Terry Xu: “I cannot let down supporters for the goodwill that they have shown via their support to TOC and its ideology”

Below is the speech delivered by Terry Xu, Chief Editor of The Online Citizen for its fundraiser dinner on 6 July 2019. (Edited for clarity)

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have taken the time off from your busy schedule to attend today’s event. I am also very honoured to have many of Singapore’s political leaders who are attending in their personal capacity to support TOC’s fundraiser.

TOC has come a long way since its beginning in Dec 2006. From a humble community blog to a news platform that is pretty much well-known in Singapore for its reports and clashes with the establishment. Despite it being a community website with limited resources, one can say that TOC’s reports have played a significant part in how Singapore’s social-political sphere has shaped since its start.

Here, I would like to appreciate the contribution made by the founders, past editors and contributors of the site over the past 12 years because without their selfless effort and input, TOC wouldn’t be here where it is now today. 

For those who are present, “Thank you” and to those who have donated to TOC before, “TOC will not last till today without your contribution”.

Singapore has been touted as a democratic country with free elections but there is a long way before its people understand that there is a lot more being a democratic country than to just hold the leaders accountable at the General Election.

If I were to put an analogy to it, that is like a senior using the latest smartphone for just calls and text without ever understanding how to install apps and internet functions. And if I am to go further with the Singapore’s analogy, it doesn’t help that the telecommunication company that sold the senior the phone, has disabled the additional functions because the user doesn’t know any better.  

This is where media such as TOC comes in to fill in the information gap so that the people are aware of the “functions”.

I started off as a volunteer in the site in 2010 and was totally mind blown after getting to know the country that I thought I knew enough.

I then took up the role of executive editor in 2013 after Remy Choo proposed the position to me. Despite taking a 50% pay cut, I still felt it was worth it because the site had to carry on, so as to carry on the achieved progress in GE2011 where Aljunied GRC was won by the Workers’ Party.

Back then, I was still a pretty idealistic individual who believed in the greater good for Singaporeans. However, the more I worked, the more I start to question what and who am I actually slogging for. Do these people really deserve my work? I am pretty sure many of those who are doing the same work as I do in Singapore, share my doubts at times.

There are numerous times over the last four years where I thought of giving up on the website as I ran the site alone. Not because of the threat of criminal charges against me or the possibility of being sued, but in light of the lack of resources, government harassment via administrative measures such as the naming of donors and the seemingly pointless struggle against the state media machinery and pseudo independent online media outlets. 

Perhaps it is just fate or even, divine intervention that there will always be that kind supporter who would step up and lend a helping hand during those dark and helpless times to ensure that the site continues to run. And this is the key reason why I persevere in my work because I cannot let down these supporters for the goodwill that they have shown via their support to the site and its ideology all these years.


The way forward for TOC 

This is the third major fundraiser that TOC has embarked on since its humble beginning and so far, not once, was it able to raise sufficient funds to last for a year of actual operations. 

Over the past few years, a combination of sporadic donations and advertising revenue kept the site afloat but this cannot be the way forward. 

The only way to ensure the site is able to maintain its operation and expand, is to spur more supportive members of the public to contribute a monthly sum or an annual sum as subscription fees so as to spread the burden onto a larger pool of individuals than to strain the limited resources of a few.

Of course, that remains as a chicken and egg problem for TOC to produce good content while soliciting support from the largely apathetic Singaporeans. Without huge capital injections like what certain media platforms are given, TOC will always face an existential challenge to continue its good work while trying to balance the monthly expenses.

As the readership and income gradually grew, so did the staff count of the site to expand the coverage and pressure to ensure that there is enough to pay for the increased cost.

We started the Chinese TOC and also the Malay TOC this year but we had to suspend operations for the Malay site within just two months. The site did not generate much traction without the local community and we also lack the funds to support the cost of the additional staff. As for the Chinese site, it is also a cost centre for TOC but its readership has been growing on a month to month basis. With the pending General election, it possesses much potential for growth and outreach to the Chinese speaking community who are predominant seniors. 

Other than multi-language sites, there are just so many other initiatives that TOC wish to embark on. It is just the lack of resources that anchors our aspiration in place. We have to understand that when it comes to the battle of narratives and idealogy, it is a numbers game. In both outreach and the amount of money spent on achieving that. 

What I ask of those who wish to help TOC and its ideology is to help spread the word that the publication does not wish to exist for the sake of existing, being “anti-government” and oppose for the sake of opposing, but to educate and better inform our citizenry so that the country can progress beyond the state that it is now today.

I would like to share a dream, a dream that may or may not come true, of TOC being regarded as a mainstream media outlet where local media graduates can seek a decent paying job instead of having to spend a few years at Mediacorp/Singapore Press Holdings before moving overseas to a foreign media outlet or changing to a totally different occupation altogether. 

Once again, thank you to the guests who have graced today’s fundraiser. I hope you will enjoy the dinner and the rest of the evening.

(A sum of around $13,000 was raised from the fundraiser which supports the site for about two months of operation after factoring in advertising revenue.)