On its 170th anniversary today, this newspaper is both an ultimate Singapore pioneer and a youthful groundbreaker. It cleaves to a long tradition of "the honourableness" of journalistic purposes and "faithful advocacy" of the public interest, while being "ever identified with the general interests" of the Singapore community, as declared by the very first editorial of The Straits Times, on July 15, 1845. And it looks forward to embracing ever- evolving forms of journalism spurred by a digital world, as the present team of journalists avows.
Imagining the future, as newspaper people are wont to do, 19th-century American editors envisaged readers seeing "every event in the kinetoscope (a motion-picture device)" alongside the published news, "a machine for transforming pictures by wire", and scope for readers to tailor content to fit their "own individual and particular wants". Prescient as their predecessors were, today's editors might be a little more circumspect about predicting the future of newspapers, given the quick march of technology and the accelerating pace with which news content is both produced and consumed. New forms might create novel ways of communicating and interacting with future users. Just when you thought the latest thing was the tablet, came the smartphone, and now the even smarter watch, with news being delivered faster, shorter and sharper, round the clock, as it happens.
For these very reasons, some critics claim that print newspapers have no future. That would be to ignore the quintessence of the newspaper, once dependent on pulp but now also borne over the air. As a cultural product, its dynamic and dialogic impulses represent an enduring recognition that its audience lies at the heart of all it does. The Straits Times' early existence was intertwined with the merchant community here. But as migrants poured in and planted the seeds of a nation, the paper sought to serve not just the elites and tuans, but also a broad mass audience, by being both authoritative and accessible. Over the years, it has captured the tumult and thrill of events without missing a beat - the fall of Singapore to invading forces, the scourge of Sars, and the triumphs of the nation's table tennis and football teams.
So embedded is the relationship that newspapers generally form with the communities they serve that the legendary Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway group is investing in newspapers, while others debate whether it's print or digital that should come first to sustain a viable business model. The Straits Times' approach is akin to what Mr Buffett's media chief Terry Kroeger declared earlier this year: "The truth is the model that's most likely to work is customer first." News that matters, and is trusted, served the way you, the reader, wants it was - and is - our way forward.
This article was first published on July 15, 2015.
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