So, it’s 20,000 signatures and counting…That’s for the online petition to close down STOMP started by a Mr Robin Li.
The reason, according to the petition: STOMP publishes fabricated stories that promote cyber-bullying and unrest in the name of “citizen journalism’’. It doesn’t acknowledge mistakes and seems to lack guidelines that would screen out fabrications by contributors.
It is a worthy enough reason and one which would probably apply to countless of sites that unabashedly fabricate stuff under the guise of free speech and discussion. (What has happened to that petition to close down The Real Singapore?)
I suppose what grates on people is that STOMP is part of the Singapore Press Holdings stable using the brand name of The Straits Times. BTW, I declare my interest. I was party to the setting-up of STOMP all those years ago. It was meant to capture the young people on the Internet and get them to engage with the fuddy-duddy ST. There was some original content, giving different insights into the news of the day and I remember an extremely successful MMS talent quest and a successful “getai’’ series. It was an experiment to catch young eyeballs with a down-to-earth, life-stylish, grassroots approach that was accessible. (I admit to not being comfortable with the experiment as it seemed so at odds with the august and conservative tone of ST. But then again, I’m a fuddy duddy and who can object to an experiment to capture a slice of the online pie?)
Celebrating “citizen journalism’’ was part of its core mission. The idea was to give netizens a platform to post stuff which would be curated, edited and then published. For journalists, such user-generated content was a great source of news tip-offs, especially in its early years. STOMPers acted as eyes and ears on the ground. In the era before Facebook, it collected views. Both functions are less well-used now that social media is so wide-spread and news tip offs and opinions can come from anywhere.
(By the way, I object to the phrase citizen journalism – and have always done so. It cannot be that anyone with a camera phone can be considered a journalist. The right term is “eye-witness’’. A journalist asks questions about the picture and gets the full facts. Most “citizen journalists’’ simply capture a moment in time – and believe it to be newsworthy because he likes it or hates it – and then he opines.)
That STOMP has been successful is in no doubt. It has become part of the vocabulary, even a verb. You STOMP something or you are afraid of being STOMPed. It can even be used a threat…I’ll put it up on STOMP. STOMP has been lauded by its peers in the industry. Its list of accolades is long, including Best in Online media (Gold) last year from the World Association of Newspapers. The accolades must count for something.
Question: After so long in operation and the praise of its peers, why the sudden move to petition for its closure?
I venture to say this: There is so much rubbish online these days that we would like to see a marker of standards, especially from a media company. There must have been plenty of gaffes in the past, but it seems only more recently that people are complaining about the mis-steps of STOMP. Of course, STOMP didn’t help its case when one of its own was found fabricating material. And we still do not know how the offending picture of the NSman who did not give up his seat on the train to an old lady was cropped to leave out the vacant seat in front of her.
Because STOMP is part of a media company, people expect that some amount of scrutiny and editing should take place before inflicting content on the public. This expectation is even greater now given, well, the escalating amount of rubbish online. The flip side, of course, will be charges of censorship and how STOMP refuses to publish because of so-and-so reasons which have nothing to do with journalistic merit.
What rules should be in place then to guard against insane rants and fabrications? How to draw the line between trivial stuff that would divide people and cause “social unrest’’ and trivial stuff that are, well, trivial and may be good for a laugh? Should trivial stuff even make it on STOMP or should they be considered as “slice of life’’ pieces or a collection of the diversity of Singapore, in all its groaning glory?
And how to screen out online trolls who are out to do in someone or up to plain mischief? Can STOMP do an ST Forum Page and contact contributors who must leave behind their full names and addresses? That would go against the nature of online contributions.
Maybe, we should look at it this way. Best to give the kooks and nutters a platform so that we know where they are. And not to take STOMP seriously at all. This, of course, won’t be good for its image and the image of the media company. It will be open to accusations of sensationalism and in the business of capturing as many eyeballs as it can by catering to the lowest common denominator. Drivel, unfortunately, attracts eyeballs.
Perhaps, it is good if STOMP makes a re-statement on what it is about and what it hopes to achieve. This is what it says now about itself:
Award-winning STOMP, or Straits Times Online Mobile Print, is Asia’s leading citizen-journalism website with user-generated material fuelling its success.
We’re also big on social networking, enabling millions to come together to interact and bond both online and offline in Singapore Seen and Club Stomp.
STOMP connects, engages and interacts with Singaporeans in a style and approach that is different from conventional news websites. Its strong growth reflects not only its popularity but its resonance with Singaporeans.
This is pretty old hat and can be applied to any website that has a social networking function and ah,,,,parodies the news! SGAG? New Nation?
Maybe it should also say what it is NOT. Right now, it is not about generating deep discussions on policy or starting useful debates. It isn’t geared towards doing so. For that, you have The Straits Times. (Don’t laff)
Then again, what it has been doing so successfully for years is causing a backlash (although it can argue that its fans outnumber its detractors) I say it was an interesting experiment in a time when there weren’t so many alternative platforms for the trivial or slice of life stuff. It acquired first-mover status and a market. Now, it has to find something new to distinguish itself from the rest of the hoi polloi.
Any media must move with the times, the demands of its ever-changing audience and in the case of Singapore and its media duopoly, show how responsible online journalism should be conducted.
STOMP should take a step back and re-consider its content if it wants to continue to stomp ahead.