Alwin Chow’s brief media blitz

Mark Lyndersay -
Mark Lyndersay -



NEWSDAY · Narration for BitDepth #1333

1998. Alwin Chow had just taken up the role of general manager at the Express and he was busy making the space his own.

I'd been doing projects at the paper for most of the five years since leaving the Guardian and with Lenny Grant gone from the paper, I was at a bit of a loose end.

So I visited Chow’s new office to find out how I could help in his new role.

"What do you want to do?" he asked.

I made a stupid quip about being overpaid and we promised to meet again. Grant called soon afterward and asked me to join him at the Guardian. I never saw Alwin Chow again after that.

1986. "Jo Jo, this is Mark," Judy Chow said as we walked past the living room of the family residence in Haleland Park.

Mrs Chow, Alwin Chow's first wife, was walking me to her cozy darkroom, the centre of her dreams of becoming a photographer.

Chow got up from relaxing on his couch and in T-shirt and shorts gave a little wave before ambling off.

That was the first time I met him and while I never quite understood why he asked me to do training at the Guardian in 1989, he did and I accepted.

The training and parallel evaluation of the Guardian's photographic department went well, and I produced a comprehensive report for Chow, who then asked me who I thought could execute it.

I was hoist upon my own carefully worded petard.

So I joined the paper's staff in January 1990 for the first time, fired by the confidence that Chow had invested in me and inspired by his bold but fuzzily defined vision for the paper's future.

By then, the combustible relationship between Chow and editor-in-chief Lenn Chong Sing had led to the latter's abrupt retirement.

The newly appointed EIC, Therese Mills, was working to solidify the footing of the editorial department in an environment that was characterised by a cheerfully intrusive new MD.

The Guardian at the time was in a powerful position as the leading newspaper in the country. The Sunday paper's run began on Saturday evening to get 150,000 copies off the press before daybreak the next morning.

The paper would probably have kept right on using those aging Microtek word processors for the rest of the decade, despite their constant glitching, but Chow wasn't having any of it.

I once casually mentioned to him before he flew out to a technology trade show that he should look out for smaller, more affordable film scanners.

He returned with one in his luggage, acting immediately on my inadvertent tip-off.

There were many occasions when the equipment simply failed. He could accept that, but he wouldn't accept people just giving up. When the subeditors refused to use the Macs put in front of them, he threatened to fire or reassign them, but in the end settled for a system of paginators.

Looking back over the three decades since then, the pace of technology adoption at the nation's newspapers has been a slow, painfully constricted process.

The efficiencies of internet distribution of information and the pace of its development mean that it's possible to do more, faster, with a dramatic reduction in cash outlay, but understanding and implementing technology correctly and delivering powerful journalism demands talented, knowledgeable people more than ever.

In the end, Alwin Chow was proven right in his efforts to revamp the Guardian. He pushed for better people and better technology in 1990 and if he'd remained in the business over the last two decades, I’m certain that TT journalism would look very different today.

Mark Lyndersay is the editor of An expanded version of this column can be found there


"Alwin Chow’s brief media blitz"

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