It’s been a rather wild few days for me as a blog publisher. I’ve seen more people flock to my obscure part of cyberspace in the last five days than I have in the last few years.

As a rule of thumb, socio-political blogs don’t attract much traffic and are notoriously hard to make money from. Nobody goes online to read pro-government news when they can read it in the Straits Times. Nobody wants to be seen pumping too much money behind anyone mildly critical of the government. This is Singapore and we live in an age of extremities.
You are either a government bootlicker or you foam at the mouth whenever a
government minister appears on TV.

I don’t do either. I like to think I question objectively and give credit to the parties when credit is due. I’ve been told that I’ve been branded as “anti-establishment,” and when I worked freelance, a few people pointed out that I was probably too “anti-establishment” to get much work. On
the other hand, I’ve also been labelled a government bootlicker by the online crowd. Apparently, I’m influencing people to be more pro-ruling party by subliminal indoctrination and I’m handsomely rewarded and living a life of luxury.

So, since both sides don’t like me, I don’t get much readership. If I get 70 plus people looking at a simple posting, I’m happy. It’s reflected in the revenue I make off the blog. Online advertising, as managed by Google, pays very badly and it took me six years to get AdSense to pay out $150.

Then things changed. My last piece, which talked about the lack of leadership has sent statistics soaring. I’ve gone from being happy with 100 viewers a day for the entire blog (from the global community) to some
2,000 plus per day in the last three days. Ad revenue has gone up too and it
looks like I may get my second payout way ahead of schedule:

What happened? Well, I can’t tell you that I’ve become a significantly better writer overnight. I can’t tell you that a magic fairy dropped by and decided to make everyone in Singapore read my last piece. I don’t think I said anything that was especially radical or insightful that would make the great and good rush towards my insignificant corner of cyberspace. The only conclusion that I can think of is that readers are p**ed off about certain things and desperate to find something that vindicates their views about a certain topic. It’s a case of come and read this – this guy is saying what we all think.

See also  Masterminds of Philippines' worst political massacre jailed

This is perhaps something that the powers that be need to take note of. Why do certain corners of cyberspace get a sudden rush of attention?

In the post-9/11 world, one could say that this is an indication of terrorist threats. However, let’s take a step back. How much of a threat is terrorism on the scale of things, and does terrorism become a convenient excuse to suppress opinions that one doesn’t like?

In the case of Singapore, we need to look at the development of online media. How did sites like Independent Singapore and TTR Emeritus (both of which pick up my pieces from time to time) — and let’s not forget the Online Citizen — come into being in a media environment where editors know what’s good for them?

The fact remains, the internet has made information easily accessible. Setting up a website costs significantly less than it does to set up a TV station or a newspaper. Anyone can set up a website. Websites are also easily accessible. You can click a button to get a website. You don’t need to leave the house and go to a shop like you do to buy a newspaper. Getting access to a website is easy and cheap, unlike say, a newspaper or TV programme.

See also  The Media’s #MeToo Problem

However, there are other aspects of online media, which the bureaucrats couldn’t understand. People were willing to work for free. As far as our bureaucrats are concerned, people only do things for money. So, when it comes to the media, it was made such that journalists in the mainstream received decent salaries in return for doing what they were told to do. Not only did the mainstream have a grip on the revenue side (where else where you going to advertise?), they also had control of one of the biggest cost components in any business – labour. If you want to work as a journalist in Singapore, it’s either SPH or MediaCorp. These are the only guys with the money to pay salaries.

It isn’t the same for online media, which gets people who are pretty much volunteers. Without volunteers, many of the websites would have shut down ages ago. However, they’re not short of labour. So, here’s the question, why do people volunteer their time to produce news stories if they’re not getting paid?

See also  Wish our people can speak like this

Whilst I don’t have the empirical evidence, it’s clear that people are not satisfied with a single source of information. People are willing to offer their time and energy to create alternatives or they need a place to vent and demonstrate their frustrations. When one source of information refuses to even pretend to provide answers to the basic needs of the consumer, the consumer will then look elsewhere.

Which is probably why I need to thank Mr Ng Yat Chung for helping make my little corner of cyberspace that much more known. It was not my writing but his performance as a CEO of both NOL and SPH, which was interesting to the public. The fact that Mr Ng tried to bully his way into being absolved for the mishaps made him a laughing stock and his defenders in government looked sheepish for even being near him.

So, I’d love to say that I did something special to make my little blog a little less insignificant. However, credit must go to Mr. Ng. This is something that people who lash out at the media should understand. While there is undoubtedly plenty of manipulation of the message in the media (I used to work in PR), in most cases, the media is a conduit for more people to see how people expose themselves.

A version of this article first appeared at beautifullyincoherent.blogspot.com