Show, don’t tell: Straits Times brings news to life with animation

By Lee Hup Kheng

The Straits Times



As print media all over the world is witnessing a spiraling decline in circulation, many traditional artists (illustrators and cartoonists) are facing job cuts as newspapers jump onto the digital bandwagon at warp speed. This seismic shift has caught these creative folks off guard, and they were soon hoarding corrugated boxes and bracing themselves for the eventuality. 

Not so in the case of The Straits Times (ST) in Singapore. The national newspaper on this tiny island etched itself into the digital realm as soon as circulation started to dip. In our stable are a bunch of exceptional illustrators and world-class cartoonists, infographic designers, and animators. Some of them have been working here for three decades. 

The Straight Times has invested in animation and design, and that has paid off with more interest from readers.
The Straight Times has invested in animation and design, and that has paid off with more interest from readers.

I just started my job as the art editor of ST a year ago. Prior to this, I was the art editor of The New Paper, a tabloid that had a good run for over three decades until the company did stock-taking. By then, ST was already embarking on full digital overdrive, peppering stories and videos online with award-winning interactives.

Although fairly new to the game, we learned fast and were out-gunning competitors with our news-breaking coverage in no time. 

While the print circulation is declining, I have to admit the artists here were also feeling restless. I needed to act fast or their paychecks might soon be redundant. As I was involved in the daily meetings, I could see the challenges we were facing: the need to inform while keeping the readers entertained. Within this matrix, I saw a niche where these artists could really make a dent: animation — a fresh way of telling stories without using mainly words and photos. 

The art of storytelling

Animation requires talent and time, both factors which are a luxury for the news media business. I figured since we already have the talent, we could make time by using our big pool of artists, who can double up when needed.

With this strategy, I was soon suggesting stories that work effectively with animation. We were giving stories new depths which other assets were unable to do. Animation started to play a complementary role to the equation.

We celebrated Wonder Woman’s 80th anniversary by showcasing all her costumes through the decades using origami and stop motion animation:

We recapped the memorable events of 2021 using animated cartoons:

Readers of all ages were served climate change stories using cool animated cartoons. We reignited the arrests of Jemaah Islamiyah terror cell members here 20 years ago using animated illustrations. These animations have permeated all platforms including ST online and social media (YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, and Facebook).

Giving news a fresh face

Stories that are otherwise overlooked are now getting second glances. 

Illustrations and cartoons that are produced for print are now repackaged for animation by a couple of animators with the know-how of the After Effects software. In doing so, the artists also learn the process of animation. The greatest joy for them is seeing their art come to life.

Stories of all types, from news to lifestyle, can benefit from animation.
Stories of all types, from news to lifestyle, can benefit from animation.

The art of animation is timeless. I think there is hope for talented artists in the same predicament that we had. We just have to breathe new life into art.

About Lee Hup Kheng

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