KUALA LUMPUR, 23 June 2009: The competition is growing among online news portals, with Malaysian Mirror making its debut soon.
Mahathir (Pic by Shamsul Said @
Flickr)“We are going to have the launching on 30 June, by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad,” said Malaysian Mirror editor Francis Siah.
Malaysian Mirror is said to be owned by several investors.
Several ex-journalists from the traditional media are behind the Malaysian Mirror which will be run by 15 editorial staff.
Growth of online news
Online news portals began nearly 10 years ago, with just Malaysiakini. But today there’s also The Malaysian Insider, The Nut Graph as well as several vernacular portals such as Merdeka Review, The Rock News, and Bahasa Malaysia-based Agenda Daily.
They add to the strong online presence of the traditional media such as The Star Online, Utusan Online, New Straits Times online and others.
Online news seems to be gaining momentum and appeal, especially among Malaysia’s urban population and the tech-savvy aged between 21 and 30. Surveys show that this age group depends primarily on new media for their information and news.
According to The Nut Graph editor Jacqueline Ann Surin, part of the reason for this growing competition is because technology now made it cheaper for people to publish.
“For example, before The Nut Graph, three journalists, including myself, used free blog software to report on the last general election. Our news site then was called MalaysiaVotes.com. Our total cost of RM10,000 was minimal, considering that we covered quite a bit of ground,” she said.
In terms of competition, she said, The Nut Graph website tries to make sense of politics and pop culture, compared to other news sites which are more focused on politics, while in terms of presentation, the website uses images that are traditionally not used in news reporting.
“For example, we reported on last year’s budget through a cartoon gallery. It’s our way of attracting younger readers to be interested in the news. We have also employed creative ways to engage readers on critical issues such as our Six Words series,” she added.
For Malaysiakini, which started on 20 Nov 1999, it went live with six staff members and a group of volunteers covering the 1999 general election from a cramped, fourth-floor office lot in Section 14, Petaling Jaya.
Malaysiakini gained popularity faster than expected, registering over 100,000 daily visitors within nine months but it was hit by the dotcom bust in 2001, amidst diminishing online advertising.
In order to sustain its operations, the management took a bold and risky decision by launching a RM10-a-month subscription in early 2002. This set the company back initially but over time, the number of subscribers slowly grew, and combined with other revenue, Malaysiakini broke even in 2004.
“It does put a lot of pressure on us. But we don’t believe advertising alone is sufficient to fund good journalism,” said Malaysiakini chief operating officer Premesh Chandran.
He said Malaysiakini‘s subscription income contributed to over 65% of total earnings in 2008.
Malaysiakini relies on a mix of the subscription and advertising models to finance its operations as there is a limit to online advertising revenue it can get.
“[Subscription]-free websites will continue to remain in the red for years to come and they will have to find other ways to finance their operations,” said Premesh.
Competition is good
Although more competition would make it harder and tougher for subscription-free news sites to continue, it is still regarded as good for the industry.
The Malaysian Insider consultant editor Leslie Lau said readers would benefit as more quality stories could be generated, adding “there is still room for more players”. — Bernama