Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) recently had a retrenchment exercise. The initial plan was to reduce about 230 jobs (130 being retrenchments) by end 2018, but the management had a change of mind and decided to bring it forward to October this year.
This unfortunate event precipitated some critiques on local Singapore media: SPH mass retrenchment to save costs is like “applying a plaster to a gaping wound”, and also gave way to a schadenfreude of people gloating at local forum EDMW, talking about how the reporters deserved it for being mouthpieces of the government all these years. ( Ironically, the popular EDMW forum belongs to SPH.) Part of me thinks that this is an inevitable situation, considering the economic/political realities, but part of me also feels for the people who got their jobs axed. Hopefully, this event gives rise to new opportunities and a more robust media landscape.
This sounds like captain obvious: the overall local media landscape is suffering now because we can’t compete with YouTube, Facebook and Google. These platforms are chewing up all our ad revenue and audiences.
Our own platforms like Toggle and digital news sites have been trying to play catch up for some time. There have been initiatives like producing more online news and exclusive content, but it seems to be trapped in infancy, maybe because of insufficient resources and a lack of impactful content.
I think Toggle has exclusive content, but the overall site is not user friendly enough, and features-wise, it’s not giving anything new above YouTube or other video sites. Consider video streaming sites from China which allow live-comments, I think that’s an interesting feature as it allows users to interact with each other as they watch the show. This makes the experience more fun. Just like how, before the internet, we used to watch TV together as a family and make jibes/comments about the plot and characters.
Content-wise, maybe if we can invest in and utilise newer tech like VR or 3D and produce 3D immersive video content – this would attract newer segments of the market (which currently is dependent on retirees and the under-16 children segment), and also inject a breath of fresh air to the content.
I think it’s hard to fight with Facebook and YouTube because of the sheer quantity of content, which is user generated and extremely current. Maybe Mediacorp or SPH can try opening up their sites to allow user generated content. Like allow users to upload photos, videos, make comments, etc. Which, currently they do have to some extent, but I think they need to put more resources into encouraging the wider public to produce content. Like holding regular contests and workshops to share knowledge and also drive interest towards fresh, new content. Because right now, we are facing an image-crisis and a deficiency in talent – a lack of people coming forward to be content-creators or writers. Overall, there’s a sense that everything is same-old, same-old, the public thinks that the media companies are not innovating and just reproducing the same old content every month.
I do believe that we have talent in Singapore. We just need to give them a space and encourage them to grow.
We can take a leaf from China or Korea, see how they have established their own platforms. I admit they have the advantage of their own language as leverage, but perhaps we can leverage on our own strengths: our diversity, our language (Singlish), our unique perspective of Asia as we straddle both Asian/Western attitudes.
If the government allows Singlish, that is. Or keep portraying a reality that our society is only made up of the middle class. Which goes back to the point of releasing some control on the media and giving it room to grow.