by Brenda Tan

I HAD thought it was an April Fool’s joke when Bertha Henson contacted me that day in 2015 to write for The Middle Ground. I had been writing in response to her Facebook posts for a while, and she sent a Facebook private message to ask me if I was interested to write about parenting for her upcoming news website.

At first, I was hesitant. Apart from writing in a fan-fiction community for a few years, maintaining a recipe blog, and writing reflective pieces for an audience of friends, I didn’t know if my writing was of a standard that would do justice to her news site. Also, when I shared with a few close friends about this opportunity, they were concerned about me writing for an “anti-government” site and being hauled up by the G for being associated with it!

But Bertha was reassuring. On the writing front, she promised editors would go through my writing, and the concerns about being on the wrong side of the G was unnecessary – The Middle Ground wasn’t created to hentam the G, it was there to deepen the conversation about policies and issues that affected Singapore and Singaporeans. Also, Bertha was interested in reworking our local news into something Singaporeans could use, as well as social stories that would have a strong Singaporean flavour.

Therefore, it was easy to agree to write, and in doing so, I learnt first hand what a working newsroom was like, especially one that was a start-up. I was there in the early first days when even the air-conditioning and the Wifi in the office were not yet set up. Writing for TMG was interesting too, as I connected with our very gifted and dynamic young staff and interns, and the other writing contributors mainly online.

While I wrote mainly about education and parenting, it was my stories that chronicled my journey with stomach cancer last year that I realise the impact of my writing on readers. Thank you, readers, for your supportive encouragement! I’m grateful that I still occasionally get contacted by caregivers and people undergoing cancer treatments who had found my cancer story series, and just wanted to tell me, “I’m going through this journey too.”

As a TMG reader, I’ve enjoyed and shared many TMG stories via my social media.  My favourites are the TMG Specials — the Ipster and Cheongster Cafe kept me amused at the various writing forms that deliciously comment on topics of the day; the written-in-Singlish SinGweesh that made me cheokapeng about the Singlish we use every day, and learning more about the buzzwords used by newsmakers in Word of the Day.

I also looked forward to Ryan Ong’s financial articles. Not only do I learn more about money matters, his articles also leave me in tears—of laughter. The nostalgic series about our well-loved old malls, our reporters’ interview with 50 Faces, and Smack In the Middle by our artists were also delightful reads.

It’s little wonder then that TMG’s news and stories connect to our readers deeply because it’s committed to its ideals — to focus on quality writing, thinking pieces, and not descend into click-baity, anger-mongering stories disguised as ‘news’.

For a small news outfit, TMG not only covered GE2015 well, but it also broke stories like how UOB was handling its data, which MP was hard at work in Parliament in speaking up, and the reality of a DSA programme at top schools. Even recently, TMG questioned why, with there being wifi access at Parliament, Ministers are “multitasking” on their notebooks, when they really ought to be focused on listening to the speeches.

There are very few news sites in Singapore that dare ask the tough questions and seek an answer it in a measured, Middle Ground way.

So when the editor of TMG, Daniel Yap, started a Patreon account to help TMG be more financially sustainable, I signed up without hesitation to became a Patreon. To me, TMG’s unique voice is very much needed in our media landscape, and I was happy to support in expanding that voice.

Then, the news came that despite a slowly increasing number of Patreon sign-ups, the numbers were still too small to allow TMG to meet its operating costs. Sadly, our collective online belief in a need for well-written, independent news didn’t translate into financial support from the vast majority of our readers.

Nonetheless, while it’s really painful for me to say goodbye to TMG both as a writer and a Patreon supporter, I never regretted responding to Bertha’s invitation to join TMG. These two years with TMG, I’ve been challenged and stretched in my writing, and I count it an honour to be associated with The Middle Ground.

Thank you, TMG, for the privilege to share in your sterling journey.


Featured image by Pixabay user Mariska777.

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