Event wrap-up: Telum Talks To… SPH Media Limited

Event wrap-up: Telum Talks To… SPH Media Limited

Late last year, SPH Media Group announced several changes to its key leadership positions in its newsrooms which signals a shift in the news industry. This is further reinforced in The Business Times' podcast, Editors Talk, which spotlights Editors from the different newsrooms of SPH.


In the latest "Telum Talks To" event, SPH's Editor-in-Chief of the English / Malay / Tamil Media Group, Wong Wei Kong, Editor of The Straits Times, Jaime Ho, and Editor of The Business Times, Chen Huifen, addressed an audience of more than 200 PR professionals at the National Gallery Singapore on 17th April. They spoke about the changes in their newsroom structure and strategy, engaging with younger journalists, as well as the use of technology in the communications industry. Here are the full key takeaways from the conversations during the event:

- One of the key concerns that news publishers face is news avoidance. The relentlessness of the news cycle and social media plays a role in the perceived negative perception towards the appetite for news.
- There is a certain degree of avoidance and criticism towards news that exists amongst audiences that all news publishers and newsmakers have to think about.
- Hence, while being data-informed and digitally enabled, each newsroom is also on its own journey, moving in the same direction towards being audience-first.

What does it mean to be audience-first?
- These days we need more than just good journalism and content to drive growth, we need to know our audiences better - there are different sub-sets of them, and each audience segment access news at different time and use.

Tighter collaborations between pillars.
- For The Business Times, the Editor is supported by three main pillars - Content, Audience, and Product.
- The Product pillar will ask why they are doing this, for whom they are doing this and what value this brings to users / what problem are they solving.
- The Audience pillar will then source for data on existing users and usage patterns, and use the data to support / overturn their hypotheses.
- The findings will go back to the Product pillar who will conduct research and find out what exactly users want and how they prefer to receive / consume the news, as well as come up with the resources.
- Hence, the focus is no longer on content and scoops, but rather, on recognising that there are different audiences residing in different places.

Would government stories take precedence over other stories?
- No, nothing takes precedence automatically. Each story is judged based on whether it is of national interest or specific interest, its news value, newsworthiness and audience.

Themes that The Business Times is keeping an eye on.
- Recovering of certain sectors, transitional issues like transitioning from fossils to renewable, shortage of manpower, shortage of components, delay in things, as well as adjustment issues in companies and observing how they adapt.

In terms of generative AI like ChatGPT, would it disrupt or complement the work that journalists do?
- Generative AI may be a threat, but we can look at how it can help journalists in their work such as generating a visual to go along with the theme of the story.
- The newsroom will have to adapt but the key thing for SPH would be transparency, being open to their audience to tell them that they are using it, how they are using it, and let the audience judge what value is added.


What would be the best way to engage younger journalists?
- Communicators will need to know how younger journalists consume the news, and how they perceive the news.
- Younger journalists are far more attuned to the relentlessness and pace of the news cycle, and therefore, their perception of what is news and what is important may be slightly different from other generations.
- This is not about value-judgement, but rather, a reflection of the different generations.
- The core may not be with younger journalists, but with us, as traditional communicators. Traditional communicators need to change in order to know how the younger people think and when to engage with them.
- Communicators will need to tweak some of their approaches - a general news pitch will not make the cut like before.
- What they pitch has to make the cut and stand out as news - get people to think that this is an interesting way to see the story, so that the person they pitch to will be able to evaluate in a more discerning way (i.e. I have not heard of this viewpoint / insight, this looks interesting and will pick it up).

Perspectives on the ESG beat.
- Even though there is an ESG-focused team in The Business Times, it does not mean they need to cover everything as ESG affects a number of sectors.
- Other reporters can pick up the story if it affects the beat. For example, if the story is on green buildings, then the property team will pick it up. If it comes to governance issues, then the companies and markets team can pick up the issue.
- How the team write the article or consider a story is putting their position as an investor or a corporate leader overseeing sustainability reporting - how will these issues affect them, are the issues affecting them, should the team pick up the issue, should they highlight some risks and opportunities that come with it?
- The team does not pick up on product launch stories.

With the audience-first approach, how is The Straits Times reaching younger audiences?
- To consider for both newsrooms and newsmakers: nobody has a clear definition of what young audiences mean. They can try different formats, but that does not mean the young audience will be on those platforms.
- For instance, young audiences are using TikTok, the traditional approach is to put content on TikTok, but this ignores the fact that they are using the platform for a reason, and they may not be using TikTok for news. Even if they are using the platform for news, it’s usually very issue-specific that touches them directly instead of general news.
- The key thing is to focus on what the audiences really want and where they want it. It does not mean scattering content on different platforms, hoping to get eyeballs.

A closing note from Wei Kong.
This is an ongoing journey that is evolving for the Editors, communicators and the industry. This issue of reaching out to audiences whether old, young or new, is one that we need to take a step back and look at how they do their work, reframe the questions or issues, and new ways to get the job done.


Contact details and a breakdown of The Straits Times and The Business Times can be found on Telum. To find out more about Telum's events, get in touch with us at events@telummedia.com

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