It has been 10 years since the formation of The Online Citizen, which started as a community blog by a few bloggers in December 2006. If one were to look back in the site’s archives, the first blog post was on the daughter of a PAP MP, Wee Siew Kim, who asked a middle-aged Singaporean who was concerned about jobs in Singapore to get out of her elite uncaring face.
TOC has come a long way since then, apart from posting various commentaries on social issues, TOC has also reported on issues that are not covered by Mainstream Media, such as the homeless in Singapore, poor living condition of the migrant workers, it has also covered various high-profile incidents such as the AWARE hostile takeover sage aka “Shut up and sit down!; General Election 2011, 2015; Presidential Election 2011; SMRT bus strike, Little Indian Riot and many more.
It can also proudly say that it is the only news site in Singapore that has been both regulated as a political association by the Prime Minister Office (PMO) and a media platform by the Media Development Authority. (No, TOC has yet been asked to pay up $50,000 as deposit to operate in Singapore)
Looking back, TOC might have been closed down in 2011 when it was asked by the PMO to register as a political association. It required four-person to submit their names up and take up the responsibility to ensure that no funding are obtained from foreign sources.
Personally speaking, I don’t think PMO expected TOC to accept the challenge to register as a political association, given that its registration was half-hearted with only a paper registration, and had assumed TOC’s volunteers to just take the path like what Sintercom did.
However, it was not a unanimous decision. There was a split within the team; some proposed closing down the site while some stated that there is a need to keep the site alive. In the end, those who advocated to close the site, left the team while those who stayed behind took up the challenge. And donations poured in from the public which kept the site alive years after.
It is also been a year since the site is managed by one person alone, after internal differences and lack of funds forced changes in the site to take place. TOC was registered as a Private Limited in Dec 2015 after its departure from its former holding entity. All the outstanding salaries for staff from the previous team have been finally paid in October this year after funds were retrieved from the holding entity and money earned via advertising.
The volunteers who remain on the site have been largely helpful despite their day work but there is a limitation on how much can they contribute. There has also been an effort by the establishment to put pressure upon volunteers to stop their work in TOC, causing some to pull back on their commitment.
The funding has been sporadic but thankfully, some 46 subscribers commit USD$815 to TOC to support the site on a monthly basis, which allows the hosting of the website to be covered. TOC uses dedicated hosting, which cost about USD$600 a month to run its website as the traffic flow is significantly high. Other than hosting, the funds are also used to pay for additional security and website support fees on other platforms.
The excess and fees from advertising are then used for administrative fees, for freelance writers, content producers and staffing cost.
On a monthly basis, the expenses balance out by forgoing my salary*. However, there are months where the site can barely pull through due to a contract that it signed with a particular image rights company. It came to demand settlement of unlicensed photos during the height of the Benjamin Lim’s saga. Given the public and govt scrutiny that TOC was under, their demands were acceded to and we had to commit to a costly deal with the company.
From time to time, people come to TOC and ask the site to cover their stories or a particular issue that they are interested in.
Mails such as, “It’s my view that TOC is not devoting enough space and time to the discussion of SG’s economic development – month to month and year to year….” or “Can you cover this story that my family have?”
While we try to help, but what can one expect a website that is run on a budget of $2,000 a month to do? Like I mentioned in a seminar, when we write stories for the common folks, who actually pay for the story? Transportation, time spent, the risks taken, just to list a few. We often end up with stories that are not published because of the lack of information or risks that were too high for both the informant or the website.
To be frank, I am at my breaking point after years of running as an ill-trained journalist who had to pick up skills on the job. I see no future in what I am doing and neither do I have hope Cynical individuals continue to make snark remarks at the site, people questioning why is there is a lack of coverage on certain issues, posting stories that are old and missing out of certain stories.
By this point, readers might be thinking, so this is the part where I ask for donations to support the site. Though I would gladly accept any offers of donation or subscription but there will be no fund raising campaign of sorts. If the website was to be closed down due to the lack of funding, then we should respect the choice of the people.
However, I like to thank all those donors who have supported TOC all these years since its formation, especially in 2011 when it was indeed about to close due to the lack of funding and volunteers but the support since then has been dwindling. Perhaps because of the various alternative newsites that have been popping up. made it seemingly unnecessary to support a social-political site like TOC.
But still, there much be still value in the website, given how much the government would love the site to be closed. And as it can be seen, there are stories that have to be written but probably not by me, because I am so mentally tired. So for the time being, I will be doing some part-time work to cover the expenses of the site and will try to juggle between the two.
Although TOC may not be well-read as it had been during the past year, but its presence can be seen as a symbol to those who wish to voice out against the establishment, that no matter how much the government hates your opinion, so long it is truthful and factual, there is nothing they can do to shut you up. Which is why quitting is not an option that I would take lightly.
Once again, a big thank to all the supporters of the site and the readers that have been following TOC for all these years.
Mid of this year, TOC launched its mobile app in Google Playstore and Apple’s Itunes. If you keen on getting an app to read the posts on TOC, you can search under TOCSG to locate the app. In the app, you can see the posts, view the TOCTV youtube channel as well as submitting a story, photo or video which you find interesting. The app is free of charge to download.
Moving forward, TOC will create a couple of websites that are meant to consolidate data and tabulate for public consumption as a form of trying to stay relevant and useful to the community at large as it is unable to commit much to current affairs. Watch out for more information in time to come.
*If a fixed salary is drawn on a monthly basis, I would have to close the site long time ago.