Saturday, November 13, 2010

iTODAY: 'Newspapers, journalists must rise to Internet challenge'

From iTODAY:'Newspapers, journalists must rise to Internet challenge'

Loh Chee Kong | Nov 13, 2010 6:00

SINGAPORE - The storm that has engulfed even some of the world's most prestigious newspapers has yet to fully hit Singapore. Part of the reason why newspapers in the West were hit so badly by the rise of the Internet, Mr Lui Tuck Yew believes, was that they had gone down the slippery slope of "narrowcasting" even as they tried to stem the outflow of advertising revenue to the new media.

Western news organisations have evolved historically to cater to niche audiences, and this practice has "become more visible ... over the years", said the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts.

"In a number of countries, the newspapers have mirrored the new media to the extent that you can describe it almost as narrowcasting. They cater to people of a certain political orientation, they cater to people who have a particular set of interests - so the audience base is a very fragmented one."

He added: "It is hard to separate cause from effect ... My personal view is that it is a downwards spiral."

In contrast, Mr Lui said, Singapore's mainstream media are "broad-based, reaching as much of the population as possible".

That, in tandem with Asia's economic rise and the general public's trust in newspapers here, means the profitability of Singapore newspapers is assured for now.

"In Asia ... the economic growth is stronger, the advertising dollars are still stronger. Therefore, as long as you have the reach that you have today, I think the dollars will continue to flow to where the eyeballs are," said Mr Lui.

Even so, the media groups here - MediaCorp and Singapore Press Holdings - have responded to the challenge of the Internet by, for instance, co-opting user-generated content and citizen journalism on their online platforms.

Noting that the workload and demands on journalists have increased significantly, Mr Lui singled out MediaCorp's experiment of a convergent newsroom. "Gone are the days where you have a correspondent who writes ... two, three times a week. Today, (journalists) are reporters, they are analytical thinkers and they also have to stand in front of the (television) cameras as in the case of MediaCorp and Today."

Now, consumers "want to hear, they want to see, they want moving images - they are not satisfied merely with photographs. So that combination of the TV channels as well as the Today newspaper under the MediaCorp family is a very powerful one".

Mr Lui acknowledged, however, that the concept was an "evolutionary process" and would require buy-in from journalists. The onus is on media companies to provide the necessary training for these professionals to cope, he said.

"The Government has to be careful about what role it plays. We want to make sure that the Press is, and is seen as, independent of the influence of Government ... So we let the primary training be done at the university level."

Echoing a point made by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong at Today's 10th anniversary dinner on Wednesday, Mr Lui added: "Now the question is: Are the senior people so busy that there is not enough time, as in the past, to sit down with the new journalists in an informal way to pass on some of the experience, some of the values of journalism, some of the ethos?"

What the Government does do, is keep an eye on the bottomline of media groups here "to make sure they are on sound footing". And Mr Lui was impressed with how Today became profitable in less than 10 years - especially since the newspaper is distributed free twice a day. Since 2005, Today has been in the black. "It's quite amazing you have come up with a different model altogether, fully supported by advertising revenue yet you have managed to make sure that it is profitable," he said. Loh Chee Kong

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