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OFFBEAT

The secret lives of BT folk

Saturday, October 22, 2016 - 05:50

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EVER since the first Offbeat column ran on Oct 8, readers have been writing in with random - and delightful - comments of their own. More than a few have expressed surprise that The Business Times - a seemingly no-nonsense, numbers-heavy financial newspaper - has dedicated a page's worth of newsprint each week to all things nutty and off-kilter.

Take this gem of a comment, for example, from a National University of Singapore Business School professor: "Always thought that BT journalists are super-serious scriveners, who only enjoy Fed-watching and never movie-watching - until this piece came by and showed the real side of a real person in the BT corps. Put in more cranky stuff for the crackpot to read."

Apart from eliciting a full-on cackle (who can ignore the alliterative power of "super-serious scriveners"?), this reader's comment gave me pause.

For does BT - and its staff - really appear that stodgy to the outside world? Are we truly perceived to be an insipid clump of monetary policy-loving, Bloomberg terminal-hugging scribes?

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If so, I feel a weighty sense of duty to set things right. Behold: here are the secret lives of my newsroom colleagues.

First, there's the lifelong learner. You probably don't know him, because his byline doesn't turn up in the paper. But if you knew where to look, you'd see that traces of his handiwork appear in every single issue.

For decades, he's been quietly saving corporate reporters from eternal embarrassment and damnation - by catching seemingly-innocuous but potentially career-ending errors, before the stories go to print. At age 66, and after close to 40 years at BT (he joined the paper when it was just three months old), he continues to sub-edit stories as a re-employed older worker.

But by day - since his shift at BT actually begins in the evening - the gent is teaching himself how to code. Through YouTube videos and online tutorials, he's learning how to build a website from scratch. His goal? To create a virtual home for his compendium of jokes. (He is quite the funnyman too; back in the day, he used to win Toastmasters ribbons with effortlessly-droll speeches.)

If this man isn't the poster child for Singapore's SkillsFuture movement, I don't know who is.

At the other end of the age spectrum, there's the correspondent who runs an investing column in BT. Apart from being a Chartered Financial Analyst charterholder - he studied for this at night and on weekends, and qualified in May - he was also a concert pianist.

Then there's the enterprising editor who, while working the late shift at BT, founded and owned the much-loved but now defunct local CD retailer, Gramophone. His entrepreneurial exploits didn't stop there, either - he used to sell prawn noodles and nasi lemak, and ventured into the restaurant business by opening a pub and a cafe.

There's also the lifestyle writer who doubles up as a playwright. His maiden play, "My Mother Buys Condoms", was staged at this year's Singapore Theatre Festival to critical acclaim. Lauded as a "scintillatingly original Singapore work", his play told the story of a 63-year-old woman's sexual awakening.

The list could truly go on: the reporter who participates in (and wins) Amazing Race-style competitions around Singapore; the editor who takes arresting pictures with a film camera; the other editor who runs marathons across the globe; the other other editor with sommelier ambitions... Heck, even the illustrator of this column is a multi-talented wizard. She's not even part of BT's art desk - she actually codes for our digital team - but that doesn't stop her from churning out gorgeous drawings, week after week.

So how about a reappraisal? Instead of "super-serious scriveners" to describe BT, methinks "spry, sassy, and singular" works.

As much as this may seem like an exercise in newspaper-style self-aggrandisement, there is a larger point to this: How well do you know your colleagues? After all, you could be working with the coolest people and not know it.

Just looking around my office, I'd wager that there are more fellow crackpots hiding in plain sight than one might think.

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