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The Straits Times will ‘go where the audience is’ – says editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez

Media brands can survive and prosper as long as they are open to change and new technology, The Straits Times editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez told the Publish Asia conference in Singapore today.

Speaking to Mumbrella at the event organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, he said new innovations like podcasts and Facebook Live video streaming were helping the publisher to reach people through channels beyond the print newspaper or website.

“It’s about going where the audience is so we are starting to experiment with podcasting for example,” he said. “We realise that voice content is important now.

“It’s very much in the spirit of trying new things so that you figure out what works and can then amplify it.”

At the event, Fernandez also expressed his positivity about the industry’s future despite the declining revenue streams for media organisations all around the world. “I am very optimistic about journalism. Bots and artificial intelligence can’t interpret news as well as journalists.

“There will still be a great demand for knowledgeable and experienced journalists in five or 10 years from now. Newsrooms are downbeat about what we are doing as an industry so we have to give people optimism.”

He also revealed that the executive team from The Straits Times had visited newsrooms at The Guardian in the United Kingdom and Die Welt in Germany among others, in order to learn the lessons on how to transition from a traditional publisher model to a multi-platform offering. This had led The Straits Times to restructure its newsroom into a hub whereby the divide between print and digital no longer existed, said Fernandez.

It also led to the introduction of screens placed around the newsroom displaying which stories were attracting lots of readers, editorial meetings starting at 7am in order to catch morning readers and the creation of a video studio. A paywall was also put up for the website, meaning readers then had to subscribe to access stories online. At the same time, “liquid content” was being reworked in different formats across print, digital, video, radio and social media in order to reach the maximum audience on the maximum number of channels – explained Fernandez.

 

“I am platform-agnostic, I don’t care how my readers consume my content as long as they pay for it,” he said.

“We changed the way we function. The content focus is on ‘anytime, anywhere, any way they want it’. A newsroom should be a buzzy place and the team being so close to each other [in the hub] makes a huge difference.”

In the latest quarterly financial results for Singapore Press Holdings (parent company of The Straits Times) released in April, it was revealed that SPH’s real estate business generated the majority of the profit for the firm. Revenue for the media side of the business declined by 10.1% year-on-year. The decline was sharpest in print advertising revenue, which fell by 12.3%. Meanwhile , circulation declined by 9.7%. But digital ad revenue grew by 15%.

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