Close to two decades into the internet epoch, new media operations – blogs, news aggregators and alternative news media – have flourished. Americans have Drudge Report and Huffington Post, Britons collect insights from Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes, and our neighbours swear by their Malaysiakini.
Singapore, however, has nothing quite like them, up until four years and eight months ago.
In June 2006, STOMP was launched. According to some critics, it is an over-budgeted (SGD$2 million) web portal that prides itself on its journalistic pretensions. On its Singapore Seen page, where its journalism goes, visitors are told:
“You generate the content. You write the reports. You take the photos. You shoot the videos.”
It has been said that STOMP cedes journalistic responsibility to netizens. An amateur, untainted by professional prejudices, can try their hands at deciding what is or isn’t newsworthy, snapping shots to document the event and writing it into a short report. Some traditionalists have argued that these recreational sources do not become journalists because they skip middle man and broadcast their articles directly to the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am not taking sides here. I am simply opening up a discussion here to share with you some of the on-going controversies, targetted at the platform that is said to promote “citizen journalism”.
It is true that STOMP lacks full autonomy over netizens’ journalistic work. STOMP editorial team still has the final say over every piece of information submitted.
Academic and former Straits Times journalist Cherian George argues that this process then, is not absolute citizen journalism:
“I don’t consider STOMP to be citizen journalism, because it puts the public on tap, not on top. It merely introduces greater interactivity to traditional journalism. Citizen journalism in the proper sense does its own agenda-setting. Citizen journalists decide what questions need to be asked and what topics to pursue. They don’t just answer questions decided by mainstream editors.”
He went on to explain:
“To me, it is not the source of facts or opinions that distinguishes citizen journalism from the mainstream – just because a story or picture comes from a reader does not make it a piece of citizen journalism. Instead, it boils down to who selects and decides what stories to pursue and publish. Editorial decision making is what separate journalism from gossip. STOMP, like the rest of ST (Straits Times), is edited by professional ST journalists, not ordinary citizens.”
For a former Singapore Press Holdings employee to make a stand like this, it is almost like chopping off the hands that once fed him.
On the other hand, we cannot deny the fact that it only took STOMP four short years to rise to become one of Singapore’s top social networking sites, with over 60 million page views in a month!
Citizen journalism or not, activities within STOMP has definitely become a pop culture amongst youths in our local context.