Engaged readers seen as critical to success of media groups

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, with (from left) South China Morning Post chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo, panel chairman Lau Joon-Nie and Bloomberg's
Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times, with (from left) South China Morning Post chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo, panel chairman Lau Joon-Nie and Bloomberg's Singapore bureau chief Stephanie Phang.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Technology is a double-edged sword. It poses challenges for traditional media companies but it also gives them more avenues to expand and better engage their readers, listeners and viewers.

These range from pushing out real-time updates on news events to building niche customer groups and markets, developments that have transformed both old and new media companies.

The changes have brought about power shifts in journalism, and their impact and implications were discussed at a forum on Asian journalism yesterday.

Organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and supported by nonprofit organisation Temasek Foundation Connects, the one-day forum at Orchard Hotel was attended by media professionals and practitioners from the region.

One major implication of technology is how it has enabled small media start-ups to step in and target new audiences that were overlooked by traditional media, said Mr Simon Park, a content strategist for Seoul-based media start-up accelerator Mediati.

He cited South Korean start-up Geekble, which was launched to target young South Koreans interested in science and technology.

"At the centre of media innovation is the audience. Go to the audience and ask them what they want... that's the solution we've found after two years," Mr Park said.

But established media companies, too, have adapted in their own way, by transforming print newsrooms to produce content for multimedia news products.

Some mainstream media companies, such as Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), are leveraging digital subscriptions to raise revenue.

Mr Warren Fernandez, editor-in-chief of SPH's English/Malay/ Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times (ST), noted that ST's readership across its print and digital platforms has been growing.

CONSTANT, VARIED CONNECTION

Today, we have the opportunity to connect to readers not just once a day in print, but many times throughout the day through our different platforms - print, mobile, desktop, tablets, radio, events.

MR WARREN FERNANDEZ, editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English/Malay/Tamil Media Group and editor of The Straits Times.

About 90 per cent of ST's subscribers today read the news across all platforms, with the remaining 10 per cent opting for the print paper.

"Today, we have the opportunity to connect to readers not just once a day in print, but many times throughout the day through our different platforms - print, mobile, desktop, tablets, radio, events," he said.

Subscriptions have also continued to grow since the introduction of a premium paywall in February, he noted. This showed that readers were prepared to pay for content, if they found it engaging, credible and meaningful, he said.

South China Morning Post's (SCMP) chief news editor Yonden Lhatoo said it was a "major psychological step" for the paper to expand beyond a newspaper company, to be a media organisation whose products are online and free.

"It took a long time for people to realise that what's going online is reaching out to many more people," said Mr Lhatoo.

Going online allowed the paper to provide more features, such as live updates of events, he said. For example, when Typhoon Mangkhut hit Hong Kong on Sunday, the SCMP team pushed out blog posts, videos and photos even as the storm raged on.

Professor Ang Peng Hwa of Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information said traditional media companies have tried different ways to drive up revenue, including establishing paywalls or crowd-sourcing, but there is no one model that suits all situations.

"You need an entrepreneurial approach to the media... it means being ready to pivot, to change, and to do trial and error," Prof Ang.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2018, with the headline 'Engaged readers seen as critical to success of media groups'. Print Edition | Subscribe