Low key Middle Ground upper management

It was the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to work on a solidly-funded news portal with one of Singapore’s most seasoned journalists. How could I pass it up? All I needed was to pull together the seasoned journalist, the news portal and the financial resources to keep the publication viable.

I met Bertha when she had just started up Breakfast Network and was looking for writers. A mutual friend suggested that I could contribute as a volunteer and I was happy to, since I had been blogging on socio-political issues for a while. Bertha was happy to give me a shot and that was the start of a wonderful year where I received my first lawyer’s letter threatening to sue the site for defamation, marked my inaugural participation in a G press conference as a member of the media and watched a whole drama with the MDA unfold. I was keen to sign up to MDA’s demands, but that was a corporate call in the end.

When Breakfast Network was finally closed down, going back to blogging didn’t seem to be quite enough for me. My work in a small PR agency kept me busy and paid the bills for my burgeoning family, but what could have been at Breakfast Network always nagged at me. It was a job left incomplete; an opportunity not seized; a risk not taken.

I spent the next year following up with Bertha, and through her, found the resources to get a newsroom and a small company up and running. As with a new company I had no illusions: nothing would go according to plan, so I detailed a year-long blueprint so that there would be a plan that nothing could go according to. We tried to reconstitute the wonderful ex-Breakfast Network team and offer them something more substantial.

Why, though, would I step away from 12 years of agency life and my stable and growing public relations firm (disclosure: I’m still on the board) to go into the tough, saturated market of publishing, especially in Singapore, where even the incumbents have trouble doing profitable business? Did I really hope to be able to run a sustainable business?

Management scion Peter Drucker said that “there is only one valid definition of a business purpose: to create a customer”. And that is what I hope to achieve at The Middle Ground as publisher. I want to gather readers around our way of doing the news and in so doing, influence the way society thinks. It is long-term thinking; it is something for the next generation, something that doesn’t pander to short term results like mere traffic and clicks but that builds fundamental values.

This is the country and the world I hope to leave to my children – one with citizens who are discerning of the news and of the flow of information (a REAL smart nation), who know the difference between fluff and subject expertise, who can handle both sides of an argument, who respect intellectual property and who are intelligent enough not to get offended or alarmed by satirical articles.

I want this industry to adapt and thrive because we all need it to, and am happy to be one of what I hope are many other news publications and magazines that can chart a new way forward in the digital age and beyond.

And that is why I am trying to fill this gap, even as our team works to fill the digital pages in The Middle Ground. Thank you, dear reader, for reading and for engaging with us. You are our Middle Ground and it is you whom we hope to serve and foster.

ST threatened by Internet, shoots own foot while drawing gun

Straits Times’ Leslie Koh wrote a piece in today’s rag entitled “Online voices = vox populi?” (link from Visa’s blog) which I assume was penned while under duress, or on the hope of some vaguely promised salary raise or promotion. In it he 1) dismisses online voices as not necessarily representative of the “silent majority” and 2) asks the silent majority to speak up.

Now he is completely correct on point 1. What you hear online may or may not be the opinion of the majority. Online voices (bloggers, news sites, Facebok pages) are actually  aware of this. The veiled implication, though, is what really stinks – “don’t trust what you read online – trust what you read in this newspaper“. Now that is dripping with irony. For decades, the ST has enjoyed a monopoly on opinion but now sees its authority being challenged by the likes of bloggers and political sites and even excellent neutral news channels like yahoo. Like some drunken ah beng gang leader cornered in a street fight, ST hits back, no holds barred, with the crude proverbial broken beer bottle. Careful, boy – that glass cuts both ways.

Now having taken a pot shot at how unrepresentative social media is, Leslie proceeds to ask citizens to speak up (read: rally to my cause). Here’s where he shoots himself in the foot.

People from the silent majority who speak up need a channel. Guess what that channel is most likely to be?

Social media.

Look, Leslie, we didn’t all go to journalism school or major in English Lit or whatever it takes to become the Assistant Editor of the Straits Times’ political desk. We mostly have full-time jobs (thanks, gahmen, for low unemployment) and spend too much time working at them (thanks, gahmen, for work-life balance). If I’m not going to write a political column in the monopolised, state-owned mainstream media then surprise, surprise, I’m online.

So Leslie is telling us to speak up, but when we leave the ranks of the silent majority and do speak up, he will brand us as not being part of the silent majority.

In the end, all this article really proves is that mainstream media in its current form is getting less and less relevant to the average Singaporean, and a loosening of the NPPA is overdue. Fail to do that and the silent majority will forever and only be expressing itself online.