Trust is not the only currency


  • The Star Says
  • Sunday, 27 Sep 2020

IT was strange feedback from some readers, and one could just imagine a Greta Thunberg-like fervour behind their “How dare you?”.

Others were more polite: They suggested, implored or urged us to think of the greater good.

And that greater good was to ensure that as many people as possible could get credible information and news on the Covid-19 outbreak.

It was in March, around the time that The Star decided to start charging a subscription fee for access to our news portal at TheStar.com.my, after nearly 25 years of giving away our content for free. The reasons were laid out in a message to our readers at the time: giving away our journalism content for free was “no longer sustainable if we want to continue giving you good, compelling stories that are worth your time and attention.”

A week later, on March 18, the government announced the movement control order (MCO) to try and contain the spread of Covid-19. It suddenly got very real for Malaysians, and for many, concern escalated to fear.

This was not helped by the firehouse of misinformation inundating social media and messaging apps like WhatsApp. Conspiracy theories, and fake (and often dangerous) cures made people unsure of what to do, and what they should genuinely be worried about.

“Fake news spreads faster and more easily than this virus, and is just as dangerous. If we don’t tackle this, we are headed down a dark path that leads nowhere but division and disharmony, ” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier this year.

Meanwhile, our own Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Yaakob a week ago reported that 268 investigation papers have been opened in connection with the spreading of fake news since the start of the MCO. No wonder the media was considered part of the essential services that were allowed to operate in the earliest MCO phase, which had greater restrictions.

The good news is that many Malaysians turned to the mainstream media, including some of our more credible rivals in the digital-only sphere. News portals reported a surge in traffic. People needed news they could trust.

At its peak, The Star’s online edition hit 20 million unique visitors per month, 49% of them international readers.

However, there has not been a commensurate surge in revenue for the media. Many newsrooms had already been reeling across the nation and the world, and the increase in demand for credible journalism has not stopped the onslaught.

Retrenchments and layoffs are still the Sword of Damocles hanging over many a media outlet’s head. Newspapers have shuttered, although at least one has relaunched under a different company. True, new portals continue to launch – two just this month alone – but they will face the same challenges as their older competitors.

And yes, the MCO has affected the news business as much as it has other industries. We’ve seen revenue streams cut off, and our colleagues being quarantined, especially those who have to go the ground to gather the news.

However, despite all the political distractions – which we are bound to cover as well – we continue to bring you many daily updates on the Covid-19 situation and special reports, many of which can be explored in our StarPlus channel.

Tomorrow, September 28, as we honour World News Day, many members of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) will be highlighting why #JournalismMatters.

The Covid-19 global pandemic has changed all our lives, but all newsrooms have risen to the challenge, remembering why we are in this tremendously challenging business in the first place: To bring you, our readers, the information and insights you need to help make the world a better, and safer, place.

See here for more World News Day stories.

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