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Dire Straits of Singapore Civic Media November 4, 2007

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media.
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In the domain of civic media, Singapore is a poor cousin to its Third World neighbors in South East Asia. Given the hype of its First World online opportunities, the city does not have a single professionally-run, stand-alone Website delivering local news.

A few ventures are mere branding opportunities for old-media outlets looking to stay relevant. STOMP, the online portal of the Straits Times newspaper showcases almost every trick in the social media toolbox including user contributed content, blogs, social networking, auctions and classifieds. Its Singapore Seen allows people to tell stories about their community in video.

But you don’t have to click deep to encounter a sludge of hyper-local trivia such as “Seamstress leaves needle in bridal gown, injures bride;” “Waiter hurt while catching thief at restaurant;” and “Python at Potong Pasir swallows animal.” Citizen journalism? Nowhere close.

Where is content that foster real sharing of ideas and socio-political commentary? For all the hype, these supposed opportunities for citizen engagement in Singapore ring hollow when they happen on mainstream media platforms controlled by the state.

Information is most useful when thrown into a digital pile to be organized by users and creators themselves, as David Weinberger contends in Everything is Miscellaneous. User-generated content cannot pass for citizen journalism when co-opted by MSM as a commodity vetted by salaried gatekeepers.

BlogTV.sg and its purported agenda to bring the hard talk of the blogosphere to the idiot-box mustered merely tired banter on trivia tricked up with digital bells and whistles.

The cyber activism of Think Centre and Sintercom’s harnessing of a virtual community hold out in an arena where online dissent is thwarted through threats of jail or legal suits. In cyber activism, neighboring Malaysia has several more well-organised activist sites than Singapore.

The Web has empowered a new digital disorder whose principles are remaking media with far reaching consequences for how we live and work. It has set the stage for a civic journalism where groups of passionate people use its tools to make meaning and invent their own ways of what they know and want without the protocols of the newsroom.

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