Online News On The Line

One online news editor said “if you can cover about 70 percent of your operating expenditure, that’s already a good operation.” That’s how dire it is. Whether your investor is an “angel” or a political backer, at some point, there’s only so much someone is willing to bleed.

Shannon Teoh

In the early bluster and upheavals of the Reformasi movement, deep fissures began to open up in Malaysian society. As with all things geopolitical, the real key was the impact on urban centres – hubs of commerce, power and information. If it didn’t happen there, it didn’t happen at all.

It was in these days of the Multimedia Super Corridor, infatuation with Angelina Jolie – God bless her chest – in Hackers and pop philosophy in the Matrix, that Malaysia was introduced to “alternative media.”

Putting aside pedantic definitions of such a term – which in contemporary Malaysia, should perhaps be confined to social media given the eyeballs and influence that online news sites boast nowadays – Malaysiakini provided a sensational new lens to view the political nation.

Fast forward to 2008, and the seismic changes pre, during and post the general elections resulted in a mushrooming of online news sites, variously claiming that they caused or were the result of, or are responding to the call for change in the country.

That was in 10 years, a pretty quick revolution in such a tightly-controlled media space. But in about half that time, we see that these noble or chest-beating claims were all slightly disingenuous.

A few have fallen by the wayside – The Nut Graph famously proclaimed to be good journalism and pretty much begged for donations, but still ran out of cash and turned into a blog – while others opened to pomp and splendour only for the reading public to find that the emperor has not much more than a g-string on.

But a small number managed to keep their heads above the water.

Malaysiakini actually turned in a “profit” some years, and their editor loudly compared his site to mineral water, while the rest were tap water – you’d pay the subscription because it was better, apparently.