things, and you learn by doing.

The help I got in turning the course into one of my most satisfactory classes though, had been amazing. I was blessed to have two very able and dedicated assistants. Together, we encouraged our students to go and do things in the field, to learn by doing. At the start, and even into the middle of the term, I wasn’t sure if the students could take the challenge because I didn’t teach the tutorials. It was my TAs, Pauline and Shobha, who received feedback from the students directly because they ran the tutorials. The TAs received so many questions, from 133 different projects. It was very difficult then to manage everyone’s questions. Now that everybody has been turning in their assignments and many of them are fantastic and really, really impressive, I know that the course has run well. Yes, I have had a very rewarding experience,  and would love to have a chance to do it again.

You recently conducted a workshop on “photovoice”. Tell us more about it.

Photovoice is a method, a way of approaching a research question. And it is a way of doing research that fits with my kind of approach for doing community-based work. People love taking photos. Having people take photos of the aspects of their lives eases them to open up and talking about their lives. I’ve done it with lots of populations – with the homeless, with minority students, migrant farm workers from Mexico and Central America, with local people in the state of Washington on issues related to water.

What motivates you to do what you do?

I think my background motivates me, how I grew up, the things that I’ve seen, the people I’ve seen, and just the idea that I want to do some good in the world. I am motivated to do what I do because I think it makes a difference to some lives, to get a listen-to and have a voice at the same time. Money doesn’t motivate me as much as not always letting the most powerful guy win. I’m the guy who says, “Hey, wait a minute! It hurts people”, or “That’s not the best way to do that”.

Any final words for NUS students?

Maybe a million words, but just at the top of my mind now, especially after looking at the photovoice project that you guys (in NM2104) were doing, are, “You can find a balance.” A lot of the images we got from the photovoice project got to do with pressure, feeling stressed in wanting to do well. I see stress to be is like a rubber band. If a rubber band has no stress on it, then it’s useless, it just sits there. But if it has too much stress on it, it snaps. For a rubber band to best serve its purpose, it has to have the right amount of pressure. In our lives, we have to find the right amount of pressure. To have enough pressure to motivate us to do even better work, but also to make space for fun every day. Start by just enjoying the moment, and the balance will come.

Some examples of the photovoice project taken on by students of NM2104 this semester:

By Sherilyn Tan
Primary school girl on the bus in the morning. Later, the bus fills up with more school-going children, all sleepily commuting to school. It is a reminder of how tiring schooling in Singapore can be, even from a young age. The exhaustion escalates to university. Life on campus is a constant struggle of lessons, deadlines and fatigue. In this education system, it is difficult to separate learning from competing. And our lives as students, from primary school to university, are marked more by exhaustion and competition than by how we have grown as persons.

By Suah Jing Yu
This is a view of the College of Alice and Peter Tan at three-thirty in the morning. From where I stand, I can see that most of the students in the residential college, are studying. The scene is a source of motivation for me when I get tired in the night. I take heart in knowing that many other students are in the same plight as me. Their perseverance gives me the encouragement to go on and succeed in achieving what I want.

 

By Rachel Phua
This is Humble Origins, the only café in FASS. While it doesn’t often get crowded here, it enjoys a steady stream of customers from staff and students alike. The people who come here, come mostly to study. I think it’s because the environment is calming and there’s a variety of caffeinated drinks to choose from. I like to come here on Fridays after my last class to finish up my assignments. It is a quiet place, where I can be alone and treat myself to an expensive cup of coffee or tea. This place helps me to recharge before I head full force into studying again.

Where Summer Never Ends

By Liu Yiping, Year 3, Journalism Major, on exchange from Peking University, China

It has been four months since I came to Singapore in August. I can still remember my excitement when I set foot in this city where summer never ends. This blog entry is something to commemorate my time here.

At some point in our lives, we need to adopt different perspectives in order to see how we have developed as persons. Back in Peking University, one of the most prestigious universities in China, I am a journalism major. And in my first two years there, I can say that I got to learn some valuable stuff.

However, it was only when I came to Singapore, to NUS and CNM in particular, that I started seriously reflecting on the kind of education I wanted as a student in communication. It was only when I came to CNM that it dawned on me that I had hardly given much thought to my choice of a major, let alone consult my professors on the most suitable path of learning for me.

My classmates in NUS are all shocked by the fact that in Peking University, we don’t have something like tutorials for my journalism classes. As it turns out, the tutorials in NUS are the classes where I benefitted the most as a student. This sem, I have taken three CNM modules: Principles of Communication Management (NM2219), Intercultural Communication (NM2201) and Advertising Strategies (NM3215). I love each and every one of the tutorials in these mods.

For 2219, Ms Lee always guides us to share more and think deeper — not just about theories, but also how theories come alive in the real world. This is one thing that I am impressed about CNM. We get to learn with tutors who have vast working experience in related fields. This is very important, considering that CNM as an interdisciplinary field of study ties in so closely to the ever-changing media environment. Ms Julyn, my passionate tutor for 2201, is such a lovely lady. She can always put a funny spin on somewhat “dreary” theories. I probably will never forget this one time I had to talk to strangers online to complete her assignment. It had felt so weird at first. But I had also felt really proud to have finished the assignment at last. Last but not least, how could I ever forget the numerous group discussions we have for our 3215 project? That was the first time that I tried my hand at designing a series of posters for an actual campaign, and approached a project as a working advertising professional. Thank you, my lovely teammates, Michelle, Cassandra, and Jia Ying, for the wonderful time we spent together!

It is a little sad for me that this semester is coming to an end. But I know that I will carry what I have learnt back to Peking University, and share them with my friends there. I am inspired by this saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I am hoping that with my visit here, I can stimulate some changes in my own department, and one day, we could have some exchange programmes with CNM. I really look forward to this and wish all my friends and tutors in CNM, happiness, and success in living the change they want to see!

My teammates and me (I am the one at the bottom)

CNM Hosts Channel NewsAsia’s Talking Point — Live on Campus

NUS students participated in a live television forum when CNM hosted the television talk show, Talking Point – The Vote on 6 November 2013.

The 45-minute forum added to the buzz on campus when the show host, Daniel Martin invited and moderated live phone-ins, polls, tweets and questions from the audience in the auditorium of AS7, on a concern for many youth in Singapore: Social Media: More Harm than Good?

The Head of CNM, Prof. Mohan Dutta was part of the panel of experts leading the discussion. The other panel members were Megan Fitzgerald, a career coach who specialized in using social media for personal branding and Silver Ang, a young celebrity blogger, who shared on managing privacy and dealing with the misrepresentation of one’s social media content.

Together with their undergraduate audience, the panel discussed the merits of social media, its drawbacks as well as using social media to brand oneself.

NM majors, Fan Zhi’an, Yeo Zhi Qi, Ng Jing Yuan and Muhd Zainuddin were featured in the trailer to the live forum. Check them out!

The forum was part of Channel NewsAsia’s “Talking Point – Live on Campus” series.