Sunday, May 16,1999
Sunday Plus: Page 4

A dressing-down for the interns

New Blood In The Newsroom

Not quite though. The inclination is towards patronage, if not indulgence, thanks to the oxytocin (nurture hormone) sloshing around in my body

EVERY year around this time, a batch of interns, fresh from college, are led into the newsroom, and for two or three months, are worked to the quick as general dogsbodies.

Those who can take the punishment are given a scholarship to go to university, here or abroad. There is a bond, of course, and those who sign up are looking at a six-year sentence in the newsroom after they have obtained their degrees.

But journalism being a calling, there are actually takers.

We get our fair share of interns in Life! each year, and I can't say I haven't enjoyed making them run the extra mile. They are young -- 18 or 19 -- so they can be stretched.

My standard opening spiel to each new batch is: "This isn't a vacation, but it will be more fun than a vacation. You won't get to see the sunset. You won't get to date. But you will get to work hard, work nights and work weekends. Have fun."

And they generally did, even those who, after their stints, were convinced that there were better ways to earn a living than to be a journalist. Or who were seduced away by scholarships that were a lot sexier than Singapore Press Holdings'.

Some who were interns in the early '90s have gone on to become doctors and lawyers. The brief period they spent with us I'm sure they will always cherish. After all, it was here that they morphed from kids to adults.

They got hit on by real adults, they got to interview people older and more important than their parents, and best of all, they discovered that hard work could be fun.

"Yes, it's hard work, but it's enjoyable hard work," one of this year's six interns at Life! told me the other day.

"I didn't expect it to be so liberal here," she added.


Another said: "My parents said not to expect too much. Journalism in Singapore is so controlled. But it's, like, not so bad. So far."

And they have been with us, like, less than a month.

I envy them their confidence and self-assurance. Two weeks ago, while I was frantically finishing up something to meet the day's deadline, and I thought my body language signalled clearly, "Don't come near me!", one of them sailed into the room and said simply -- and sweetly? -- "Hi, I hear you want me to cover Placebo tonight."

I have long gotten over it, but when the first batches of bright, young articulate interns were sent my way, I used to actually ache from a kind of grief.

They were so blessed, I thought. Why didn't I have their family background -- their educated parents and their easy access to the world of sophistication and privilege? (Of course, not all of them were so blessed, but I imagined that they did.)

I felt very much like the poor Queens girl made good and swept off by her dream lover to meet a rich if eccentric family which lives in a farmhouse in flowery Tuscany, in David Leavitt's short story I See London, I See France.

"You're thinking that this is the most beautiful place in the world. So beautiful it makes you sad, it breaks your heart, because you can never have it. But you can have it. I'll give it to you, Celia," says the dream lover.

But she says: "It's not that I want to live here now, it's that I want to have lived here. To have grown up here.

"Or rather, to be the sort of person who grew up in this sort of place with that sort of parents, and feel the things that sort of person could feel which a different sort of person -- the sort of person I am, for instance -- could never feel."

I may have gotten over the ache, but each new bunch of interns still serve to remind me that no matter how different a person I have become from the person I used to be, I cannot, sadly, erase my past. And its ghosts will always be lurking about, ready to dash my most fervent hopes and ruin my happiest moments.

By the way, David Leavitt is, for me, the best writer from the so-called Brat Pack of the post-baby boom generation which includes such notorious celebrities as Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis.

I See London, I See France is in his second collection of short stories, A Place I've Never Been (1990). His first was Family Dancing, which includes a most touching story on a gay's painful "outing" before his parents, and I'm at the moment reading his third, Arkansas.

Coincidentally, his father, Harold Leavitt, is a good friend of my former editor-in-chief Peter Lim. He used to come out here to conduct seminars for the senior editors in The Straits Times. That seems like such a long time ago.

SO HERE I am standing in front of the six freshly-scrubbed interns, and thanks to the oxytocin (nurturing hormone!) that these days is sloshing about generously in my body, I feel the urge towards patronage, if not indulgence, of these potential scholars.

I have summoned them in here to give them a dressing-down -- they have chalked up two errors in their stories -- but now I find myself telling them to go have a picture of themselves taken, so that I can write about them.

I sure feel like the kind of boss I would love to have if I were a young, eager 18-year-old intern. But really, it's all just journalism. Everyone is fodder for tomorrow's paper. No one is spared.

Archive 1

21/11/99 Hit me with the Blues

31/10/99 No chaise longue, just chaise daybed

17/10/99 Tell your tale and watch it take off

03/10/99 Goodness, its been 25 years now

19/09/99 To have a productive day off

27/08/99 Conduct yourself well

08/08/99 Liberalisation and the small man

27/06/99 An ATM at home that knows me

30/05/99 Why fleshy hips and jiggly thighs

16/05/99 A dressing-down for the interns

02/05/99 I've the best seat in the house

04/04/99 I may take China, drop my 'mistress'

21/03/99 When the lens harden

07/03/99 Among dreamers and risk-takers

07/03/99 Lives will be transformed

17/01/99 Look for me at the movies

03/01/99 Hardy, hungry, but a cause for worry?

15/11/98 Goodnight Irin, while I think of New Orleans

01/11/98 'Sexy' and 'Cool' is what sells today

04/10/98 Letter from melancholic anonymous

20/09/98 Men behave like sperm

01/08/98 Global is good, but local matters too

26/07/98 4 books I can't renounce

28/06/98 49 and the genes are calling

14/06/98 Beep beep for every kid

31/05/98 Soft goods, soft power rule

10/05/98 Be still--and be open to constant change

05/04/98 Fight heat at home, then soar the skies

15/03/98 Bond Breakers and my brother and sister

15/02/98 If you love her, set her free

18/01/98 Romancing Cambodia