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Newer websites aim for balanced, diverse views

Newer websites aim for balanced, diverse views

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Brave new wave of sociopolitical websites in Singapore pave way for more diversity.

The two strapping young lads at the top centre and top right are from New Nation.

There is a new wave of sociopolitical websites in Singapore and former The Online Citizen blog contributors are behind two of these sites

One of these sites, New Nation, was set up last December by former TOC contributor Terence Lee and two other writers.

Dismissing the view that he might be an angry, anti-government, left-leaning, tree-hugging, bleeding heart, trendy liberal ranter, Lee says very smartly: “There are online forums which can be very spiteful. But we are not angry people.”

His New Nation co-founder Belmont Lay says rather intelligently about the state of speech: “TOC and Temasek Review fill only one part of the spectrum, and there needs to be other kinds of sites and ways of expression.”

A TOC spokesman, whose name, like Voldemort’s, must remain unspoken, says the site’s volunteer members are happy that alumni have branched out to make the blogosphere more diverse.

In other words, they are probably also glad that those before them have gone on to greener pastures.

It has been agreed by the potentate, public-at-large, professional media watchers, academics, civil society-types, activists, opinion leaders, bloggers, journalists, water cooler conversationists and plenty others that these so-called “third wave” of alternative online media has attained a new level of acceptance among even the establishment based on the path bashed through by the first and second wave.

Note: The first wave comprised old guard sites like now defunct Sintercom, mrbrown’s BrownTown and Mr Alex Au’s blog Yawning Bread, having sprung up in the mid- to late-1990s just as the Internet was conceived in Singapore.

The second wave built on those early efforts. TOC, Talkingcock.com and Wayang Party – which then morphed into Temasek Review – arrived in the 21st century’s first decade.

And this past Presidential Election – just to give you an idea of how much influence blogs can wield – all four presidential candidates had to show face at a forum arranged by TOC, or else, they might lose brownie points with the new media-consuming crowd.

Pardon the backtracking above, but another new site, Publichouse.sg, which former TOC chief editor and freelance writer Andrew Loh set up last month, aims to discuss social, economic and political issues in a ‘positive way’, with a focus on ‘inspiring and empowering stories’.

Loh said he became disappointed with the increasingly xenophobic tone of Internet discourse during and after this year’s general election.

“Right now, the Internet does not reflect the wider community of Singapore. So we need to have more people to come out with blogs, and give the other sides of the stories, instead of just depending on just these few blogs telling us what life in Singapore is like,’ he says, sounding hopeful and very clever.

Besides these two sites started by ex-TOC folks, fact-checking sites such as You Say I Say Who Confirm (YSISWC), which attempts to sort fact from rumour in online chatter over controversial topics, such as the Formula One race and a recent WikiLeak on the citizenship of a minister’s children, have also joined the fray.

SYISWC joins Facebook pages like Fabrications About The PAP and Fabrications About The Opposition, in an attempt to dispel rumours.

Now here are some facts/ opinions you must know if you wish to be proud that you can hold a three-minute conversation with anyone who thinks you might be worth your salt in being well-versed in matters pertaining to new media.

1. Readership of sociopolitical blogs is on the rise. An Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey found that from last December to May this year, some 17.3 per cent of Singaporeans read blogs on election issues. The figure jumped to 21.4 per cent during the general election period.

2. The bid for more balance and accuracy is just one way in which online alternative media may be becoming ‘mainstreamed’, as its influence grows.

3. One characteristic of some of the third-wave sites is that they want to correct what they perceive to be an imbalance within the blogosphere itself – less one-sidedness and more diversity, please.

4. One existing challenge is to develop a clear branding in terms of what the new sites are about and what they offer, something which Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Tan Tarn How says the younger sites lack.

‘That could be a problem in standing out from the crowd, which is necessary for developing and maintaining a loyal following, assuming that is what these sites want,’ he says.

5. IPS deputy director Arun Mahizhnan says that sustainability of websites ‘would depend on how interesting and effective those voices are’.

6. Both veteran blogger Alex Au who operates the Yawning Bread blog and Tan Tarn How are also of the view that such growth of new sites is to be welcomed as online discourse still lacks diversity (we take this as a ringing endorsement. Whee!).

Says Tan: “The more different websites are situated at both ends of the political spectrum, the more they offer different ideas, perspectives and different approaches to journalism, the more enriched we would be, so that we can become citizens by debating over and choosing from a whole palette of ideas, rather than becoming certain kinds of citizens by default because we have limited choices.”

This echoes what Belmont cleverly mentioned at the beginning of the article. Wow.

This article is a 60-second reduction of the original article by Tessa Wong, our favourite reporter, published in The Straits Times on Oct. 7.