A digital milestone to be proud of

THE first Malaysian newspaper to embrace the Internet was The Star, which went online on June 23, 1995.

Happy anniversary to TheStar.com.my that turns 26 today!

This year is special as The Star is also marking its 50th anniversary.

I joined The Star – back when you had to “dial-up” to get Internet access – on Sept 1, 1994. It means I’ve been with Star Media Group slightly longer than TheStar.com.my, previously known as The Star Online.

I’ve seen the news website grow up. It has since become Malaysia’s premier provider of award-winning digital journalism.

Back in 1995, few Malaysians had access to the Internet – the nation had only a 0.1% Internet penetration rate compared to 84.2% in January 2021.

A colleague recently sent me an image of the first print advertisement promoting The Star Online then. The URL was www.jaring.my/star/.

It made me nostalgic. The tagline was “Get wired to The Star Online. Bringing Malaysian news to the world”.

And since the Internet was a new concept, the advertisement had to explain what the Web was. “A part of the Internet Global Network, hailed as the fastest growing communications channel in history, linking computers through a literal web of hypertext documents.”

Now, I don’t even need to explain to Sylverius Junior, my seven-year-old son, what the Internet is. For him, it is as essential as oxygen – it gives him access to YouTube, Roblox, Facebook Messenger and Google Classroom.

The online edition of The Star became essential for people who wanted news in and outside Malaysia through the years. The demand has made TheStar.com.my one of the most read news sites in the country.

To counter fake news circulated via social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp, TheStar.com.my launched its “True or Not” section in late 2016. It has now become the go-to site to counter misinformation and disinformation in the time of Covid-19.

It is one of the many reasons that The Star has consistently ranked among the most trusted news sources in Malaysia in Reuters Institute’s Brand Trust Scores in its Digital News reports.

I was in charge of the portal from 2013 to 2016. On its 18th anniversary in 2013, we had a complete makeover of the website – one of many such revamps in its history. We gave it a cleaner look, with less clutter.

The changes were not only cosmetic: the portal also covered news using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook so that our audience could follow breaking news events “live”.

To mark its 20th anniversary in 2015, we launched several features to improve readers’ online experience. The Star Malaysia mobile app – almost half the readership was mobile users at that time – went through a major redesign to improve its experience.

The app featured larger graphics, more stories, and extra categories, including the latest news, business, world, sports, metro, tech, opinion and video. Users could also share their articles via email, WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook and more.

In the last 26 years, The Star’s online readership has grown in numbers. The consumption of online news has also changed. The portal is no longer “immobile” – you no longer need a computer and a cable to connect to the Internet. Handphones have become smarter and the mobile Internet faster with 4G, making the news website just as mobile, bringing you on-the-go news wherever you are.

The news “follows” you: About 70% of the website’s traffic comes from smartphones.

TheStar.com.my traffic surged at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and spiked during the first movement control order last year as Malaysians tried to “vaccinate” themselves against fake Covid-19 news by reaching out to our portal.

In the past decade alone, we have served a whopping 6.3 billion pages of news stories to readers, helping keep Malaysians locally and abroad informed.

Our top two outstanding months were May 2018 (the historic 14th General Election) and March 2020 (MCO 1.0 and Covid-19).

One of our news stories with the single most pageviews is a story on “the rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus”. It did so well as TheStar.com.my team continuously updated the story with a running tally of worldwide Covid-19 cases told through interactive infographics. It was part of our commitment to uploading more rich media stories.

It naturally followed our late 2019 launch of our StarPlus channel at TheStar.com.my/StarPlus, for readers who want a “deep dive”. This channel harnesses data journalism, interactive videos and images, animation, data visualisation and other digital tools to provide greater clarity on some of today’s most pressing and complex issues.

The Star’s digital readership growth is not restricted to Malaysia. In early 2020, our international readership increased almost fourfold. If you think our neighbour Singapore has the most interest in Malaysian news, you would have guessed wrongly. Most of our overseas readers are based in the United States; Singapore ranks second.

On March 17, 2020, we introduced our paywall. Digital members get access to news, features, videos, interactive graphics and more daily.

For example, with built-in text-to-speech features, you can have our news read out to you – it’s like having your own personal news anchor. We’ve also harnessed artificial intelligence to allow you to customise your experience, so that you can have easier access to the content that most interests you.

We want to thank all of our Digital Access members for supporting us. Thank you!

Earlier this year, we started a Telegram channel for breaking news, and also introduced the Evening Alerts newsletter offering readers a preview of tomorrow’s print headlines.

What other features will we be touting in future TheStar.com.my anniversaries? Hologram news? Augmented reality?

All we can tell you now is, brace yourselves.

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