Wednesday, 5 June 2013

A practical guide to superior (and FREE) alternatives to State-controlled media in Singapore

Readers expecting a tirade against MDA's latest shenanigans might wish to peruse here and here instead. As much as I disagree with the latest Sword of Damocles dangling over online expression, I couldn't have said it any better than LIFT and Alex Au already have. Instead, my post is meant to serve as a practical guide to getting superior news for FREE in Singapore. No more buying Straits Times, New Paper, or bullshit like that. While I am resolutely against further media controls, given the adequacy (some may say "overkill") of existing regulations on expression of any form in Singapore, I realise the futility of railing against it.

At this point, I must address A's feedback about my introduction being too long-winded. Feel free to scroll halfway down this post to see the alternatives to paying for newspapers.

Those of us unhappy with the latest regulations from MDA would do well to remember this: We, the citizens of Singapore, voted for this in 2011. Respect the democratic process! Respect the opinions of those who feel that economic growth trumps constitutional rights. Respect those who are simply too stupid to realise that the PAP really doesn't deem us important enough to trace our vote to find out who we voted for. Yes, I count such people among my friends. Thankfully, if you are reading this post, you are probably not one of them (meaning: not stupid. But if you happen to be one of those people, I hope you can still be my friend!)
Without a potent mix of ignorance and fear in the electorate, could the PAP still earn its "mandate"?

A bit of background on myself, so that you know where I'm coming from on this topic. Readers who have seen my post on not having children may remember my claims of prodigy-like literacy (at least back in the 80s... I was told that reading at the age of four is no big deal these days). When I was six, I remember reading - and understanding - hard news  articles from The Straits Times. Of course, commentary and analysis articles were quite out of my depth until years later, but you get the picture.

I grew up on a diet of Straits Times, and subsequently once I began commuting, I got my smut fix from The New Paper. Never mind that The New Paper was utter crap - straight, pubescent, Singaporean boys in those days were likely either into porn or TNP. I didn't have broadband at that time, so...
Mmmm... Trashy, titillating tabloid
Back in those days, I suppose the main alternative news sources were kopitiam beer-fueled political commentators, as well as the ubiquitous disgruntled taxi uncles (were they the same people? I guess after the daily change-of-shift, anything goes, right?). In any case, I had no interest in politics and neither did most of my peers. There was simply no reason to doubt the credibility of the mainstream media, or to question anything I saw happening in Singapore.

To put it very plainly, I admit I once believed SPH publications as gospel

There's no sugarcoating my past. RI and RJC didn't teach me any critical thinking in this area. Of course, whether it is the job of schools in Singapore to teach any form of higher-level thinking is highly debatable. I was gullible once upon a time - and paid the price. 60 cents for TNP or ST back in those days, if my memory serves me correctly. Although I never bought ST because my family subscribed it.

The question is: Do we want to pay to be hoodwinked?

My eyes were opened when I enrolled at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) at NTU. There, I learned that the Mainstream Media (MSM) in Singapore is not only biased, but plain misleading. I'm guessing that Professor Cherian George - media academic and commentator - lost his tenure because he showed batch after batch of WKWSCI students the truth about Singapore's MSM. I may have been extremely gullible to have only realised this in University, as the younger generation born from the early 90s onwards seem to understand this from at least their Secondary School days. Gone are the days where students just swallow National Education wholesale, with SPH publications to mop up the stragglers who didn't pay attention in class. If you are from the PAP and reading this, listen when I tell you that your hegemony on our youth is slipping (see the comments section in the link). But then again, you are trying your level best to solve this problem, right?

My guess is that if you have read to this point, I'd be preaching to the choir here, but in the off chance that you find (MSM) more credible than decent
online news portals like Yahoo! News Singapore and The Online Citizen, let me cite some examples that might challenge your faith in our MSM:

  1. Straits Times reporting that a taxi driver earned $7000 a month. Read this for yourself and draw your own conclusions. Another perspective here, by a Singaporean cabby who also blogs regularly.
  2. Straits Times using statistics out of context, in order to suggest that fewer Singaporeans are becoming Australian PRs because the situation in Singapore is improving. In short, the ST article failed to note the other factors for the decrease in Singaporeans who made the cut.
  3. Keeping silent on a landmark protest in modern Singapore.
  4. Picture coverage of PAP vs Opposition rallies - you wouldn't find any direct comparisons between their audience turnouts in the MSM. Can we even trust our MSM to report basic newsworthy facts? It's not as if rally turnout necessarily equates to voting results. But I am not in the least surprised given point 1.
  5. Not asking basic questions which are the tenets of journalism. The Five Ws and 1 H. In this case, it was an incident of national interest: Mas Selamat's escape from Whitley Road Detention Centre.
  6.  MSM's chest-thumping and arrogant dismissal of online media. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
I could go on. In fact, I've attended hours of lectures covering examples such as these. Or at least, years after I have graduated, that's still my biggest take-away.

