Local newspapers in self-destruct mode?

Those who thought Malaysian newspapers were dying because of digital are only half right. In fact, newspapers blame everyone except themselves. 

They have less readers because the content sucks.

The content sucks because the writing is dull and uninspiring.

It’s dull and uninspiring because it reads like a government newsletter.

And that’s because most of their ownership is state-related. 

It is no secret that newspaper bosses took their eye off content because it was more convenient to blame digital for lacklustre performances when explaining themselves to shareholders.

Unlike other countries, it is fair to say Malaysian readers had their first taste of real journalism when online happened. And boy, did they go online after that. Like a migrating flock off to a new utopia! 

So while newspapers were supposed to course correct their content accordingly, they kept on betraying themselves and readers by self-inflicted legacy controls on their content.

As their online counterparts gleefully braved everything, print stayed lame, stale and stuffy. The narrative dumbed down and derivative.


Print writers are free to share their views, but no one is readily agreeing with them anymore. And more daily drivel only adds to the demise of their content.

You may say that some content is advertiser-driven. Fine, but if newspapers do not repurpose commercial content skillfully, readers will still switch off before you can say pemotongan air

I know advertisers are merciless, they already blackmail print players into submission by glorifying themselves as a “paying customer”. And after you have the media planners getting in on the game for their pound of flesh, print becomes the industrial version of slave labour.

Wrestling with “advertiser” demands on sponsored content,… my stand has always been “the buck stops with the media owner”. 

If you play victim, you’ll become one. Content does not prostitute itself.

…. A previous marketing head with an honorific title at a top paper once told me,“We don’t need to advertise ourselves. Everyone knows us.”


The painful truth is revenues from print dwarf online almost 10-1, which means publishers need to milk new revenue streams out of online.

Maybe karma has come back to bite print in the ass after their heady and cocky days when the going was not just good, but obscenely profitable. 

When a Page 3 colour ad could fetch up to RM45,000 per page.

A previous marketing head with an honorific title at a top paper once told me, “We don’t need to advertise ourselves. Everyone knows us.”

This coming from a newspaper who’s bread and butter depends on advertising. I thought to myself, “If this newspaper does not believe in advertising, why should advertisers?” 


Because there’s always a sucker out there with deep pockets who will put money in the platform for political clout and influence.

This influence eventually translates into profits in other manifestations, not necessarily in the printed form. With owners sitting pretty, the rest of the ecosystem seems quite disposable to fit the mandarins in high office. 


Do not be afraid to use new words, your reader is not stupid.

Respect them enough to know that they also want to continuously learn. Unless you think learning is not a life-priority for debt-laden millennials. Ask yourself, how many of them knew what the word “avenge” meant before Avengers hit the big screen?

Entertain your reader, make the time they spend with you valuable enough to at least put a smile on their face every now and then. Share your views but please have an opinion or two, because life does not have to be the same for everyone.


Readers are cynical, indifferent, time-starved and bored with politics; they need a new script. 

They read to be informed and entertained. Malaysian newspapers overdo the “informed” to the extent that it is a turn off.

As for the “entertain” part, my kudos to the comics section and the amazing ex-Star columnist S Jayasankaran

…. Less content is better than irrelevant content. Copywriters are trained to write only what readers want to read…


I throw this dare… 

With many advertising writers looking for employment, just ask one of them to work with you for one day and see how brutally they slash your content and puffery and give editing a new meaning.

Less content is better than irrelevant content. Copywriters are trained to write only what readers want to read. They are the best people to write sponsored content because they know how to distil information, bring delight and whip out witty headlines.

They are also interesting people who understand style. They will tell you that a statement is not a headline.


According to the World Trends Press Database, last year digital advertising revenue continued to grow worldwide, having contributed 5.38% in 2017.

But much of global advertising went to tech giants.

Google and Facebook are now busy threatening the Australian government, who is magnificently leading the way to get these giants to pay for news they peddle for free on their site, while earning billions in income from the traffic. 

This story is written in memory of two phenomenal writers: lawyer, journalist, diplomat, politician Khushwant Singh and Briton Hadden, the uncelebrated genius behind TIME magazine whose legacy was sadly buried by those who came after him. The story about how TIME turned the news into a form of entertainment is legendary.

Top picture source:modernphotographyideas.com


The 14th Malaysian Media Conference (MMC) is happening on 25 September at the Sime Darby Convention Center and is proud to announce its list of speakers compromising the most influential leaders in Malaysia’s media landscape. Have you registered to join MMC 2020?

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