Web 2.0 is a term closely associated with numerous web applications of today – popularised by Tim O’Reilly and MediaLive International in 2004 during a Web 2.0 Conference. In 2006, O’Reilly redefined Web 2.0 as “the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as a platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them” (Tim O’Reilly:2006).
Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) created its own Web 2.0 application, STOMP a.k.a. Straits Times Online Mobile Print, during the same year that O’Reilly re-characterised the term (see “Web 2.0 and STOMP” blog entry). The move was initiated following the government’s decision to alleviate restriction on Internet content. It incorporates several social networking features in an effort to reach out to Singapore youths. The introduction of STOMP signaled the birth of a social web juggernaut, advocating a form of participatory culture that was uncommon in Singapore.
Touted as the leading citizen-journalism website in Asia, STOMP has racked up several awards in the regional media industry since its creation. These credentials include Best in Digital Content and Best in Mobile Media at the 2010 Asian Digital Media Awards. “Singapore Seen” is STOMP’s most highly rated hallmark, enabling STOMPers to contribute news stories they deem newsworthy or interesting to the Singapore public. The element of citizen journalism in “Singapore Seen” reflects Henry Jenkins’ take on participatory culture where “members believe they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued” (Jenkins:2006).
STOMP’s success is also attributed to an array of other components. Relating back to O’Reilly’s definition of Web 2.0, STOMP has several in-built features that “get better the more people use them” (O’Reilly T.:2006). Features such as “Talk Back” – a conventional discussion forum; “Just Talk Lah” – micro-blogging section; “Movie Club” – movie fans’ reviews and critics; “Ask Libby” – questions and answers pertaining to living in Singapore; “Court Room” – reports on the latest on-going legal cases. It is more than an online interactive portal (see “Navigating through STOMP” blog entry). STOMP has shaped an entire public sphere (Habermas, Lennox, Lennox:1974) in itself.
In this essay, we will look at how participatory culture thrives within this public sphere. Emphasis will be placed on STOMP’s citizen journalistic element and the role it plays in shaping a unique Singapore youth identity.
Participatory Culture in STOMP
The underlying essence of STOMP’s success can be said to have nigh affiliations to ‘participatory culture’. ‘Collectivity’ (Levy:2000) is one key inkling that the social practice seeks to articulate – a cohesion of cognizant processes linked by one or more identifying traits. Quoting Henry Jenkins, ’participatory culture’ exhibits the following characteristics (Jenkins:2006):
- “One with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement”
- “Has strong support for creating and sharing one’s creation with others”
- “Enjoys some form of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices”
- “One where members believe that their contributions matter”
- “One where members feel some degree of social connection with one another”
STOMP itself has rather flexible determinants on the newsworthiness of its published content. Although it offers the upfront impression of an avenue for free speech, the online site is a medium still very much controlled by the state autonomous, Singapore Press Holdings. Content needs to be strictly void of obvious and subtle insinuations of racial, religious and political sensitivities – in sync with the longstanding state vision of the media as a nation building tool.
Civic engagement, as exhibited by STOMPers who play the role of active citizens, is a crucial element in ensuring the site’s long term sustainability. Through published content and discursive comments, it is clear that these STOMPers have become entwined in the development of ‘nationhood,’ speaking out against issues that stir up moral panic, all for the ‘good’ of society. It draws some parallel to Jenkins’ approach of ‘participatory culture’ where “contributions matter” and “members feel some degree of social connection with one another”.
Returning to the point on ‘collectivity’ (Levy:2000), a ‘participatory culture’, as seen in STOMP, is one where ideas, views and opinions converge on a common landscape to serve a greater purpose – one that pushes its weight as an unorthodox form of education. STOMPers learn from each other by the exchange of knowledge in an ongoing assembly of social discourse. They are able to let loose their personal inhibitions and exercise honest speech.
“Mentorship” (Jenkins:2006) in this area is key to inducing this kind of thought build-up. When we say this, we refer to the “novices”. There definitely exists a pre-notion of apprehension especially when they first decide to upload content. The constant emotional and psychological battle of rejection versus acceptance can only be defused by first signs of response from the veteran community. ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ is subjective, depending on the expected favourable outcome. Nevertheless, a response is still a response. Quantity in this area helps elevate one’s self-conceived level of importance in the STOMP community.
This is ‘participatory culture’ at its most inherent form in STOMP.
STOMP – The Public Sphere for Civic Engagement
The concept of the “public sphere”, according to Jürgen Habermas, refers to a realm of social life where citizens behave as a public body, conferring in an unrestricted fashion, expressing their opinions about matters of general interest. (Habermas, Lennox, Lennox:1974)
As a hybrid medium, STOMP combines interpersonal, group and mass communication, permitting both information distribution and interaction among its registered users. It also provides a communicative space for “Soft News” topics, (see “News Quality” blog entry) that are usually not covered in mainstream media for discussion.
