My media habits: Shufen Goh of R3 – ‘If I wasn’t in marketing, I wouldn’t be on social media platforms’

In an interview with Mumbrella's Dean Carroll, R3 principal and co-founder Shufen Goh talks about taking time away from technology – in order to keep up with a schedule that sees her finish a book every week

What are your must-read news sources you can’t live without on a daily basis, and why are those particular media titles so important to you?

“I’m not sure if there’s a news source ‘I can’t live without’; especially with bad news, fake news and sensationalised clickbait headlines appearing everywhere, regardless of what masthead they’re appearing on. 

“That said, I do read ‘The Economist’ every day. It’s the only platform I find consistently informs with a perspective, even if I do disagree with its take on some issues, especially its slew of slights on Singapore.”

In terms of news consumption – do you prefer, print, television, radio, websites, newsletters, social networks, blogs, apps or something else entirely?

“I am a sprinter when it comes to media consumption and have little patience for fillers that waste time. So radio and TV news are passive channels for me.

“On a typical day, I scan The Straits Times for local news and ads (yes, I do check my clients’ and their competitors’ advertising; even on digital – old habits die hard). 

“On my commute to work, I’ll read The New York Times and Business Insider, and check Baidu for China’s version of the day’s news. 

“Once I’m in the office, I read my trade news feed, which includes everything from AdAge to Mumbrella.”

Do you prefer long-form or short-form content?

“I don’t have a preference on length, but I do have a benchmark on quality. My criteria for media is it should inform my left brain with insights or trigger the emotions. 

“I’ll read stories that make me weep. Do books count as long-form content? That would be my preference. I typically read two or three books at any one time and finish an average of one a week.”

Can you name your favourite journalist and set out what makes them great?

“I miss the late Christopher Hitchens’ witty, sarcastic and well-argued take on everything from religion to birth control to war.“ He made me laugh and cry in his own account of how cancer ate his life. 

“I love Lucy Kellaway for her humour and no-holds barred style of calling out any form of bullshit, and her courage to switch from journalism to being a math teacher, whilst never giving up on finding love beyond swiping.

“On Sundays, I look forward to reading about Tan Hsueh Yun’s latest food adventure and recipes. I value the taste and opinions of foodies who actually cook.”

What piece of journalism has changed the game in recent times, in your view?

“Journalism has been asphyxiated by curation, re-purposing and sensationalism. Today’s business models show favour to journalists to write pieces that attract eyeballs so that profit can be generated by platforms. 

“Late adoption of technology, and readers’ willingness to surrender their privacy and be manipulated by news feeds, are as much to blame.”

Are there any titles you have paid subscriptions to?

“The Economist. The Straits Times.”

In terms of films and shows, is your preference for terrestrial television or streaming platforms like Netflix?

“In the evenings I watch television with my parents and get my daily intake of Chinese news. I binge watch Netflix to keep up with what my kids are watching.”

Are recommendation engines a good thing or do they cancel out the joy of serendipity in terms of discovering fresh content not aligned with your previous preferences?

“Any technology that can ease decision-making and save time is a welcome trade-off for serendipity. One can always make a conscious effort to explore.” 

What was the best film you saw of late – and can you describe why it made an impression on you?

“It has to be ‘Our Planet’ – David Attenborough’s latest documentary. The biologist in me may have a tad of a bias, but I’d argue he’s the best storyteller in the world. “Watching it on a 55-inch screen gave me goosebumps. It’s an amazing reminder of the majestic beauty of the world we share, and the destruction we are causing. Please watch it.” 

And what shows do you consider to be event TV, those programmes you just have to watch and can’t contemplate missing?

“John Oliver’s ‘Last Week, Tonight’; Trevor Noah’s ‘The Daily Show’; Stephen Colbert’s ‘The Late Show’.”

In terms of devices, how do you access content most often – on mobile, desktop, tablet, laptop or television?

“On weekdays, it’s all of the above. No desktop or email on weekends, as I’m making a conscious effort not to be the boss who tries to contact you on the weekend.”

How damaging is piracy and illegal downloads when it comes to the media and entertainment space?

“There’s a sweet spot of offering quality at a price point that makes the hassle of illegal downloads bothersome and not worth the risk. What we need is a broader spectrum of price points and formats that give people what they want, when they want it. 

“The viability of Spotify and Netflix supports this, as much as growing cinema and concert going.”

And moving on, what’s been your favourite book in recent times?

“Wow this is probably the toughest one to answer as I have a long list of largely non-fiction books. “If I were to choose one, it would be Yuval Noah Harari’s book ‘Sapiens’. I have not stopped raving about it for a year. There is no better account or explanation of how we got to where we are now. 

“His subsequent books ‘Homo Deus’ and ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ are almost as good about what the future holds.”

So Kindle or hard copy?

“Tried Kindle and gave up after three books. I like the feel of paper and the look of dog ears on the page (don’t judge me).”

And now to music. How do you buy and consume music?

“I subscribe to Spotify through Singtel Music and shamelessly follow my kids’ playlists to stay current.”

Which musical artists appeal to your tastes right now?

“I’m rediscovering the poetry of Chinese love songs through JJ Lin and Jay Zhou.”

Social networks: Hero or villain when it comes to giving you access to content?

“Let’s just say that if I wasn’t in marketing, I wouldn’t be on these platforms.”

And are social networks like Facebook and Twitter actually media companies these days in your view, even though that is something they deny – perhaps to avoid further regulation?

“Governments need to redefine what it means to be a media company. Are they a microphone or are they both the microphone and the voice? Will the microphone exist and make money without the voice? “Why would Trump make an announcement on Twitter if it’s not considered media? The answer is obvious, and regulation needs political will to level the playing field and hold platforms accountable.”

In the digital world, algorithms rather than humans are the media gatekeepers. Do you miss the old days when the likes of journalists, critics and broadcasters played that qualitative role, or have we simply evolved to a better quantitative system?

“I pay for news, so I think my personal preference is clear. Nothing that is good is free. My bet is that it will come full circle when young people today grow cynical and savvy about the new Big Brothers.”

Finally, what does the future hold for the media space in your view – will artificial intelligence and virtual personal assistants take over to the point where we just trust the machines to tell us what we want to consume, in terms of news and entertainment?

“We’re already experiencing the political exploitation of technology and media platforms to promote polarisation and nationalism around the world. Look at elections everywhere from Germany to India to Indonesia. 

“It’s never been easier to incite fear, hate and exaggerate differences. On a more positive note, the same technology is making it possible for the next generation to unite against issues like climate change and gender inequality. 

“This is happening organically and globally. I also welcome more AI and virtual PAs to battle time bandits like vacation planning and customer service.”


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