NEWS of the enhanced off-peak car (OPC) scheme is probably talk of the motoring town now.
But an unfortunate incident leading up to the announcement of the new and improved scheme – designed to persuade car owners to convert their rides to red-plates – proved to be far more exciting to the newsroom last Friday night.
It all began at a closed-door briefing for journalists held by the Land Transport Authority on Friday afternoon. It was to allow beat reporters to understand the upcoming changes to the scheme and to ask questions.
The announcement itself was to have been made public by none other than Transport Minister Raymond Lim at a ministerial visit two days later on Sunday.
But that was not to be - no thanks to a mysterious and virulent news leak, which happened despite all precautions.
Before the LTA briefing started, reporters were instructed clearly that the news was strictly embargoed until after Minister Lim had spoken. No one was supposed to call motor industry players for comments, in case they inadvertently informed them of the changes.
We were also told that we could not bring any recording devices into the briefing room. That meant no cameras either.
The briefing went reasonably well and reporters returned to give a rundown to their respective newsrooms and supervisors.
But by around 8.30pm or so that same day, the entire news release detailing all the changes appeared online.
The Straits Times was alerted to the leak by someone who spotted it on an online car forum, which had a direct link to an LTA site.
Within the hour, the entire motor trade – as well as a large part of the car forum community – had learnt of the changes. One senior motor trader even called up reporters to ask if they had heard of the new scheme.
The Straits Times newsroom was shocked, and everyone scrambled to find out what had happened and whether the news should then be run the next day (Saturday) as the leak had already spread far and wide.
The LTA was equally shocked. It could not explain how the news appeared on their website. Up until Tuesday, the authority says it was still investigating.
The authority's panic was palpable. After all, the leak had stolen the thunder from a Minister's Sunday speech.
When asked if The Straits Times could run the story on Saturday, LTA initially said no - only to lift the embargo eventually, together with the Ministry of Transport.
That meant that the media could release the news on Sunday. It also meant that Minister Lim did not have a biggish announcement to make during his Sunday ministerial visit to Bukit Panjang.
Mr Lim was gracious enough to agree to the embargo lift. Fortunately, he had another announcement up his sleeve: An update about the Circle Line.
Many of us (at least those of us in the newsroom) laugh about the fiasco now, but it caused real tension on Friday with just hours to go before deadline. The episode also underscores the impact of online information – once again.
In the past, news leaks were relatively mild – one could only rely on phones and the coffeeshop. But with the Internet, a leak takes on a life of its own. Within minutes, it is literally all over town.
Unless the LTA finds out how this one happened, it quite possible runs the risk of an encore down the road.