How an ST editor picks the news for publication

How an ST editor picks the news for publication
Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor of The Straits Times.

In a world of 1-click access to news and views, why would anyone bother spending time and money perusing the Opinion pages of that very 20th century product: a print newspaper?

What is the function of a commentary section in a newspaper that takes 12 to 18 hours to be printed and to get to your home, when you can get instant news feeds on Twitter and RSS, read views on your friends' Facebook pages, and get well-written essays straight to your email inbox?

And is the role of an Opinion editor redundant these days? I was mulling over these questions after ST Readers' editor Yap Koon Hong tasked me with writing a piece to answer that oft-asked question: As the person in charge of the Opinion pages, how do I choose which commentaries to run in the limited pages of The Straits Times?

The events of the last two weeks put me into the right frame of mind to reflect on what I do and why I do what I do.

The purchase of two iconic newspapers in America by billionaires who made their fortunes elsewhere left me despairing and hopeful.

Jeff Bezos of e-commerce behemoth Amazon bought the Washington Post; and John Henry, main owner of Boston's baseball team Red Sox bought the Boston Globe.

Despairing, because these respected American newspapers followed the trend of newspapers worldwide with falling revenue and profit. Hopeful, because someone like Bezos surely wasn't buying into a dying print industry out of charity, but to find a way to turn around a business whose revenue model has to change.

Just a year ago, Bezos had predicted that "there won't be printed newspapers in 20 years. Maybe as luxury items in some hotels that want to offer them as an extravagant service. Printed papers won't be normal in 20 years."

But he also said people would pay for newspaper subscriptions on tablets, which is also the experience of The Straits Times.

The entry of Bezos into the newspaper business has spawned predictions about future 1-click purchases of news and views.

Imagine the kind of powerful computing that tracks what you buy at Amazon or what websites you browse on Google Chrome, being put to bear on your news and commentary reading. Instead of a newspaper editor choosing articles, you would have bots and algorithms and data analytics doing the job for you.

A killer app user interface will package everything into neat bullet-sized summaries on your Flipboard.

In fact, Flipboard - a neat app that pulls together magazine, news, and social media content in one smart package - offers editing capabilities in its May 2013 upgrade so you can create your own magazine pulling together content from your social media and magazine sites and mobile phone.

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