New biography on PN Balji, ex-editor of TNP & Today, began with breakfast on Monday mornings

A book about a media veteran written by a media veteran.

Syahindah Ishak | July 23, 2022, 08:10 PM

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What happens when you bring two veteran media practitioners together?

Well, they’d talk and one of them would end up saying something along the lines of, "There’s a story here somewhere".

That’s essentially how the book "Transition: The Story of PN Balji" was born.

Image by Syahindah Ishak.

From casual meet-ups to writing a book

In January 2021, author and media veteran Woon Tai Ho (founder of Channel NewsAsia) began meeting up with veteran journalist PN Balji (former TNP and Today editor) every Monday morning for breakfast.

It was just a "casual catch-up between two friends" as stated in the book.

But as you can probably guess by now, the "casual catch-up" turned into something much deeper.

Speaking at the book’s launch event on Jul. 16, which was attended by about 50 people, Woon said:

"I didn’t plan [to write the book]. I continued to gather information on [Balji]. After a certain point, I told myself that there's a book here. I continued talking to him for the whole year. And this was the book."

Image by Syahindah Ishak.

So what is it about Balji that had spurred Woon to write a book on the man?

Why PN Balji?

At 73, Balji has accomplished many things in life.

He’s had over 40 years’ experience in journalism in Singapore, spanning print, broadcast, and digital journalism.

Among other things, he's also published his own book— "Reluctant Editor: The Singapore Media as Seen Through the Eyes of a Veteran Newspaper Journalist".

But it wasn't Balji's journalism achievements that Woon was intrigued by.

Image by Syahindah Ishak.

In the preface of the book, Woon wrote: "I started writing this book unsure of where it would take me. I just knew instinctively that in Balji and his family, there was a Singapore story to tell."

What's the book about?

Despite being a book about a media veteran written by a media veteran, "Transition" isn't self-indulgent.

It's a book about real-life experiences and real-life issues through the eyes of a real-life man, all against the backdrop of an ever-changing Singapore.

The earlier chapters of the book talk about Balji’s arranged marriage, as well as his relationships with his daughters and grandsons.

But as the book progresses, we see how his own life transforms alongside the changes Singapore experienced.

Balji has lived through all three of Singapore’s prime ministers — Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and now Lee Hsien Loong — and his years in the media industry has given him many insights into the country and its leadership.

And with this, Balji shares in the book his critical and bold views on Singapore's social, economical and political landscape.

There are a number of articles written by Balji himself from July 2020 to December 2021 in the book’s annex.

In some of these articles, he offers his perspectives on the current 4G leadership in Singapore and their handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, among other issues.

There's also an article on what kind of prime minister Lawrence Wong should be.

So, ultimately, "Transition" is about many things but the heart of the book lies heavily on relationships — the relationship between a man and his family/ friends, the relationship between a man and his profession, and the relationship between a man and his country.

Top images by Syahindah Ishak.

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