Splice News Trends: Alan Soon on a chaotic week for the Phnom Penh Post, Malaysia and Google

In his latest insights into the world of media, leading commentariat Alan Soon ponders a tumultuous week at the Phnom Penh Post, the Malaysian general election, and 'half-assed' Google news apps

It’s such a relief to start off this newsletter with something far bigger than Facebook for a change. Our top stories, coincidentally, have that secret Malaysian sauce in them.

So I can’t figure out whether this goes under the Government or Transformations header, but I sense the hand of Hun Sen in this. The Phnom Penh Post was sold to a Malaysian businessman who owns a PR company with ties to the Cambodian government.

Asia PR’s previous projects include “Cambodia and Hun Sen’s entry into the government seat”. The sale follows a $3.2 million tax bill on the Post. It also comes ahead of the elections in July. So you see how the dots connect. Ananth Baliga and Brendan O’Byrne at Phnom Penh Post wrote up a critical view (more like a ) of their new Malaysian investor. They were ordered to remove the story. So they both resigned. The editor-in-chief Kay Kimsong has been fired, and most of the newsroom immediately resigned.

That article has now been replaced with this.

But someone was smart enough to pop the original into a Google Drive for all to see.

Journalists under attack do what journalists do best: they document. The editorial team took to Twitter to explain almost minute-by-minute what was happening in the newsroom. Erin Handley did an amazing job with her tweetstorms; here’s one.

If you’ve left the Post this week, hit reply. Let’s see how we can connect you with independent publishers who need good journalists.

Now the other Malaysia story. Mahathir Mohamed, the 92-year-old leader of the opposition, swept to power in an election upset that ended six decades of coalition rule led by UMNO. The dust hasn’t settled as I sit to write this. But from a media perspective, we could see the unraveling of the cosy party-media in the country: UMNO in Utusan Malaysia, Media Prima (with mastheads that include the New Straits Times, Harian Metro and Berita Harian), and MCA in Star Media. We hope to tell that story in the next few months.


Finally, Google is bringing together all its half-assed news apps into one place. The refreshed Google News will apparently arrive by next week, replacing the Play Newsstand and the News & Weather app. There’s no magic here — it sounds like any other full-fledged news app. But there are three key differences: 1) this is Google, 2) they’re the biggest aggregator out there and 3) they can do a better job at deploying AI to sort content.

Check out the presentation at Google I/O here. Very deliberate “we-come-in-peace” language. There’s a lot they can step into as Facebook retreats.

Look, I don’t know how to use Snapchat. Neither does my cofounder (and Splice Frames writer) Rishad. So instead of trying to review it himself, he got a 14-year-old to do it instead. Read it. It makes me want to use Snapchat myself. A Splice Original.

Also from our Splice Frames newsletter: How do you design a better process for content moderation — something that actually builds trust? A group of non-profits put forward a set of moderation standards called the Santa Clara Principles. The goal is to give users more information and recourse than those currently available on big tech platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

Ray Serrato has been looking into the explosive use of Twitter bots in Myanmar to spread hate against Muslims. He works on governance and data science, and has an interesting theory: many nationalists in the country have crossed over from Facebook to Twitter.


Gary Liu is about 15 months into his job in transforming the SCMP. He’s betting on tech to transform the business: a proprietary data warehouse, automated reporting algorithms, and a new third-party business intelligence platform. This is how they’re deploying it. A Splice Original.

Japan’s NHK is putting an AI-powered cartoon anime on air to read you the news. ?‍This is the national broadcaster’s contribution to automated journalism. A Splice Original.

The New York Times is trying conference calls (maybe it’s easier to think of them as “participatory podcasts”) as a way to reach subscribers. The idea works like, well, radio — a host interviews reporters and callers get to participate in the interview. It’s not an entirely new idea; The Information has been doing this for subscribers.


Readers at Copenhagen-based news outlet Zetland wanted an audio version; it’s now more popular than their written stories. Their members tend to be more loyal listeners than they are readers. Zetland have also started an audio version of their daily newsletter. (Not surprisingly, their members named it.)

A year ago, the Christian Science Monitor launched a paid email newsletter. Not many people thought it would work — especially at $11 a month. But it now has 10,000 paid subscribers and plenty of good lessons on how to build a solid newsletter.


Sixth Tone is looking to fill several roles: commentary editor, feature editor, and associate editor. Sounds super exciting. Shanghai-based.

Mumbrella Asia wants to hire a new editor in Singapore to fill Eleanor Dickinson’s shoes after she moved to the Sydney office (high bar, big shoes!). The role involves “showcasing the best the industry has to offer as well shining a light on the worst practices in a ‘critical friend’ role.”


Oddly, Yahoo decided to launch a group messaging app. Because you need another chat app in 2018.



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