SINGAPORE - SPH Media Trust (SMT) has spent the past months building up its talent pool and technology capabilities, and will continue to focus on these two key areas as it pursues its mission to deliver quality, credible journalism, said SMT chairman Khaw Boon Wan yesterday.
Giving an update on the entity that was officially spun off from newspaper publisher and mainboard-listed company Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) on Dec 1, Mr Khaw said SMT will invest heavily in these two areas, adding that the Government has agreed, in principle, to support some of the initial investments that may take a longer time to recoup.
He added that discussions on funding with the Government as well as other organisations, such as clan associations and community groups, have been going well and an announcement would be made on the matter “quite soon”.
Mr Khaw was speaking at a media briefing along with SMT interim chief executive officer Patrick Daniel; English, Malay and Tamil Media Group editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez; and Chinese Media Group editor-in-chief Lee Huay Leng.
Mr Khaw, a former minister who came out of retirement to head the not-for-profit entity, said SPH had underinvested in talent and technology in the last few years, and “those are the two big gaps where we have to make the corrections as soon as we can”.
To this end, SMT will invest heavily to set up an SPH Media Academy that will focus on honing the digital skills and multimedia capabilities of its journalists.
It will also invest aggressively in technology to improve user experience for those using its publications’ apps and websites, for instance, and to ensure that the newsrooms can get content out in a timely and effective way.
These investments are necessary for SMT to fulfil its mission of being a trusted source of credible news, as well as promoting Singapore’s mother tongue languages, cultures and values, connecting its ethnic communities and forging trust among them, and also growing its international reach, said Mr Fernandez, who is also editor of The Straits Times.
Spelling out the media entity’s renewed focus on its key purposes, he cited how the SMT stable of titles has been helping readers make sense of developments and policy measures during the Covid-19 pandemic, noting that it has put all content on the pandemic outside the paywall.
This helped forge public support for measures needed to deal with the crisis, and also countered a pandemic of misinformation on the virus.
SMT will also set up a fact-checking service to debunk fake news, so that public debate can be informed by reliable information.
It will partner community groups to get school publications from its vernacular titles like Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu into the hands of younger readers so that they can learn about Singapore’s languages, cultures and values.
There are also plans to beef up the overseas bureaus of The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, to build on the two publications’ strong audiences in the region and beyond.
About a third of ST’s online audience is from overseas, especially Malaysia, Indonesia and the United States. Its Asian Insider podcasts are also popular, Mr Fernandez said, adding that ST will build on this reach to help connect Singapore to the world and share its perspectives on Asian affairs.
He said: “These are the purposes that we need to achieve, and these are the roles we have to play in our society... And it’s not just about us... It’s about building something that is important for our community, our society, for Singapore.”
Ms Lee, who oversees SMT’s Chinese newspapers, said there was a growing international audience interested in Singapore’s views on issues.
There was also a growing audience of younger readers on the Chinese Media Group’s online platforms, she added, revealing plans for a new video product targeted at those aged 25 and below.
Mr Fernandez added that underpinning SMT’s mission is the belief that “quality, credible journalism is a public good”.
With this larger purpose in mind, the Government has said it is prepared to provide funding support for SMT, and Mr Khaw added that when it comes to capability building and where the payback period is long, “I think we have a justification to ask the Government for help”.
“The discussion is coming along nicely, and I’m quite sure MCI (Ministry of Communications and Information) would be ready to make an announcement quite soon.”
SMT is in the process of working out how much support to seek and the key performance indicators to measure its progress, such as audience and subscription numbers.
But much of what SMT wants to do will be funded through its own commercial revenue, and turning a profit will still be important, said Mr Khaw.
SMT has also spoken to “quite a number of organisations who share some common objectives with us”, such as clan associations and community groups.
“So discussions are ongoing and very positive. We were encouraged by the enthusiasm. And we hope to have some announcement or good news soon, probably next month,” he said.
SMT to invest in its people, products and purpose to deliver quality news
The new SPH Media Academy will invest in training and retaining talent, and build expertise so SPH Media Trust's (SMT) journalists become authoritative voices in their fields, like senior health correspondent Salma Khalik.
As part of efforts to grow its reach, ST will expand and beef up its overseas bureaus. US correspondent Charissa Yong and China correspondent Danson Cheong, for example, currently helm the weekly Power Play column and podcast looking at US-China rivalry. This is part of the Asian Insider series, which is popular with audiences in Singapore and abroad.
Engaging audiences across platforms
One key challenge is to prepare for the next big story. It could be yet another pandemic or something around trade, geopolitics or climate change. Today, journalists report across platforms and host webinars, videos and podcasts. Science and environment correspondent Audrey Tan, for instance, helms the popular Green Pulse podcast.