3 socio-political news sites stopping ops

Lack of funds cited as reason; new editorial team hired for The Independent S'pore site

The online news scene is roiling with changes.

Three Singapore socio-political news sites are stopping operations because of a lack of funds.

The Inconvenient Questions (IQ) and Six-Six News are shutting down for good while The Online Citizen (TOC) said it is taking an indefinite break from next month.

Meanwhile, the people behind The Independent Singapore socio-political news portal said it has hired a new editorial team, led by Mr Ravi Philemon, 48, a former editor of TOC and an opposition candidate in last year's general election.

The first to announce its shutdown was Six-Six News, which was launched last June. It ceased operations on April 1, but did not announce the move publicly.

Yesterday, its publisher Kannan Chandran, a former journalist, pointed to the slowing economy and said he was disappointed "the anticipated subsequent funding didn't come through''.

TOC editor Terry Xu, 34, said on Monday in a post on the site that "a one-man show will get the site nowhere".

But he added: "The website is not closing down but taking a break to relook operations and to source for funding to expand operations."

Two days later, IQ, which was launched in January last year, said it would close next Saturday. Its founder, former Nominated MP Viswa Sadasivan, 57, told The Straits Times yesterday the initial $500,000 "dried up" late last month, mainly because of its costly video productions.

The site produces videos, featuring panellists discussing current affairs in front of a live audience.

Mr Sadasivan, a veteran broadcast journalist, said there was an understanding with investors that they would continue to fund IQ in the second year but "my venture is not going to generate enough returns on investment at this point of time".

At The Independent Singapore, publisher Kumaran Pillai, 45, said yesterday the three-year-old site could hire the new team because its fortunes are turning for the better.

Last year was bleak as it struggled to raise revenue through online advertising, he said. Also, its co-founder, veteran journalist P.N. Balji, had said he planned to leave to spend more time with his grandchildren.

Said Mr Kumaran: "He was planning for his retirement, I think he'd already bought a house in Cochin (in India) where he was born. He has since retired, but he's still a shareholder."

He also said changes to online advertising technology last October allowed the site to earn three times more than under the old system. The higher revenues enabled it to make the hires, he said at a media conference on the changes.

Besides Mr Philemon's appointment as the new chief editor, the other addition is lecturer Howard Lee, 40, who is volunteering his services as an opinion editor.

Both men are directors of The Opinion Collaborative (TOC Ltd), a social enterprise that aims to encourage open discussions and which, until last September, ran the TOC site.

When asked, Mr Philemon declined to say whether he is still a member of the Singapore People's Party (SPP), under whose banner he contested last year's polls.

But the site will be independent and impartial in its reporting, he said, adding that when he was helping the site last year, he received four articles critical of the SPP. He recused himself and left the decision to publish to the shareholders and editorial team.

He said it was "no secret" The Independent Singapore leaned towards the opposition. "That's where the eyeballs are," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2016, with the headline '3 socio-political news sites stopping ops'. Print Edition | Subscribe