TOC Editorial: STOMP in the dumps

Our articles on Friday (22 June 2012) and Sat (23 June 2012) asked for STOMP to respond to the allegations that a story run by one of their content producers contradicted the version of the story given by SMRT.

Today, in both The Straits Times and on STOMP’s website, the Editor-in-Chief of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) Mr Patrick Daniel and STOMP Editor Mr Azhar Kasman have revealed that the story by Ms Samantha Francis was indeed a fabrication. They have unreservedly apologised to SMRT and vindicated the public transport operator.

But the apologies by Mr Daniel and Mr Azhar leave many important questions unanswered.

First and foremost, why did the original article (which has since been deleted by STOMP, but is still accessible via Google) state that the photo had been submitted by “STOMPer wasabi”? This misleadingly suggests that it was a member of the public, and not a STOMP staff, who had submitted the photo, especially since STOMP claims to be “the leader in citizen journalism”.

Just like how newspapers distinguish articles by their journalists from external contributors (such as forum letters by the public and syndicated content), STOMP should clearly identify content from STOMP employees as such, instead of misleading readers as to the source of the material.

Many in the online community have criticised STOMP in the past. This incident not only destroys what little is left of STOMP’s reputation as a source of information, doubts are also cast on every other story published by STOMP. Is STOMP merely a recycling bin of dubious second hand twitter feeds culled by SPH staff?

Other questions remain.

Were they real stories submitted by genuine members of the public or similar fabrications by STOMP staff? Were those STOMP staff just luckier than Ms Francis in not being caught out by a public body? After all, the majority of STOMP content consists of “members of the public” “blowing the whistle” on other members of the public behaving badly, and ordinary citizens don’t have the resources to call a bluff the way SMRT did.

The apologies by Mr Daniel and Mr Azhar do not address these questions at all. What happened in STOMP is not representative at all of genuine citizen journalism. Genuine citizen journalism does not rely on paid staff masquerading as “members of the public”.

If SPH wants to restore any modicum of credibility to STOMP, they must clear the air on how STOMP operates and state measures SPH will implement in response to this fiasco.

Timely reminder

On the same weekend of this SMRT door saga. TOC organised a Citizen Journalism Training workshop with MalaysiaKini, Citizen Journalism Malaysia and Engage Media.

Maran Perianen, Program Director of MalaysiaKini, seem to speak into the future:

“As a citizen journalist, you must be extremely careful and responsible what information you produce because someone will make decision based on your information.”

TOC understands the importance of maintaining the integrity of citizen journalism. This is why we ensure that every contributor of TOC is readily identifiable by putting the real name of the author in each article.

Our policy allows writers to use pseudonyms only when we know who they are in real-life and there is a very good reason for the use of pseudonyms, such as whistle-blowing. Even then, we will always do our best to do fact-checking before publishing a story.

Moving forward

SPH and STOMP have a lot more explaining to do, to clear the air over what appears to be deceptive practices that Singaporeans would not expect at a site operated by the country’s monopoly newspaper publisher.

The New Paper should also take a long hard look at itself, for not independently verifying the story before running it.

While it is commendable that SPH and STOMP have apologised and taken appropriate action against the STOMP staff in question, they have to apply the same standards to STOMP that other citizen journalists apply to themselves. Otherwise, SPH would be doing a huge disservice to all citizens and all journalists.