Singapore online news media ‘looked like fools’ covering elections, event delegate tells The Online Citizen and The Middle Ground bosses

Terry Xu, Jacky Yap, Bertha Henson

Terry Xu, Jacky Yap and Bertha Henson this morning

In an intense session on the state of the media at the Singapore Digital Publishers Summit this morning, Singapore’s online news media was accused of “looking like fools” and behaving like “entertainment sites” in how they covered the general elections.

An outspoken panel consisting of Terry Xu, the long-time editor of independent news site The Online Citizen, and Bertha Henson, a Straits Times veteran turned founder of The Middle Ground, was hit with a damning half-question from a delegate, who said: “Online media looked like fools. Doesn’t matter what opinion you had [about the elections]. The point is, you guys have lost credibility. You’ve got egg on your face. How are you going to restore your credibility?” he said.

Henson, who was in typically combative mood, said she disagreed that the online media has lost credibility, and there was “no need to restore anything. I don’t have egg on my face,” she said.

“The PAP was taken by surprise [by the result of the election] too. It doesn’t effect the credibility of the media.”

She later said, “We get paid very little. We tried our best.”

The delegate, who said the independent online press had come to resemble “entertainment sites” in how they covered the elections, left the event after the session, and had not been identified at the time of publishing.

Talking about the constraints of reporting on the elections, Xu, who revealed he gets paid S$1,600 a month at The Online Citizen, said that independent rival news site had done a good job of covering GE2015, and had benefitted from contacts on both side of the political fence.

“Our connections are mainly opposition. Mothership has access to both. To any reader, they will feel that they [Mothership] have a better line-up compared to the other side. They’ve invested a lot of resources to cover the elections. They had the loudest voice in social.”

Xu said that the challenge of independent reporting in Singapore is largely funding.

“Everyone wants to make their website sustainable. Our challenge is the kind of content we are putting out, and who will pay. When we run an investigative stories on how people are being bullied by certain people in influential positions, who will pay for that news? Who will align themselves with that sort of story? It’s a big issue for us.”

Henson also pointed at the difficulty in operating as an independent online publisher in Singapore.  “If you pay online journalists well, we can do a better job. Now, there’s not enough money being put into the digital landscape,” she said, pointing at the lack of desire among advertisers in Singapore to spend on digital.

“The day readers are prepared to pay for content is the day we can get better content,” Henson said.

The session was moderated by Jacky Yap, the MD of Vulcan Post, the host company for the event.


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