Tag: Khoo Teng Soon

A Design of Its Time — 1960s

Keeping up with the times – the changing look of Singapore’s longest surviving English newspaper The Straits Times.

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Introduction } 1960s } 1970s } 1980s } 1989 } 1998 } 2000s
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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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A Design of Its Time — 1970s

Keeping up with the times – the changing look of Singapore’s longest surviving English newspaper The Straits Times.

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Introduction } 1960s } 1970s } 1980s } 1989 } 1998 } 2000s
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The Herald of a new face

The arrival of the Singapore Herald into the local newspaper market in July 1970 introduced competition to ST for the first time since its last competitor, The Tiger Standard, closed in 1959.

To take on the Herald, Khoo was sent back to Singapore from its Malaysian office to “brighten up” ST.[i] But the competition never quite materialised as the Singapore Herald was closed down amidst much controversy a year later.

As if assured of its monopoly, the paper stayed largely the same. In September 1972, ST became a Singapore-based paper when it parted company with its Malaysian assets, which became the New Straits Times.

ST’s design was changed to reflect this new status. To distinguish itself as a Singaporean paper, news from Malaysia was grouped into a section, Across the Causeway. In September 1973, the paper unveiled a new nameplate typeset in the modern-looking Bodoni and dropped its tagline altogether.

But the new nameplate was overshadowed by the paper changing to a ten-column grid from its previous eight because of a world-shortage of newsprint[ii]. An earlier switch to nine-columns was deemed insufficient with worsening strikes in the paper mills. With narrower columns and no luxury of white space, the paper became harder to read. Moreover, it was still using a mixture of typefaces to express variety and dramatisation of news, creating a cacophony of headlines for the reader.

By the second half of the 1970s, the paper had grown to over 30 pages from a 20-page read in 1959. It now had a regular Forum section to house readers’ letters. To aid the reader’s navigation of the thicker paper, an index, INSIDE, was introduced on the cover in March 1972.[iii] As and when it was necessary, the paper would also come in two parts.

One year after ST adopted its first formal editorial policy in 1977, it began carrying out its new stated mission “to inform, to educate, to activate and to entertain.”[iv]

The second part of ST was officially designated its leisure and educational supplement known as Section Two[v]. Inside, were the Leisure Page, Woman Plus, and the Bilingual page where readers could learn Chinese. However, the bulk of this new four to twenty-page section were actually just pages chock-full of advertisements.

To succeed in the Singapore market, ST wanted to provide content with mass appeal and quality to garner a maximum readership to attract advertisers, but its design, which was largely unchanged since 1959, was not keeping up with this new vision.

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  • [i] Turnbull, 287.
  • [ii] “From Today a Tenth Column,” The Straits Times, September 3 1978.
  • [iii] First observed in The Straits Times, March 14 1972.
  • [iv] Turnbull, 318.
  • [v] “Change with the Times for Easier Reading,” The Straits Times, September 25 1978.

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A Design of Its Time — 1980s

Keeping up with the times – the changing look of Singapore’s longest surviving English newspaper The Straits Times.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
Introduction } 1960s } 1970s } 1980s } 1989 } 1998 } 2000s
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ST1983coverModernising the newspaper

The spur to modernise ST’s design came when a competing newspaper, the Singapore Monitor, entered the market in 1982. By then, Khoo had already retired from ST a year earlier and the paper was now helmed by Peter Lim as group editor[i] and Cheong Yip Seng as editor.

The new team increased the size of the paper[ii] and adopted a “new and more flexible”[iii] editorial voice. Instead of two separate editorials in an issue, it reduced it to just one with the title “The Straits Times says…”.

Lim’s direction for ST was “to design the front page for mass-appeal with in-depth reports on the inside pages, and to make one section popular, while concentrating serious quality material in the other.”[iv]

Such a view was steeped in scientific management, a call for order and efficiency that was also guiding Singapore’s developmental aspirations then.

Prior to this, the paper had developed a page flow over the years: top news, foreign news, local news, sports and entertainment. It was only from December 1983 that these sections were made prominent. Each page was headed with a livery containing its section name typeset in Helvetica and accompanied by an icon.

News snippets, which used to clutter spaces leftover from the main stories, were all housed in mini sections such as World Briefs. Similarly, small advertisements came under a Classifieds section that eventually moved out of the main paper and stood as the third part of ST. These changes gave each page a more regular look – usually one or two big advertisements accompanied by three to four news stories.

To create a more efficient read, the assortment of headline typefaces was replaced with just one in several weights. The index was fully expanded to a full-page In Summary and moved to page two of the now forty-page production.

Forced out of its complacency by the Singapore Monitor, ST became a livelier-looking paper. But this competition came to a close in 1984 when the English, Chinese and Malay newspapers in Singapore came together to form the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) to avoid battling for scarce resources. A year later, as Singapore entered its first recession since independence, the money-losing Singapore Monitor was closed.

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  • [i] Turnbull, 326.
  • [ii] Ibid., 331.
  • [iii] Inside the Editorial,” The Straits Times, October 28 1981.
  • [iv] Turnbull, 332.

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