By Lee Chin Wee (14A01B)
For the first time in more than twelve months, a Raffles Press article appeared on Word of Mouth without my direct oversight. I found my cursor reaching reflexively for the ‘share’ button, my fingers ready to type out a Facebook message instructing my team to re-post the article. I catch myself. Moments later, the article is publicized by new people, with different names and profile pictures which I have yet to firmly associate with Raffles Press. Perhaps this is what Bertha Henson means when she writes on her blog – “This morning, May 10, my newspapers didn’t arrive at my door step. (It) has finally dawned on me that I am officially an ex-journalist and no longer entitled to free newspapers – which I have had for 26 years.” While my year in charge of Raffles Press pales in comparison to her storied career as a journalist and editor for the Singapore Press Holdings, I could immediately identify with her sentiments. It is an unsettlingly foreign, yet cathartic experience to find myself missing the daily mundanities of editing sports or arts reviews throughout the night, the chagrin of making a bad editorial decision, or the joy of seeing a well-written article go viral for all the right reasons.
It has been incredibly heartening to witness the positive response that our articles have elicited. We started our journey with slightly over 300,000 total hits on the site. Just a few weeks ago, this number surpassed a million. As a CCA where no medals can be won and no achievements can be hoarded, we write because we believe in the intrinsic value of being heard. Such is the small luxury of egotism we occasionally afford ourselves – it does mean a lot to read comments like “this was beautifully written, great job!” or to see friends re-tweeting and liking our pieces. Thank you, dear readers, for keeping us going as a club. Thank you for proving to the school that there is indeed a groundswell of support for an independent student journalism society. Thank you for your views, your feedback, your likes, your shares and your comments.
Word of Mouth was launched two years ago, with high hopes and low expectations. Back then, we published one or two pieces a week, at best. Reaching a hundred likes on our Facebook page was an achievement. Articles didn’t usually come complete with photographs. Today, we panic when we go two consecutive days without new articles appearing. We’ve celebrated 500, then 1,000 and then 1,500 likes in quick succession. We refuse to publish articles that come without pictures. But enough of a statistical numbers game. Forgive the apparent paradox, but the most crucial metrics which determine our success are unquantifiable. To hear news that the popularity of our online newspaper has inspired students in other junior colleges to re-vitalize their respective Press societies is immeasurably exciting – student journalism is never a zero sum game. The more we believe that our opinions deserve to be heard, the more we are committed to improving the standard of writing within schools, and the more we contribute our own unique perspectives to the pool of shared experiences that journalism allows us to access, the more likely it is that Press societies will not fade off quietly into the distance. It really doesn’t matter what colour of uniform you wear, or what online newspaper you write for.
When one considers the yet-untapped potential of our site, it is indescribably exhilarating. I never imagined that a brief conversation would lead to a beautifully written and sensitive article on the indignity of poverty in Singapore. It highlighted the human element at the core of journalism – we try to tell the stories of others in an understated yet impactful way so that they, rather than the newspaper or journalist, become the centre of public attention. We have been approached by Social Studies teachers interested in reproducing the article for classroom discussions, inundated with insightful comments both critical and encouraging, and even featured in the local Chinese newspapers. Unlike many other CCAs that are almost exclusively school-centric, Press exists within the wider (and far more complex) ecosystem of public perception and online discourse. To know that our material has touched members of the public and encouraged them to engage in deeper reflection about important social issues is in itself sufficient reward for the work we put into the newspaper.
But Press’s growth does not end here, at an arbitrary junction in the middle of the year when the Year Sixes are compelled to hand over control of our CCAs to our juniors. There are still so many unfulfilled aspirations and promises left to be realized. The opinion-editorial section of our newspaper remains staunchly uncontroversial, either immaculately balanced articles that leave literally no room for disagreement or generally insipid pieces which ruminate about school life. The occasional sports final or arts performance slips under our radar and goes uncovered. The comments section of our site sometimes resembles more of an abandoned Twitter feed than an online discussion. Maybe I have the privilege of being overly critical because I no longer have to wrestle with these problems, but I genuinely believe that Word of Mouth is capable of being a price-setter rather than a price-taker – a website which Rafflesians can be proud of, and sets the bar for quality journalism in Singapore.
It is on this vaguely idealistic note that I sign off for the last time. The last twelve months in charge of Raffles Press were nothing short of amazing for me, and I hope that it has been the same for you.
The writer is the outgoing President of Raffles Press. The views expressed are his own.