The Straits Times should plagiarise itself

Posted on 26 November 2011

And reinvent the way its news is served online. Surely it shall be better than Yahoo! News.

By Belmont Lay

Instead of whinging about it, The Straits Times should take Yahoo! News' lead and pinch the good stuff. That way, everyone wins. Photo: rubenerd

Do you realise how heavy the physical copy of The Straits Times can get, especially on Saturdays?

It’s so weighty that in the event you accidentally drop it on your hamster, for example, it will create a mess.

Your rodent will be splattered from the weight of the broadsheet. It is indeed that clunky.

Herein lies the problem with The Straits Times: It is too big and overwrought for its own good at times.

Think: How long will it take you to finish reading a copy of a Saturday’s worth of news from cover to cover, section to section?

Yes, that’s right, approximately three months.

How much of that knowledge is actually worthless?

Yes, that’s right again, exactly 99 percent.

So why does The Straits Times insists that readers read so much? Because they paid 90 cents for it and more words indicate value-for-money?

Because if that’s the logic, the more it should be the case that the news be made free. It can make its way inside the WWW, where everything is free. It can then be made shorter. And hence, better.

When news broke that Singapore’s pride, The Straits Times, is keen on suing the bejesus out of Yahoo! News for rewriting and aggregating its content without permission, I broke into a sly smile.

And then I giggled hard.

Alas, this is the perfect god-given opportunity to tell everyone how exactly ST is doing its journalism wrong, how it sucks and where it can do a heck lot better.

One good reason why Yahoo! News is appealing and getting a whole bunch of hits is because they take the best bits from the fledgling national paper and make it concise and readable.

In other words, they leave out the junk and retain the essence. Brilliant.

Because in this day and age, no one can sit through the tedious experience of reading 1,000-word missives. Especially not when they are Angry Birding or busily molesting their iPhones for other reasons.

Also, how many times have you read a ST article only to find that by the time you’re halfway through, the payoff you get from continuing to read the article doesn’t match the effort you invest into reading it?

Articles get boring. They start to get strung together by a bunch of quotations. And generic facts get tucked in at the end to lengthen the column inches.

With Yahoo! News articles, it’s different.

They will have to stew things down because they are writing for the web. And they most certainly cannot make more out than what the original ST article provides.

News becomes snappy without the information overload. A quickie read would suffice and the mental payoff is equivalent to trudging through the whole ST article.

As a compulsive reader, I can attest that there is a hierarchy that applies to information.

There is the important stuff. And then, there’s crap.

What the mind is constantly on the look out for is the important stuff – the signal amidst the white noise.

And Yahoo! News has developed a knack for picking out the more important, relevant and fancier stuff.

That also explains why Yahoo! News is awesome from a reader’s perspective.

So how ridiculous is it for The Straits Times to sue Yahoo! News over stealing its content?


Think again: If Yahoo! News can attract eyeballs doing what it does, acting as a filter, then why can’t The Straits Times do the same?

Instead of begrudging Yahoo! News, shouldn’t The Straits Times bring on its A-game to Yahoo! News?

And if The Straits Times “owns” the content, something which doesn’t make sense because facts released into the public domain cannot be copyrighted but we shall let that go for now, why can’t it go on to plagiarise itself?

Given its resources, what with its army of journalists and its ability to hire a truckload more, shouldn’t the competition be head-on?

So here’s the happy solution: The Straits Times can still continue to practise journalism the good old fashion way for old time’s sake. To prove that it is still a dinosaur.

The old-timers can still keep their jobs.

Then hire young upstarts (with attention deficit disorders, preferably) to rewrite the stuff the old-timers churn out industriously, put it online into a neat and concise window to the world.

Not more than 24 headlines a day, please, thank you very much. And no rewrites of Ministry press releases that are as interesting to read as a phone directory.

Everyone can go on doing this till kingdom come and be happy. The Straits Times will even have a new platform inside the Interweb to suck advertising dollars.

But wait? Will this mean that The Straits Times cannibalises on itself?

Yes and no. Even if so, it will be for the better.