The term ‘public’ connotes the idea of citizenship, commonality and things not private, but accessible and observable by all (Dewey 1927, cited in Papacharissi 2002). STOMP succinctly provides the platform for a “virtual public sphere” for citizens to engage in civic discussion, facilitating a democratic exchange of ideas and opinions through journalistic contributions and individual comments (see STOMP: The New Public Sphere blog entry). Other commonly used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are not likely to match up because the user has only friends and acquaintances in one network, and a mix of global ‘followers’, both groups possibly not appreciating or understanding the local issues in discourse as much as fellow citizens.
Civic engagement is best understood as a process “that closely involves people in the economic, social, cultural and political processes that affect their lives” (UNDP 1993; cited in Malik, Wagle 2002). STOMP provides the common communicative space for any registered user to voice out on issues that concern them as fellow citizens, that are deemed to have an impact on the nation (see Civic Engagement on STOMP blog entry).
Through the lively participation on STOMP, this dynamic platform paves way for fellow STOMPers to realise their full potential as active citizens and at the same time enhance their personal fulfillment (Sen 1981; UNDP 1993; cited in Malik, Wagle 2002). Humanistic psychologist, Abraham Maslow, believes that people are motivated by the urge to satisfy needs, from basic survival to self-fulfillment. In Amy Jo Kim’s Community Building on the Web, she uses Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs to illustrate the goals and needs of online community participants (Bowman & Willis:2003).
STOMPers’ need for self-esteem, propels them to promulgate their ability to contribute to the STOMP community in a bid to gain respect and recognition for their efforts (Bowman & Willis:2003). Commonly denounced ‘trashy’ and ‘trival’ news, usually the observed lack of civic mindedness in fellow citizens, such as Couple behaves intimately on MRT: Guy even licks GF’s hand, Road rage: Aggressive tattooed man threatens driver with bat, are newsworthy stories that generate great fervor, seen through the number of views and comments left behind by other passive or active STOMPers alike.
STOMP exhibits the elements of a progressing public sphere for civic engagement needed of a bourgeois society, perhaps marking the start in getting citizens interested in issues and activities concerning the country. Though the importance of topics in discussion are often highly debated, one must still recognise that STOMP was constructed to encourage participation, no matter how ‘trivial’ it might be.
Citizen Journalism in STOMP
The call for a more egalitarian relationship between the news media and audiences has developed tremendously over the last decade. Such a trend has been heralded as part of a new age of citizen journalism. Citizen Journalism is the concept of members of the public “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information- a task once reserved almost exclusively to the news media. News organizations like STOMP, have invented a variety of ways to increase audience participation in the journalistic process. Increased interest in reader participation has also been derived from the unique characteristics of online media, which allows dialogues among news readers, interaction between readers, news sources, and personalized news. A small but growing group of “witnesses to news” have been actively publishing stories, images, and commentaries on STOMP. Such trends have been heralded as part of a new age of participatory journalism in which journalism’s “hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened potentially, by the audience it serves” (Peskin:2003, p. 13).
Director of BBC World Service, Peter Horrocks, shared his personal insights on BBC’s ‘The Editor’ site during the reporting of the death of Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi. He concluded the importance of citizen journalism which is highly regarded as added-value journalism.
STOMP is well-known for its “Singapore Seen” section that resonates with the people because it is the only medium in the Republic where they have access to hyper-local content. Singaporeans visit the site to read about “ground zero” issues and events from the heartlands that are more often than not ignored by mainstream media because of the parochial or municipal nature.
The recent murder case involving the death of Darren Ng shows the power of participatory journalism with the valuable comments contributed by STOMPers. When the news initially broke out in mainstream newspapers, it was reported as a simple staring incident that led to the homicide of the 19 year-old teenager. Comments from STOMPers flooded the news article right after the article was posted. The discussion forum was fed with various blog links and names which, interestingly, shed a different light on this case. Mainstream newspapers then started to investigate further and uncovered the truth that stunned many – it was a gang-related dispute, as opposed to a staring incident. The added-value journalism contributed by the citizens allows further disclosure of information not covered by mainstream newspapers. The citizen journalistic element in STOMP not only encourages participatory culture within the Singapore youths, it is also an important tool of sieving valuable insights from the citizens in reviewing news from many different perspectives.
