June H.L. Wong (with bouquet) and the female half of the 'Star2' team in 2000.
Current Group Chief Editor June HL Wong reminisces over her daredevil days as a former Star2 editor.
As the current group chief editor of The Star, June HL Wong has the unenviable task of pushing the whole company into the brave future of convergent media. But even a cursory glance at her long list of contributions to the paper is enough to dispel any doubts that she’s capable.
Starting as a news reporter in 1977, in the days before KL evolved into highwayville, Wong rode pillion on motorbikes to far-flung corners of the city in search of remarkable stories. That brand of old-school dedication to hunting and telling the stories of the day eventually led her to join Section Two in 1984, spurred on by her desire to write more in-depth feature articles.
When the 1986 general elections loomed, Wong was asked to return to the news desk. It wasn’t until a decade later, during the newspaper’s rebirth in the early 1990s, that she would have a chance to rekindle her love for feature writing.
Energised by the experience of putting together The Star’s Saturday Weekender pullout in 1990, Wong was more than up for the challenge, taking over the helm of Section 2 in 1994. With the blessing of then-Group Chief Editor Datuk Ng Poh Tip, Wong revamped Section Two, introducing the game-changing themed Lifestyle sections that we’ve come to take for granted in today’s Star2. Each day of the week would have its own tone, mood and focus, moving from serious topics at the beginning of the week to more lighthearted fare as the weekend approached.
“I was given carte blanche to hire and I was lucky enough to get a very intelligent, fresh young bunch of people to work with,” she recalls.
Among the areas Star2 pioneered was Environment. “It was an initiative started 20 years ago by Michael Aeria and Teh Eng Huat. To give credit to those editors, they saw that environment was going to be a major concern because of what was happening then – the Kyoto Protocol and Rio Earth Summit,” she remembers.
No less important was the deeper focus Wong gave to women’s issues. Some of the most memorable features she wrote and commissioned highlighted the work of women leaders and activists in all disciplines. A most satisfying personal coup was her two-part feature, The PM’s leading lady and In perfect pitch (published Mar 4 and 5, 1996) on Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali, who granted Wong a rare interview.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing at Star2. Among her riskiest moves was pushing for the publication of Taking a hard look at the force (published Oct 16, 1995), which was a breakdown of the results of a poll The Star had conducted on public perceptions of the police. The survey was quite clear: People hated the cops. Due to the unflattering light it cast on the police, Wong was called up to Bukit Aman, two days before the story was slated for print, by then-Inspector General Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Mohd Noor who told her to spike it. Wong pleaded and persisted, even offering to publish his response to the survey as a follow-up story.
“But he just wouldn’t let it go, claiming that I was too negative. In desperation I said, ‘I’ve got nothing against the police force. My father was a police officer!’ Then they asked, ‘Who’s your father?’ When I mentioned his name, the mood suddenly lightened up. Then the IGP allowed me to go ahead with the story,” says Wong, clearly reliving the moment in her head.
Section Two also gave her a chance to uncover and share details of her own past with a series of articles she contributed called Making way: Remains of the day (published Dec 10 and 11, 2001), chronicling her family’s journey to move the remains of her paternal grandparents and aunt from a cemetery in Singapore that had been earmarked for redevelopment.
The articles, with its seamless mix of first-person narrative, oral history and moving encounters with others who were also affected by the cemetery demolition, is emblematic of Wong’s editorial legacy at Section Two – personal and uncanny, provocative but measured, no story ever deemed unworthy of a passionate voice.
Dear readers, we’re inviting you to leave us a note, a picture or a memento about your time with Star2, or how Star2 has made an impression on you. Click on the link 30 Years Of Star2 to post your comments, or email your photos and images to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll post them in our Facebook photo album for entire month of March 2014. Come on, we’re looking forward to hearing from you!
A balancing act: Davin Arul
Significant milestones: Lim Cheng Hoe