Newsrooms in SPH Media will be beefed up to engage changing audiences: Khaw Boon Wan

Newsrooms in the new Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) media entity will be given additional resources so that they have the capacity to meaningfully engage a changing audience, said former Cabinet minister Khaw Boon Wan.

An SPH Media Academy will also be set up after the transition to the new media entity has stabilised to train new hires in a systematic manner and help existing staff acquire new skills, added Mr Khaw, who is chairman-designate of the to-be-formed SPH Media Trust.

In a speech to staff on Wednesday (May 12), which was live-streamed from the SPH auditorium, Mr Khaw also announced that more SPH scholarships will be awarded from next year. This will include not just journalism scholarships, but also those in digital disciplines, he added.

Fellowships and attachments in world-class newsrooms will be arranged for existing journalists, so that they can access global networking opportunities, and potentially collaborate with overseas publications, said Mr Khaw.

For local undergraduates, internships will be arranged to expose them to a career in journalism and digital media, he added.

"We are determined to keep journalism as an attractive profession that offers rewarding careers to talented and ambitious young men and women," said Mr Khaw.

The digital media capacity of newsrooms will also be expanded, such that a first-class digital tech team can be built to support the transformation, he said.

They will be equipped with skills and tools in graphics, video, technology, design and data to make the everyday experience of reading the news more accessible, compelling and engaging.

This requires a joint effort among journalists, IT engineers and online media professionals, and SPH Media is working out the additional investments that will be needed for this effort, he said.

Mr Khaw also stressed the plan to accelerate SPH Media's transformation into a digital media company with print products - rather than a print media company with digital products - demands a transformational change in mindset.

"Good-quality content is still critical, but it is not sufficient," he said, adding that the new media entity must tap on digital technology and platforms to actively push content out to reach subscribers and non-subscribers.

To succeed in doing so, SPH Media has to listen to and understand subscribers' and non-subscribers' digital habits, customise content to suit their lifestyles, and connect meaningfully with them, he added. "This requires a quantum leap in capabilities, skill sets and attitude."

He added that he has started meeting SPH staff in small groups, and listening to their concerns and aspirations. Such dialogues will continue over the next few weeks.

"My distinct impression so far is that the newsrooms are game and willing to take up the challenge. They are mindful of the national role that the media plays and that they must not fail in this mission," he said.

He noted that transformation is not merely a technical exercise, but also involves a cultural change, which takes time and effort to take effect.

"Even for a greenfield project, it is difficult starting a new media company. It is several times more difficult for an existing company with established corporate traditions," he added.

For instance, while he has not yet examined the existing IT infrastructure of SPH Media, Mr Khaw said he will not be surprised if its legacy IT systems severely constrain efforts to immediately enhance the user interface and user experience of SPH Media's digital products.

"We will work hard to overcome these constraints. We hope our readers and subscribers will bear with us as we fix and replace the 'digital plumbing and piping'. Please be patient and give us some time."