The closure of The Middle Ground and the discontinuation of the Asian Wall Street Journal have reduced options for Singaporeans looking for independent media sources. These, combined with the retrenchments at Singapore Press Holdings, suggest an unfavourable market for the media in Singapore overall. Yet amidst this, four Singaporeans have launched a new online media website, New Naratif (www.newnaratif.com), with a sharply different business model. Unlike the conventional advertising-based revenue models, New Naratif’s only source of revenue is membership subscriptions. Where other news media present themselves as objective and apolitical, New Naratif proudly lists its moral and political values in its manifesto. Finally, it is non-profit, is run with complete transparency and accountability, and emphasises trust and a close relationship with its readers.
“We are a movement for freedom of information and the media in Southeast Asia,” explains Managing Director Dr. Thum Ping Tjin. “We conduct research into important issues facing the people of Southeast Asia which governments are reluctant to address. Then we publish stories about that information in a variety of formats, including feature articles, research articles, videos, podcasts, and comics. Finally, we bring people together to discuss these stories. With this information, we empower them to organise their communities for positive change.”
Thum argues that, by eschewing ads and relying entirely on subscriptions for its revenue, New Naratif maintains a “laser focus” on its customers. “When you rely on ads, your responsibility is to the advertiser, not to your reader,” says Thum. “Without ads, we are beholden only to our members, as opposed to corporate or state interests. In this way, we can transcend both the Western-centric priorities of the international English-language media and politically-motivated restrictions of local publishing.”
The project has brought together a team with experience in a wide range of fields, among them historian and Director of Project Southeast Asia at the University of Oxford Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, award-winning comics artist Sonny Liew, journalist and activist Kirsten Han, and designer Izyanti Asa’ari.
New Naratif began crowdfunding in Singapore on 9 September, and its website went live on 1 November. It launched with a variety of stories on identity in the Malay world, and more recently has published stories on LGBTQ issues across the region. These stories are published in both English and Bahasa Indonesia.
The team is aiming for 3,500 members to reach a stable level of subscriptions. Membership costs USD52/year (USD1/week), with options for patrons to subscribe at higher levels. The site remains in its crowdfunding phase until the final version of the site is launched in early 2018, at which point memberships will commence. Until then, the site is free to read.
“We aim to providing readers in the region with a new platform to tell stories and issues that they can recognise, understand and appreciate. The issues of the various Southeast Asian countries are often reported in silos, which makes it difficult for us to see areas of commonality and solidarity,” said Editor-in-Chief Kirsten Han. “New Naratif seeks to transcend divisions and borders and build meaningful networks between the people in this region.”
More than a news platform, New Naratif looks beyond breaking news to examine current affairs and tell human interest stories through a variety of formats and mediums, from print journalism to comics and videos.
“There is a lot of talent in this region, but Southeast Asian artists don’t always get enough of a platform to showcase their work, or are often isolated from one another. I hope New Naratif will be a way of creating a space for people to come together and tell stories,” said Creative Director Sonny Liew.
Emphasising transparency and their goal of holding community events, New Naratif has announced a series of open meetings at which the team will explain their five year plan (called, amusingly, “The Big Plan For The Next Five Years” – indicative also of the sense of humour with which New Naratif has shown in its approach). They encourage all who are interested to come and take part in the discussion. The meetings will be held on Thursday 16 November and Friday 17 November at 7pm, and on Saturday 18 November and Sunday 19 November at 2pm and 4pm, at Worklor (531 Upper Cross Street #03-11, Singapore 050531). Further meetings are planned for December and January.