Workers' Party leaders visit revamped Straits Times newsroom, share thoughts on media engagement

(From left) The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan, EMTM managing editor Dominic Nathan, EMTM editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez, WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, EMTM head of digital strategy Eugene Leow, WP NCMP Daniel Goh and WP chief Prit
(From left) The Straits Times executive editor Sumiko Tan, EMTM managing editor Dominic Nathan, EMTM editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez, WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, EMTM head of digital strategy Eugene Leow, WP NCMP Daniel Goh and WP chief Pritam Singh during a tour of the newsroom on May 29, 2019. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Amid the changing media landscape, the Workers' Party (WP) will have to find new ways of disseminating information and work with new types of media to reach out to voters in creative ways, said WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera on Wednesday (May 29).

“As population and society evolve, the media consumption will also evolve. So, we need to evolve with that,” he added.

“Attention spans are not getting longer, they are probably getting shorter. So, we must always experiment and find creative ways to engage audiences.”

Mr Perera was speaking about the WP's media strategy and how the party is adapting to the changes in the media landscape, in an interview with The Straits Times alongside fellow NCMP Daniel Goh.

The two politicians, who are deputy chair and chair of the WP's media team respectively, were on a visit to the ST newsroom along with party chief Pritam Singh.

They were hosted by ST editor Warren Fernandez, who is also editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings’ English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, and were the latest guests to the recently revamped ST newsroom. 

In a Facebook post after the visit, Mr Singh said the newsroom tour was useful in learning how the paper presents news in this social media age, adding that he was "very impressed with the team that prepares ST's interactive content".

"On a more serious note, opposition parties in Singapore have traditionally had a difficult relationship with the mainstream media. The reasons are varied and unsurprisingly, political in nature. Many are rooted in the first generation of PAP leaders interpretation of the media's role in society," he said.

"Be that as it may, the mainstream media remains an important conduit for getting the Party's message out and it was helpful for both sides to engage in some candid sharing.

 
 
 
 

"As far as the Party is concerned, our focus as a political party and opposition is the betterment of Singapore and its people. To that end, the mainstream media is not our adversary," he said.

Mr Fernandez said ST has been transforming its newsroom to serve the readers better across platforms.

"This means giving them news they can rely on and trust. It also means striving to be fair and balanced in our coverage. So we were happy to host the WP team in the newsroom and share with them how we are transforming into a multimedia operation," he added.

During the tour, the WP leaders were shown how data and analytics are used to track stories that are trending online and identify readers' interests in real time.

They also learnt how stories are presented to the audience through virtual and augmented reality, which Mr Perera later said was the part which intrigued him the most.

Mr Perera, 48, chief executive of Spire Research and Consulting, and Associate Professor Goh, 45, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore, were also interviewed at ST's video production studio for the new video series called In The Newsroom.

Mr Singh, when asked to be interviewed, had said he would do so at an appropriate time, and nudged his two media chiefs forward, saying he wanted them to have more media attention instead of the focus being only on him.

Asked about how he engages with the media, Dr Goh quipped: "To hold Straits Times at arm's length."

As for WP's rules of engagement with the media, Mr Perera said members are expected to exercise discipline when communicating publicly.

"I think obviously for any functional party, a certain amount of training and a certain amount of discipline is necessary when you are appearing or speaking as a representative of the party. So we have our internal processes to ensure that within the party," he said.

"Beyond the processes also, it is a culture and expectation you want to internalise among all of the party's spokespersons, that they are representatives of the party, there's a greater goal here and we have to exercise that discipline when we communicate publicly."


(From left) The Straits Times' defence & security editor Kor Kian Beng, executive editor Sumiko Tan, WP Non-Constituency MP Leon Perera, WP chief Pritam Singh, EMTM editor-in-chief Warren Fernandez, WP NCMP Daniel Goh and EMTM head of digital strategy Eugene Leow during a visit to The Straits Times newsroom on May 29, 2019. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Mr Singh, 42, an MP of Aljunied GRC, has been party chief since April last year. Unlike his predecessor, Mr Low Thia Khiang, he is active on social media.

On this, Dr Goh said: "We have tried so many times for so long, for Mr Low to go on Facebook. But we have kind of given up... He doesn't want to go on Facebook because he thinks it's a young people's game."

“There is also another reason... he doesn’t want to turn WP into Low Thia Khiang Party. He doesn’t want the kind of celebrity, cult worship that accrues to... that kind of political feel, in Singapore.”