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Singapore news site The Middle Ground closes down after running on just $3,000 a month

Independent Singapore news website The Middle Ground is to cease publication within the next three months after struggling to attract enough revenue to sustain its operation.

In an article entitled ‘Thank you. But we just can’t go on any more’ posted on TMG, co-founder Daniel Yap said that the website was unable generate enough “sheer traffic and viral content” that would have made it more “attractive” to advertisers.

Instead, the news site relied largely on $3,000 each month in reader donations – a sum considerably smaller than TMG’s operation costs, which Yap admitted ran into the “tens of thousands”.

TMG was founded in June 2015 by Yap, then the head of creative for Right Hook Communications, and ex-Straits Times journalist Bertha Henson. The site emerged out of the ashes of the Breakfast Network, another independent news outlet that closed after declining to get a publishing licence required of it by Singapore’s media regulator.

Speaking to Mumbrella Asia shortly after TMG’s launch, Yap said Singapore was a challenging place to be an independent media title, but the founders were not looking to make a profit.

He said: “We don’t publish stuff to make money. We have to make money to keep doing what we feel is our mission, which is serving our readers.”

However, independent news sites like TMG and The Online Citizen have struggled to sustain themselves in Singapore. Yap himself said: “The subscription model is shot to pieces. No one is willing to pay [for content] anymore. I’m fearful for readers. Who is willing to pay for content?”

One year later, the website launched a campaign to raise money to sustain its coverage for 2017, but was unable to reach the $15,000 target.

While, the founders initially vowed to carry on last year, in today’s statement, Yap revealed that the closure had been on the cards for some time. He added that following TMG’s winding up, both he and Henson would return to blogging.

His full statement reads as follows:

“Bertha and I want to thank you for your support for TMG over the last two and a half years. It’s been a great encouragement to know that so many of you have been reading TMG regularly, and have been sharing and interacting with our content.

I want to let you know today that we’ve decided to start the process of winding down our publication. It’s a decision that the TMG team has been dreading for some time, and we wanted to let you know as soon as possible.

We have just over 200 patrons on the platform, contributing about $3,000 each month, and the choices we made meant that we were not as attractive as other platforms when it came to sheer traffic and viral content – the lifeblood of ad campaigns. Unfortunately, the overheads for a solid news editorial team run into the tens of thousands, and TMG wasn’t an operation we could sustain long term, not without departing from the core values that we hold dear.

I’m sorry that we’ve not been able to make this work in this form. There are things we could have done better, and in many ways we were too optimistic about the sustainability of this project.

The decision was a difficult one, but it was the only decision that made sense to us.

A great man once said, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. We think it is better to go out on a good note than to have to change and become something we don’t want to be. Our patrons and the clients who stuck with us are our heroes.

We want to thank them for everything they’ve given to us.

This process of winding down TMG will take between one  and three months, because of some of the obligations we have to our clients and suppliers. These will have to be negotiated, but we commit to publishing what we can while we fulfil our obligations. We will cancel our TMG Patreon campaign effective Nov 15, 2017. Bertha and I will be going back to blogging for now.

I hope one day that there will be a way to publish the news in Singapore that puts readers first. The news needs to find a new model. This would mean that readers should pay for what they need and what they want to read. We hope that what we have done at TMG will be an inspiration to those that come after us.”

TMG’s closure follows the launch of subscription-based New Naratif by Singaporean journalist Kirsten Han, who said she was looking to publish stories that “connect the [South East Asia] region.”

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