The media’s love-hate relationship with web traffic

ON MAY 1 afternoon, I had the honor of receiving Sin Chew Daily’s 30-year gold service award from Media Chinese International Limited group chairman Tiong Choon.

This medal should have been awarded in 2021, but was deferred until this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Looking back at the time when I first joined the press in 1985, I was full of passion to set off on an exciting journalistic journey that has lasted a full 38 years until now.

I started with writing news articles with a pen on a grid paper, going through the inevitable transformation process of learning to type with a computer, and then coming into

contact with the boundless world wide web.

Such a journey abounds with challenges as well as opportunities. One thing is for certain, though, I have never regretted the path I chose.

Throughout my long years of career life, I have devoted myself with lifelong efforts to this profession without the slightest complaint.

I have witnessed with my own eyes the rapid metamorphosis as well as developments taking place in the media industry, and how breakneck advancement in technology has overhauled the way we work.

As a media worker, I have witnessed incredible changes through some of the most crucial eras of our nation and the world, and have had countless of invaluable memories in our time put down in black and white, and have picked up a mixed bag of feelings along the way.

I fully recognise the fact that none of us today can live without our phone, not flip through the pages of a newspaper.

Simply put, we are living in a world where the web has been assimilated into our whole being, completely inseparable.

They say that the future of media lies with digitalisation. In view of this, many media organisations have dumped in more and more resources into the development of their digital platforms.

In the face of tough operating environments, we have seen that Media Prima is adopting the drastic strategies of shutting its printing plant, going for early printing, and embracing a “central kitchen” style in resource sharing.

Such a shift is perceived as rational because we all think that our future is going nowhere but digitalisation.

Those who think newspapers still have a promising future and will never get wiped out are invariably dismissed as headstrong conservatives.

That being said, I wish to remind you all that the Chinese language press in Malaysia is different from the Malay and English dailies here, or even Chinese language newspapers in Greater China.

We are not just assuming our role of conveying information and messages; we are also tasked with a mission to pass down and safeguard the legacy of the rights of Chinese Malaysians.

Chinese language media, along with Chinese education, Chinese associations and Chinese businesses collectively constitute the four pillars of Malaysia’s Chinese community. It is because of the faithful support from the local Chinese community that we have been able to keep the Chinese language newspapers continuously in circulation and retain the influences they wield in the community.

Today, Sin Chew Daily is the widest circulated newspaper in the country, more than any newspaper in any language here.

And this speaks volumes of the uniqueness of Malaysia’s Chinese language press.

As such, it is utterly important we come to realise and appreciate our own strengths and not be carried away by our blind pursuit of web traffic figures at the expense of the quality of our content.

Yes, our platforms can change, so is our world constantly changing, but this truth is uncompromising and eternal!

In such a process, I have come to the conviction that Chinese language media still has its advantage here in Malaysia, and to the media, the importance of branding is all the more pronounced.

We in the media profession must stand up for journalistic ethics and not to forego our principles for the coveted pageview numbers.

We must continue to play our media role conscientiously in voicing up for the Malaysian Chinese community, overseeing the operation of the government in our capacity as the fourth estate, and delivering positive energy to the society.

There are indeed lots of imperfections in our society which we cannot afford to ignore. Nevertheless, as media practitioners, we are true to our bottom line, and will continue to uphold our values and morality.

The media’s mission is to carry issues pertinent to the interests of the people.

For example, the “Sunday Headlines” column in Sin Chew Daily’s Sunday edition carries in-depth analytical reports on prevailing social phenomena that the Malaysian reading public are most concerned about, such as online job and love scams.

A responsible media worker should not be like the bloodthirsty paparazzi piling up their traffic numbers by wickedly encroaching on their targeted victims’ privacy.

After taking over as Sin Chew Daily’s editor-in-chief, I found myself under tremendous pressure and community expectation for high-quality media. So I started from the newspaper, doing away with the social news section on page two of our national edition and replacing it with the “Warm Power” column in a bid to deliver positive energy.

I was well aware that many in this internet age are living in a high-tension world where virtual and real-life spheres are indistinguishably interlocking, and where people tend to get instantly infuriated by something trivial, or flare up because of misguidance, or feel totally disenchanted and dejected owing to the inundation of misinformation and depressing messages.

At the same time, I also drew up new SOPs on the handling of suicide news: no undue exaggeration and absolutely no rubbing salt into the wound of the victim’s family.

This set of SOPs was optimised for implementation in other publications under the MCIL group beginning May 1 this year.

At one point, I did feel that handling news content on web and editorial direction is one and single.

The name Sin Chew Daily represents a brand that embodies an inextricable relation with the newspaper, be it on the print media or any other new media platforms. Consistency in such a brand image is of paramount importance.

Without the newspaper, a media operator’s road will only become narrower and narrower, and this is visible from the dilemma of a Chinese and an English media in this country.

Since they stopped the operation of their print publications and went fully online, they have failed to improve their revenues on their sole digital platforms.

The traffic on their digital platforms has also failed to bring more dollars and cents.

The relationship between the media and web traffic is akin to an aberrant love story torn between intimacy and hesitation.

The blind pursuit of such a relationship is like allowing the media to drown itself in an illusory romance that at times imparts jubilation but at other times, uneasiness.

Consequently, we must never get carried away by the belief that web traffic will invariably translate into cash revenue. Nor should we fantasise that traffic is our only way out for the future.

To the media industry, no doubt digitalisation is an irreversible trend, but to identify a sustained profit model on the digital platform remains a realm we are still exploring.

Blind pursuit of web traffic is best suited only to infuencers, not the media.

Through years of devoted effort and commitment, media organisations have slowly but steadily built up their branding and social clout, not through unsubstantiated eye-catching headlines or sensational cheap fabrications of inferior quality.

If a media organisation is to transform itself, it will have to do this by fortifying its strengths on both the print as well as web fronts.

In the midst of breakneck developments in the global media ecosystem, we will need to find a balancing point, maximizing the development of new media platforms while consolidating the traditional print media’s edge.

We cannot make the pursuit of enviable web traffic data our one and only goal, and downplay our journalistic ethics and brand value.

We must always hold dearly our mission and obligation, delivering genuine and reliable news content in order to win the trust and loyalty of our readers, as we strive to maintain

our influence and sustainability in a stiffly competitive media environment by constantly raising our reporting standards and faithfully adhering to our core values.

Let's work together with Sin Chew Daily towards greater justice, equality and progress for all, and let the name carry with it the hopes and voices of the people!

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