Social news website Mothership brings home discussion on Singapore

The Mothership.sg crew are (from left) executive director Lien We King, director Edwin Ramesh, editor Belmont Lay, administrative staff Tan Wei Fen, editors Martino Tan and Jonathan Lim, and intern Sally Ong.
The Mothership.sg crew are (from left) executive director Lien We King, director Edwin Ramesh, editor Belmont Lay, administrative staff Tan Wei Fen, editors Martino Tan and Jonathan Lim, and intern Sally Ong.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

A social news website that wants to get more young people talking and learning about Singapore has relaunched to cope with high traffic.

Mothership.sg is styled in the mould of popular American site Buzzfeed. It has four full-time staff, former foreign minister George Yeo as a contributor and is backed by a social enterprise chaired by civil service veteran Philip Yeo.

They first went online last August and their first story - "48 reasons why you still feel for Singapore" - crashed the server for two hours as it was shared so widely.

They recently upgraded to a new server and the site was relaunched to increase story contributions and reach out to more online.

The team is already thinking further ahead, and asked whether they are prepared to have Mothership licensed if the Media Development Authority requires it, they said they would comply if asked.

Mr Lien We King, 39, executive director of Mothership, said: "We hope to let this platform become part of the Singapore way of life, to be part of the discussion on Singapore."

Their aim, he said, is to "reach out, rally and organise not just young people, but all Singaporeans, to action that will benefit their various communities".

Their articles have a casual tone and are generally positive about Singapore, such as "13 lines 1980s S'porean babies used to say but have forgotten" and "12 things your BMT sergeant used to shout at you".

These have gained those two articles more than 13,000 Facebook likes, and over 144,000 page views each. The website has a monthly average of 300,000 unique page views.

Its editors said they expect Mr Yeo to be sharing his musings on Singapore life and culture, and to stay connected to the city state from Hong Kong where he is now based.

Mr Yeo, who almost ran for president in August 2011 after he lost his seat in Aljunied GRC in that year's General Election, is now chairman of Kerry Logistics.

The website and the former minister may seem like an unusual pairing, but Mr Yeo said he sees a role for Mothership in bringing together young people here.

"Working hard for and with young Singaporeans energises me and keeps me fresh. Sharing experiences will enrich all of us. I hope to join others in adding my bit to this," he said.

He likes the name "Mothership", he said, as it conveys the sense that "one can travel anywhere in the universe and still have a place to come home to".

The website is funded by Project Fishermen, a registered social enterprise set up in October 2011. Project Fishermen has been running several small community events, said Mr Lien, who is also one of its three directors, and Mothership is its latest project to reach out to Singaporeans.

The team of three editors who run Mothership are paid a "quite competitive" salary too, said Mr Martino Tan, 32, who is one of them. The fourth full-time staff handles administration work.

Mr Tan is a former civil servant who worked to set up the Prime Minister's Facebook page when he was in the Prime Minister's Office. Mr Jonathan Lim, 29, was a colleague in the Ministry of Communications and Information.

The third editor is Mr Belmont Lay, 29, who was the campaign manager for opposition candidate Nicole Seah in the 2011 General Election, and founder of satirical news website New Nation.

The three are not members of any political party, nor did they join Mothership as a "push-back" against the seemingly anti-government websites online, they said.

"We felt that whatever sites that are online right now may not fully represent what young people truly feel. So we are offering something different," said Mr Tan.

"We want to be a source of creative energy for people who want to talk and think about Singapore," he added.

And to those who may be sceptical of their intentions, they say: "Follow us and you will know where we stand."

chanckr@sph.com.sg

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