Monday, April 13, 2009

The Year of Online News Competition?

2008 was the year of the blogger-activist. The Online Citizen was in everyone's minds when one mentions blogger-activist. But what would 2009 be for the blogger? We have not even reached mid-2009 and already blogging dynamics have shifted powerfully. There is a new player, Wayang Party, which has added an unstable balance of seriousness and sensationalism to alternative news in the Internet.

Wayang Party and The Online Citizen are moving away from commentaries on news carried in the mainstream media, to making their own news to rival SPH and CNA's produce, and even carrying news that the incumbents would follow through with. Coming full circle, it was the bloggers who dogged the mainsteam news media but now there are occasions when it is the other way around. By themselves, The Online Citizen and Wayang Party are turning some of the more experienced hands "old school" and even obsolete. The new school political watchtowers would nicely fit the mainstream tastes of the Internet crowd. However, it is still far to go to appeal to the fans of the esoteric in terms of consistent intellectual depth; the vacuum created by Singapore Angle's lack of updates is yet to be filled.

Mirroring Mainstream Media

Since 2008 and especially from 2009, the two key news blogs are mirroring the mainstream media more and more. There is now more coverage on human interest stories, rather than merely political events. The Online Citizen's news on migrant workers and their plight, a non-populist news focus since local unemployment is a bigger concern, and its attempts to move into "Wisdom from the Streets" with the Uncle Kwok story, underscores the Home pages of this citizen journalist blog. Nonetheless, human interest hooks are not restricted to the lives of the marginalised, but also cover crime, violence, and conspiracy, no sex yet though.

Wayang Party and The Online Citizen are exploring the occasional sensational tabloid reporting in getting the ratings, the former particularly. The NTU don and Widjaja alleged stabbing drama marks how citizen journalism is at the precipice. In the rush to counter Straits Times' bias and dubious reporting, Wayang Party and The Online Citizen adopted the Widjajas' point of view to an extent with their own exclusives. Both asked conspiracy theory questions about the inconsistencies and one-sidedness in ST's coverage of the death.

Both The Online Citizen and Wayang Party rush for the news presentation and market dominace in a way which mirrors the niche rivalries between, for example, Today, the ST, My Paper and the New Paper all together. Singapore news is basically local news and there is only so much what and how one can report. Not only do the Wayang Party and The Online Citizen mimic the news taxonomy in ST etc. both sides also reflect each other's tactics to bring more comprehensive reporting. The Online Citizen has a TOC International while Wayang Party has its Chinese section. With regards to thought-provoking opinion features, one has the mysterious Brotherhood while the other has the enigmatic Farquhar. Both news sites have videos of street interviews and try to outdo each other with exclusives and writer grabs. However, Wayang Party's entertaining scoops are more spectacular to the point that any discerning reader would be sceptical of the "news" e.g. missing whisle blower Johnlaw, the Po the Panda incident . In the rush to find and make news, quality could have been sacrificed. In a way, the online news media might fall into the same pit of low journalistic standards as ST as claimed by critics of the nation-building press.

Competitive Rivalry (is there any other kind?)

Assuming that trends remain unchanged, 2009 would be the year of the online alternative news rivalry rather than the blogger-activist. Now, not only is there rivalry between the offline and online media, there is also intra-online media competition developing. With Wayang Party rushing into the scene with its gamut of content from the trivial to the knowlegable, and rightly so wary of monopoly by The Online Citizen, it pushed The Online Citizen to stay on top of the game. Competition is always good for the market and consumers benefit from the fight to gain market dominance. There are more Internet news and opinion options for us to choose now. The guess is what will these alternative news giants think of next to outwit, outlast and outplay each other. Will there be forums next for The Online Citizen and Wayang Party like how ST and CNA have their own forums?

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