The problem here is people really believe what they want to believe. I should know - I am an ex-Shit Times believer. But the beauty of my post is that I'm going to offer something for everyone, including ye believers of MSM.

Now I'm gonna show you exactly why you never ever have to pay for news again, regardless of your political or journalistic inclinations!

Alternatives to paid MSM:

Free newspapers. In tabloid formats, we have Today and My Paper, which need no further introduction. I even received a free broadsheet one afternoon outside Tanah Merah MRT, The Epoch Times, purportedly linked to the Falungong group. I'd fuss over the slants of the former two, especially SPH's My Paper. But Today is a better alternative to State's Times, and I'd choose it over ST unless I had a dog which was paper-trained and having a particularly bad episode of diarrhea. I can't comment much on Epoch, though I'd say it makes for an interesting read with incisive insights on China. Of course, we can only get free newspapers at certain times (I don't get any due to my traveling times) of the day, which brings me to our next source which works well for those of us with tablets or smartphones...

Twitter. Twitter-savvy youngsters may give this a miss... For the rest of you who don't have a Twitter account but have smartphones or tablets, now is a good time to set one up. Most major international news sites I've cared to follow feed news bites to Twitter. You could follow any Twitter account of your choice. PAP, HDB, SMRT, SDP, WP, Straits Times, ChannelnewsAsia... The list is practically endless. Those of us familiar with traditional RSS readers might find Twitter comparable or even preferable, as the presentation gives you more information and it is more interactive. I personally keep my online social interactions to Facebook which I am more comfortable with, and use Twitter to trawl news and to re-tweet interesting articles (which then show up on my Facebook Timeline)
To illustrate how I use Twitter, here are some screen grabs:
In the main page, Tweets show brief synopses from the accounts you follow, as well as a condensed URL.
You can either click on the condensed URL, or click on the Tweet itself to read it in its entirety. The beauty - and limitation - of Twitter is that Tweets allow a maximum of 140 characters. So you can skim though very quickly.

Here are some of the accounts which I have followed. They are in the right-hand column. The left column shows Twitter's recommendations based on whatever their system thinks I'd like.

As you may have noticed, my social life isn't on Twitter at all...

To look for accounts to follow, simply use the Twitter search box, or surf to the websites you wish to follow and look for their "Follow" button:
Yep, it's the 't' on the left...
The main drawback of Twitter is if you actually use it for your social life. That's when things can get messier because you get updates from Ah Beng, Ah Seng and Ah Lian. It's the same situation with Facebook, except that Facebook encourages even more distractions, leaving me to write FB off completely as a focused approach to browsing news. I do get many interesting articles on my newsfeed there, but that's a random occurrence, when sometimes I prefer a more direct approach. The solution to this is to set up a separate Twitter account for your news (and not friends), or to use...

Feedly. Feedly replaces Google Reader, a popular web-app for news aggregating (that's what we have been reading about since the previous segment). Those already familiar with RSS or Google Reader can stop here - Feedly is a media-rich RSS reader which IMHO is an improvement on Google Reader.

While Twitter limits previews to 140 characters, including characters in condensed URLs, Feedly gives us different viewing layouts to choose from, and what I like are the layouts which include far more pictures and media. Of course, what this means is that the tab which is displaying Feedly may suck up a bit more RAM, and it will use up more mobile data too. But there's something for everyone here, even an all-text display like what we'd get in traditional RSS readers.

Particularly suitable for smartphones with larger screens...
Text-only, for those using a slow Internet connection. Yes, I know your pain
No matter which side of the fence you sit with regard to your opinion on our MSM, I hope that this article helps save a bit of money on buying newspapers and even magazines. If you don't already have a decent smartphone or tablet, now is a good time to get one and save yourself a bit of money in the long run. The Straits Times currently costs 90 cents per copy, which works out to $657 over two years. A full-size iPad costs $658, doesn't stink of newsprint, and doesn't result in the death of a small tree. It's not that mobile gadgets don't cause environmental impact at all, but face it, you were gonna buy the latest model anyway, right? 

- S


  1. thanks for the advice! really useful!

  2. Nicely written!