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Andrew Loh reflects on the survivability of TOC.

Getting our hands dirty in the political blogosphere

The following is the personal view of the writer. It is not a TOC opinion or position.

Andrew Loh

I’ve just attended the seminar at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS). It was held at the National University of Singapore Law Faculty. Titled, “Getting their hands dirty: Recent developments in Singapore's political blogosphere”, the seminar was well-attended. (A report of the event will be up soon on TOC.)

One of the talking points of the seminar was the survivability of blogs which are run like online newspapers, such as TOC. It’s an issue we here at TOC have been discussing for a while now.  How do we fund what we do? And indeed, what is it that we are doing?

In a nutshell, what are we?

Are we activists? Or just a bunch of bloggers? Or are we a hybrid of both – what I would term “blogivists”? At the moment, perhaps we are both – or are perceived to be so. This is where the issue is – to be both requires an amount of resources, in manpower, funds, time and effort. This therefore goes to the heart of survivability – if we are to continue to be what TOC is.

But before we even consider the issue of surviving, perhaps we should ask if it is worthwhile to do what we do, and to continue to do so.  Many have asked me about the goal of TOC. “Are you aiming to be the alternative news media in Singapore?” is a popular one. Indeed, some already see us as such. My answer has always been, “No. We are not a news website. Neither do we aim to be an alternative to the mainstream media.” The reason is very simple: We do not have the resources (funding, professionalism, manpower, etc ) – now or in the foreseeable future. Another question is this: “Is it your aim to be the Number One socio-political blog in Singapore?” My answer: No. There is no desire for us to be Number One, or Two, or Three or whatever. We are not in competition with anyone, honestly. I do hope that there will be more good blogs, however. Blogs and bloggers who can write and express themselves better than us.

For us at TOC, we are Singaporeans who have something to say. Period.

Is it worthwhile then to put in so much effort just to say something? Yes, it is. Because if you cannot say what you feel, then I think the country would be the worse for it. And that is the starting point for us at TOC – we do what we do because we want and know that Singapore can be better. It is our home, after all.

But the question comes full circle here - the question of survivability. If Singapore is our home and we feel it is important for us to speak up, then we must consider the long term presence of TOC. Of course, individual members of TOC can, if TOC is wound up, still express themselves in their own personal, individual blogs. Would that be less effective? Maybe but look at Alex Au. He’s one of the best bloggers around and people listen to what he says. It is the substance that matters in the long term and we can learn much from Alex. Not least his stamina. He’s been around for more than 10 years!

Having said that, it is heartening to see all the folks at TOC coming together as a team. Indeed, I am still amazed at how this has all happened. In the last two years, we must have met or communicated with at least 100 like-minded people, with about 60 to 70 of them having written or helped TOC in one way or another.

It hasn’t been an easy ride. Many a time our reporters, writers, videographers and editors have had to work through the night and sacrifice their personal time. An example would be the migrant workers week we did where we spent days and nights visiting and speaking to the workers and the people from NGOs like HOME and TWC2. At times, we were personally outraged at what we saw and heard but had to retain objectivity. It was an experience of learning as we went along.

Zheng Xi has been a really great chief and has been instrumental for a large part of what TOC is. Many times he too had to work through the night on stories we are covering. Terence too is wonderful in his dedication. As are Boris, Sze Hian, Deborah, Roderick, Mervin, Jing Wei, Yina, and so many others, including those who work behind the scenes and are hardly known – and everyone who takes the time to visit our site and read what we create.

And for this alone, the dedication and contribution of so many, it is imperative for the editors of TOC to find a way for TOC to continue.

We started out as just a blog but we may have become something a little more than this. As Zheng Xi, our chief, once told me (I paraphrase him): There is a responsibility to our readers and to those who have supported us these last two years.

I feel the same.

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