The Downfall of Alternative News Sites in Singapore?


FOR WHOM
All Singapore alternative news sites, political enthusiasts and swing voters.

WHY IT MATTERS
Things came to a head in GE2011, when discontent with the ruling PAP’s perceived lack of citizen consultation led to electoral punishment and fed the emerging clout of alternative news sites, in challenge to mainstream, state-regulated ones like The Straits Times.

New platforms had emerged in the run-up to GE2015, such as The Middle Ground and Inconvenient Questions, which claim to offer a 3rd alternative. (But that assumes all existing sites are inherently biased for or against PAP.) Very well then, the more the merrier!

Not all’s well, though. Read on.

Article 1: 15-month old socio-political site shuts down despite “star-studded” interview panels
Source: Mothership.sg (25 May, 2016)

WHAT IS TOLD
Inconvenient Questions (IQ) has announced it will cease operations on June 4, despite being founded only last January. Mothership.sg noted its clout, evidenced by their ability to draw big guns and small guns alike, from panel interviews to election debates. They appear to me a very intellectual resource, indeed differentiated from certain tendencies on alternative platforms. But fast following a 3-month hiatus from late last year, due to lack of funds, they are to be no more.

Singapore Inconvenient Questions Shut Down

[Source: IQ on FB]

In the announcement, kudos was given in particular to The Online Citizen (TOC), a pioneer alternative news site which have lasted the distance and gained respect by not resorting to sensationalization. Classy move there, but hold your breaths now.

Article 2: TOC to go on hiatus from June
Source: The Online Citizen (23 May, 2016)

WHAT IS TOLD
The title says it all. The announcement was first made, fittingly, on Cooling Off Day for the recent Bukit Batok by-election. The administrators made it clear that this is a break to re-assess the site’s running and source for funding to expand operations. Sounds assuring enough, but it feels a little reminiscent of IQ’s scenario above.

Ominously, a trip to Must Share News showed that the last update was on 17 May. That’s over a week of inactivity. What’s the future of alternative sociopolitical news sites?

WHAT IS UNTOLD
The answer to the question: Why is money such a problem?

Unlike with bloggers, ethical considerations are fundamental. Because the news, if not “factual”, should still convey a sense of reliability. I don’t know the revenue models of news organizations, but I will focus on just one component.

Ads.

Recently I complained about how 40% of a Today newspaper was ads. That’s okay, since they are kept distinct from the other 60% which comes free as a result. Today Online uses ads the same way, but the revenue model is entirely different. In print, advertisers pay by size. In digital, advertisers pay by views, clicks, conversions. It fluctuates. Whereas people must accept print newspapers with all its ads, they won’t visit every page on the website, let alone click on every ad.

Singapore Today News Digital Ads

That’s as many ads as you can fit on a page…

What more, I had to turn off my ad-blocker to see the ads.

The problem is clear, then. Alternative websites are struggling because they cannot rely on the security of print revenue. On the Internet, they have to vie with several other alternatives, not least the mainstream ones. Advertisers and sponsors are unlikely to take political orientation into their marketing considerations. It’s not just about ads, but also other revenue streams like events and sponsorships.

HOW TO RESPOND
Alternative News Sites: Why not consider mergers? Understandably, each platform is driven by a particular vision. Differences may be hard to reconcile; authority even harder to relinquish. Yet one need look just at the plurality of opposition parties to realize that more is not always better.

Political Enthusiasts: It will be interesting to look out for further changes in the digital local news landscape. How might citizens of different affiliations – including the swing voters – respond to these changes? Despite the challenges, existing demand means that conceivably speaking, alternative news sites are certainly here to stay.

Swing Voters: The surge in political consciousness, alongside alternative news sites, has forced mainstream ones to give more balanced political coverage. Monopoly can longer return. The defamation suits have shut down the likes of The Real Singapore, but IQ and TOC are more significant as they don’t appeal by political orientations. We can only hope the quality of news discourse will not suffer in their absences.

Inconvenient Questions Down, The Online Citizen Hiatus

One down and out. [Source: Flickr]

Funnily, I’m now inflecting my blog for a far more Singaporean slant. Now I’m kinda in the competition too. Oh man, walao eh!

At least I’m not a news site. What is SmartCasualSG then? Find out on Smart Casual and Finding A Fit!

The Downfall of Alternative News Sites in Singapore?
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