Keeping up with the times – the changing look of Singapore’s longest surviving English newspaper The Straits Times.
Finding a national voice
In 1959, with a gothic-typeface nameplate, vertical eight-column layout and Bodoni Bold and Century typefaces anchoring the headlines, ST looked very much like a British paper.
This reflected its heritage and the fact that it was founded and managed by expatriates, even if run by local English-educated journalists. The paper was largely designed by then managing editor Khoo Teng Soon, also known as T.S. Khoo. Influenced by London’s Daily Express’[i] layout style, Khoo capitalised ST’s lead story headline and stretched it across the entire width of the cover – just like the Express.
But this look was set to change in the same year that Lee Kuan Yew came to power leading Singapore as a self-governing state. Lee had always regarded ST as a British paper and he was suspicious of the paper’s loyalties and place in a nation aspiring to independence with Malaya.[ii]
In a possible attempt to shed this British image as a wave of nationalism swept through both territories, the ST of the 1960s evolved from the Express model. In order to survive as “Malaya’s National Newspaper” circulating both in Malaya and Singapore, it had to look less British.
As Evans observed of a late 1960s edition of ST, “This Malayan morning paper used to be modelled on the London Daily Express, with even bigger banner headlines. It has now gone into lower-case, gaining emphasis for the lead by bringing the weight down the page.”[iii]
No longer emphatically Express-like, ST explored other means to express the drama of its time – more white space, lowercase letters and larger type size. This further culminated in a change of its editorial voice in March 1968, where its three stuffy single-column Editorials became set apart on the left-hand side of the page and given more space to breathe.
At this time, the paper was still serving two different territories despite the failure of the merger between Malaysia and Singapore in 1965. However by the end of the same year, the failed merger would come to be reflected in its changed tagline from “Malaysia’s National Newspaper” to something more ambiguous – “The National Newspaper”, while still hanging on to a nameplate leftover from colonial days.
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- [i] Mary Turnbull, Dateline Singapore: 150 Years of the Straits Times, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings, 1995, 154-157.
- [ii] Ibid.
- [iii] Evans, Book Five: Newspaper Design, 128.
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