Pushing the Limits

Ng Jun Sen might have ruffled some feathers as a journalist, but that has not stopped this year’s SPH Young Journalist of the Year from coming up with stories on thought-provoking issues.

For Ng, writing stories that make a difference is the most gratifying part of being a journalist. PHOTO: JUSTIN KOR

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When Ng Jun Sen (CS’13) noticed an increasing trend of sexual predators preying on underage adolescents, he decided to pursue the story to dig deeper into the issue.

He conducted an undercover investigation online, sending out 150 friend requests to young teenagers with a fake Facebook profile, and found out that it was rather easy to convince some of them to meet up with him.

When the article was published, he was labelled a “creep” by a colleague. But feedback from readers was more positive, stating that the article served as a bridge for parents to educate their children regarding the hazards of Internet security.

When it comes to pursuing a story worth telling, Ng pulls out all the stops, even if it means taking risks or receiving flak for his provocative stories.

His no holds barred approach has paid off. The 27-year-old The New Paper reporter was the recipient of this year’s Young Journalist of the Year at the English/Malay/Tamil Media Awards, held annually by Singapore Press Holdings. 

<Ng’s proactive approach to chasing stories is a stark contrast to when he first started out as a journalist two years ago. As a cub reporter, one of his first assignments was to attend a funeral wake to uncover the deceased’s story.

Initially, Ng could not understand why he had to be there. “I sided with the people who felt that (the mourners) should be left alone. No matter how newsworthy it is, they should be left alone to grieve,” he said, adding that he initially stumbled in interviews as he lacked the confidence to speak to people.

“Ultimately, we’re not out to provoke anyone, but to point out issues that matter."

To Ng, the funeral assignment was a shocking and challenging introduction to journalism. “It forced the question of why I was doing this, and whether this was something I was cut out to do,” he said.

Ng soon recognised that his purpose was to help his newsmakers be remembered, and gradually gained confidence in handling delicate scenarios.

It is in these delicate situations that Ng sometimes unintentionally offends readers with the investigative stories he writes. For instance, Ng’s exclusive story on the increasing rate of accidents involving electric scooter users caused a furore among e-scooter riders as they did not want to draw attention to their relatively low-profile community.

“There was a lot of hate for me personally, and a lot of mean things were said by readers,” he said. However, this story led the government to enact laws protecting both the e-scooter community and pedestrians, he noted.

“Ultimately, we’re not out to provoke anyone, but to point out issues that matter,” he added.

Ng has written several other stories that have impacted change. One other story he is particularly proud of is his piece on a full-time national serviceman who had schizophrenia.

According to reports, the soldier’s commanding officer did not know how to treat a schizophrenic person and continually lambasted him for being slow to respond to orders. The serviceman eventually committed suicide.

Ng shared that he was the only reporter to follow up on this case. He wrote extensively on the story, speaking to the serviceman’s grieving parents and many mental health experts to get different viewpoints. He also followed court proceedings closely. All these were done despite the case being an extremely sensitive one as it involved the military.

The story subsequently received huge national interest and garnered a lot of feedback letters from readers. According to Ng, it also led to a discussion in parliament and the Ministry of Defence revisited the psychiatric care procedures in the army.

“I feel heartened that my story has led to big changes for a lot of people,” he said.

Despite receiving the Young Journalist of the Year accolade, Ng remains modest, and attributes his award to the newsmakers who have shared their stories.

“My newsmakers have shared plenty of their personal stories with me, which was why I wanted to join this career as it is about listening to people opening up to you,” he said.

“These are the people that I should really thank for the award, as it came at their own personal expense.”