Online journalism in Singapore: “It’s all cosmetic”

While the future of newspapers is online, Professor Linda Perry, who teachers online journalism in the National University of Singapore’s Communication and New Media programme says that journalism in Singapore needs bigger changes than that to have any future at all.

Is going online the future of newspapers?

There is no doubt about it. Print newspapers are dying in the United States and some of them are a hundred years old. This has been going on since the 80’s when most major cities then had morning and afternoon newspapers. In the 80’s, the afternoon papers started closing leaving only the morning paper. People started to get a little worried because it started to look like the readership was going down. So you got readership going down for a paper supported by advertising. And advertisers don’t want to put their ads when readership is going down and here comes the Internet. The Internet means that you can just get online and read your news for free. So why pay? You’re crazy for paying.

Is print journalism going to die?

I agree with everybody who says that there is nothing like holding a newspaper in your hands. When some major event actually happens, most people will run to buy the newspapers to see it, but how often does that happen? How often do you run out to get a copy of The Straits Times? Usually you rely on your online news sources. I think print journalism is not dead yet, but I can hear the death knell ringing. I just think online journalism is the future of journalism.

Newspapers in Singapore have been moving their content online. In fact, Singapore’s biggest newspaper publisher, Singapore Press Holdings, recently re-branded itself and said it was “moving beyond print”, how has all this changed journalism in Singapore?

It’s just following a trend. It hasn’t changed anything at all. Everything is cosmetic. The fundamental flaws of journalism in Singapore cannot be corrected just by putting content online. The issue is the press here is not a fourth estate of government. If it’s not a watchdog of government then it’s entertainment, a mouthpiece of the government. The papers here are just using a medium that they think will reach more people. Until you have a free press, you don’t have real journalism and the press here is not free.

Over in NUS, you teach an online journalism course. How has writing for the Internet changed the way you teach journalism?

I teach them the rules of journalism. The medium itself doesn’t really matter as much as the principles behind it, the content, writing to be understood, writing to address issues to inform people their role in democracy. That’s what matters to me. It doesn’t change the principles but it changes the more cosmetic things. One of the best things that it does is it allows a depth of reporting that was not possible before. With the newspaper you got a finite amount of space. With online journalism, one click and the reader can go in as deep as they want to go. That’s what I like about it, that three-dimensional thing. You can have a short summary, with lots of links for more information for background.

How will Singapore newspapers be like ten years from now?

The print newspapers will still be around. You have a lot of people who prefer to read the paper even though you have the highest Internet penetrations in the world. There is an awful a lot of people who would always prefer print. And since you’ve got one main newspaper, it’s probably going to stay that way too.

This story is part of a series, Where are we going: The future of newspapers in Singapore

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