Because I know and do understand that the hardcopy of The Straits Times has to have enough pages everyday. That’s what The Straits Times does. They’re in the business of printing paper. Which explains why column inches have to be of certain length. To create pages on the broadsheet to be subsequently filled up by advertisements.

Or else, advertisers will get mad because they have already paid good money to have their logos published but it doesn’t come to pass as there is not enough paper to go around.

But there is no need to worry. As long as The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act of 1974 – that singular piece of protectionist measure that has been in place to groom the behemoth of a monopoly that is Singapore Press Holdings – holds water, The Straits Times will thrive in either digital or physical form.

They will continue to be the ones to be doing news best, in Singapore at least, because they will be guaranteed a market share. (This is not meant to be construed as a compliment, by the way. Not even a backhanded one. They will be the best because they will be the only one around. This is an economic appraisal.)

News consumers will be pleased as punch as they can choose to read the long form written by dinosaurs or the truncated versions summarised by ADD-types.

The written word will be free, the articles are short and you won’t kill your hamster through bad luck.

Editor’s note: Congratulations for coming this far! I take back my above statement about 1,000-word missives. You just sat through one.

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  • XYZ

    Ironically this online missive is at least 2X overlong. Readers can get the message with 1/3 or 1/2 less words.

    • Terence Lee

      i think the irony is not lost on the writer 😉

    • Bryan Ti

      I totally agree – someone is also quite prone to his own bouts of verbal diarrhea, and it is not even Saturday yet!

      BTW, is it not true that Belmont had previously applied for jobs in SPH?

      And failed.

      Would that not account for the severe case of grape-sourness (and loose bowels)?

  • george

    Hi Belmont,
    while I have always known (so do others I am sure) that the SPH main interest is selling advertisement under the guise of being a newspaper, I like your point about the deliberate extending and expanding of articles in order to make space to accommodate ever more adverts. From my estimation, the ST is barely worth 25% in weight in terms of news (the quality of the news is another issue for another day)!

    But these so called ‘newsmen’, chief editor, CEO, Chairman at the SPH/ST are really nincompoops when it comes to thinking intelligently if they have even the slightest concern for at least fulfilling some of their responsibilities in reporting the news to readers. When you lose your readers you are basically undermining your own business of making your millions from the advertisers. How so, well, there are people like me and I am certain there are many more like me, who ‘flashes’ through the broadsheets, and only certain sections only mind you, often NOT even that, and basically left the bulk of the ST untouched but consigned to a whole host of uses like lining the shelves and the shoe racks, soaking up pets urine and manure, rolled up tightly into sticks always on standby to whack the occasional American cockroach, and when all else fail sold to the karang guni men who still, despite the barrier entries installed, are able to ply their trade!

    Hello, ST, do you get it that we DON’T get it – your lopsided propaganda masquerading as ‘news’. LOL.

    Belmont, it is really funny this latest gunning after Yahoo by the SPH because the latter should actually be blaming itself for the situation. Reason? If you have been in the habit of checking out what’s in the online ST you would note that there has been a recent change in format by the ST to ‘demand’ that you subscribe by a rather ingenuous ‘technique’ -if you can call it that – of telling you to sign in or subscribe after a couple of paragraphs into a report/news item. Nothing can be more off putting, and I AM already a hardcopy subscriber but has resisted the bait the ST dangled out to subscribe DIRECTLY with it and in the process reveal your personal particulars and address. Now why should one be so silly as to do that with a govt propaganda machinery -identifying yourself to these nosy SONB (sons of news bitches)?

    The SPH created its OWN WEAKNESS which is now being exploited by others – the law of the news jungle. 

  • Guest

    the 25-year-old was never
    considered to be good enough by the industry. Scoring only straight ‘Bs”
    in his ‘A’ Levels, his application to Nanyang Technological
    University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information – the
    only university with a journalism division – was rejected.

    Yet even with his experience of
    starting and working for a student newspaper, Lay was unable to secure
    an internship at Singapore’s biggest English newspaper, The Straits
    Times (ST), when he applied last year.

  • Abc

    Facts are not copyrightable, but the expression of facts are. ST fashioned the facts into stories in their own way, and that’s what they’re basing their case on. Also, facts are not in the public domain, they’re just facts. Maybe you should get your facts right before going off on a rant.