The Singapore Youth Identity / Conclusion
The Free Online Dictionary defines Identity as, “The set of behavioural or personal characteristics by which an individual is recognizable as a member of a group”. Chua Beng Huat discussed the presence of ‘East Asian Identity’ amongst Singapore youths and this theory has been used various times in the study of culture. However, after all these studies, it would be fair to say that it has been “found that standard definitions of identities do not hold up in the realm of popular culture” (Churchill:2008).
Youths of today are strong-willed and opinionated and go through pains to let themselves be heard. The easiest medium to achieve this is via the Internet.
Be it in discussion forums, social networking sites or citizen journalism websites such as STOMP, “these news and interactive web portals provide young users with an interactive platform to share their views and opinions online” (Soh:2010). It is almost a part of the inbuilt youth characteristic to have a say or a point to prove. This may possible be a notion of, “I participate therefore I am” or “I belong therefore I exist”.
Youths are taking STOMP seriously; either by contributing their stories or by commenting on others’. It has become a regular meeting place and a discussion topic (both for and against) on various Internet forums. The STOMPer community acts as a public sphere where their voices will be heard and given a fair amount of exposure.
STOMP’s citizen journalism feature provides users with a sense of ownership and responsibility to provide the public with news and insights from their point of view. While this feature is essential in a world where news ‘turns stale’ very quickly, the excess of trivial and unworthy stories does raise concerns. This trend could be credited to the lack of traditional tabloid news presence in Singapore.
Due to the relatively low publication barrier, STOMP is indifferent to the content of the myriad of information that flows through, inadvertently acting as an amplifier to any sort of message. An outsider could be easily misled into thinking that these trivial matters are of great national concern.
The tracking of the comments on STOMP allows the youths to judge their popularity or acceptance by the community and therefore being “recognised as a member of a group”. A practice of passive participation is also noticed as STOMPers seem eager to post their stories to showcase their concerns or grievances but seldom is there any mention of action from the STOMPer at the scene. Could this behaviour be an aspect of much elusive Singaporean identity?
Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew commented that “Singapore will not evolve into a homogeneous group but neither will it emerge with any distinctive identity as a result of modern technology and advancement” (Peh:2006). MM Lee’s statement is not in any circumstance incorrect. Singaporeans, with their various cultural and ethnic influences have struggled to find a specific or distinctive identity to stand out from others in the region.
Interestingly, the youths’ very nature to rebel and stand out from this situation can be seen in the public spheres that is STOMP.
Through observing STOMP and Henry Jenkins’ portrayal of participatory culture, one can be led to believe that Singapore youths may be trying to define their individuality and collective identity by belonging to a close knit community that is STOMP.
Word Count: 2,391
- Bowman, S., & Willis, C. (2003) We media. How audiences shape the future of news and information. Reston: The Media Center at the American Press Institute, accessed 19 November 2010, http://www.hypergene.net/wemedia/download/we_media.pdf
- Churchill, Mary (2008). ‘Are You Reading Me?’: Rethinking Culture, Identity and the ‘Popular’, All Academic Inc.
- Peh, S.H. (2006). Singapore Culture Unlikely to Emerge: MM, The Straits Times, 6 September 2006
- Soh, C.Y. (2010). Resonating with Youths in Singapore: Managing Cultural Identity in Web Design. Biblioasia, National Library Board Singapore.
- Castells M. (2007). Mobile Communication and Society, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- Jenkins, Henry (2006). Confronting The Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education For The 21st Century, Chicago, The MacArthur Foundation, pp.3-7.
- Levy, P. (2003). Collective Intelligence: Man’s Emerging World in Cyberspace, New York, Perseus.
- Malik, Khalid. & Wagle, Swarnim. (2002) Civic Engagement and Development: Introducing The Issues, United Nations Development Programme
- O’Reilly T. (2006) Web 2.0 Compact Definition: Trying Again, O’Reilly, assessed 30 Nov 2010, available at http://radar.oreilly.com/2006/12/web-20-compact-definition-tryi.html
- The Free Online Dictionary (2010). Identity, The Free Online Dictionary viewed 25 November 2010, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/identity
- Habermas J., Lennox S., Lennox F., (1974) The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article(1964), in New German Critique, No. 3 (Autumn, 1974), pp. 49-55, Duke University Press and JSTOR http://www.jstor.org/stable/487737, accessed 17 November 2010
- Horrocks, P. (2008) Value of Citizen Journalism, BBC, viewed on 18 November 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2008/01/value_of_citizen_journalism.html
- Papacharissi, Zizi (2002) The virtual sphere: The internet as a public sphere, in New Media & Society 2002 4: 9, DOI: 10.11777/1461440222226244, Sage Publications http://nms.sagepub.com/content/4/1/9.refs.html accessed 17 November 2010