Dear friends, supporters, viewers,
Following the modest success of my GE2020 videos, many of you have asked me to keep producing written and video content on Singapore. And the assorted social media gurus in my life have told me I need to keep up “engagement” and what not. Thanks so much for the support.
Well, unfortunately, I am soon going to retreat into my writing shell. I must finish my China-India book, which is almost done. But I’ll probably need another four to five months at least, perhaps more. Aside from the odd post about food or my unwashed hoodie, you won’t hear from me regularly during this time.
“Regularly”. Of course, like over the past twelve years of writing publicly about Singapore, I will emerge when buddies tell me my voice is needed on an issue, whether critiquing the 2015 Workers’ Party manifesto, the 2017 presidential election, or when Ong Ye Kung, then education minister, compared Alfian Sa’at, one of our leading playwrights, to Nazis and violent jihadis in parliament.
Now, of course, I have a completely new platform through which to call out bullshit. And I have an audience, across the generational divide, across the income spectrum, willing to listen. (I think.)
So, for example, if I see something like another AHTC saga emerging, my team and I will be on the scene. We will tell you the good, the bad and the ugly: whomever it comes from, PAP or WP, Amos Yee or Calvin Cheng.
I’m not too bothered though. There are many talented Singaporean commentators out there doing an amazing job on different platforms. (“Are you sure MY voice is needed? Is that just my ego talking?!?”, is a frequent refrain to buddies.)
Anyways, I hope to soon return to full-time work on Singapore. Once the book’s first draft is done, I will refocus my energy on something that has been in the pipeline for a while, an idea that has been given a huge boost by your recent views and support: building a media outfit in Singapore.
So, one last time, thanks for following my election commentary. Please sign up below to receive updates on my work and the media business. For those who want to first know more details about the biz, do read on.
My media plans
Friends have long prodded me to think about creating The Economist or The New Yorker for Singapore. Those are two of my favourite publications, and I’ve written a few articles for the former, during the seven years I was employed by the newspaper’s sister units (Economist Corporate Network and then Economist Insights).
Of course for a variety of reasons I don’t think we will ever have the ability to emulate them, or even come close.
Yet there are a few things about both I like: quality over quantity; broad subject matter, from arts and culture to politics and business; and a mix of formats, from short to long form, podcasts to video.
When I say quality over quantity, I see no need to put out something every day simply for the sake of attracting eyeballs or keeping up social media engagement. Everything will be patiently and well-crafted.
It will, however, be platform agnostic from Day One, i.e. everything from the written word to video and TikTok is fair game. Much of my planning will involve how to tailor solid analysis and content into the different formats, as I tried to do with my seven-minute election videos.
Those of you who have read Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, the book I co-wrote with Donald Low, one of Singapore’s smartest people (now at HKUST—come back!!!), might have spotted several references in the videos from there.
So, yes, different formats to reach different demographics.
And no, I am certainly not going to cover just politics. So boring.
Some of my own favourite pieces include my long forms on food, like this one about nasi lemak and The Coconut Club, which was co-founded by my late dear friend Lee Eng Su. Or my writing on business and technology, like this piece on Go-Jek. Or my writing on personalities, like this one on my late cat Gorby, or this one on the late Anthony Bourdain.
I love writing about people. In my opinion this is one of the biggest gaps in Singapore. The vast majority of biographies, obituaries, profiles, “Lunches with” that are out there, with all due respect, these are all mostly sub-par. We hope to do a much better job so that Singaporeans and others can get to know about all the amazing personalities who have helped shape our beautiful garden city.
We will operate on a very low cost base. I’ll probably raise a little bit, but not much. As you know, I’m quite happy to set up my own lighting and film myself on my trusty Samsung. This will be all about slow, steady growth.
One of the biggest mistakes, in my opinion, with new media start-ups all over the world, is their insatiable desire to get their valuation up, perhaps looking for a quick exit. They expand too quickly, quality invariably suffers.
This will be the opposite. The growth of my team will be dependent on the growth of subscriptions. Though I’m not averse to advertising and commissioned work, the core media business will never become dependent on that.
Yes, I know this may sound naive to investors with a short term horizon, in a world romanced by the lure of sponsored content and native advertising and product placement. But I believe that in the long term, integrity = quality = trust = loyalty = sustainable cash flows. That’s the game I want to play.
There are many talented young Singaporean journalists around, both within the mainstream media and outside. And now, through my brief video experience, I also know that there are many talented Singaporeans in all the other essential roles, from social media and PR to research and video production.
I do not for one moment worry about the availability of Singaporean talent, something that might have bothered me, say, ten years ago. I believe we have the people here to build a top media brand. (Whether I can convince them to join me on this journey, well, let’s see.)
On that note, the most important thing will be to separate my name from the brand. Before this video series, many were asking me to create fancier logos for “SudhirTV”, to perhaps nurture the sort of personality-led outfit that has enriched influencers globally. I understand where they are coming from, but my desire is to build something that has nothing to do with me.
The coverage will be on Singapore and anything to do with Singapore’s connections with the world, e.g. I’d love to do a twenty-min video feature on “The South China Sea” issue or “The wood and furniture business in South-east Asia” or “The Chatuchak effect”.
Hopefully, in ten or fifteen or fifty years, it will be a media brand that Singaporeans are proud of. And of course, if I’m wrong about the above and it fails, then I’ll just go back to my old life, lah.
Which, because of you all reading and viewing and sharing, is pretty nice anyway.
p.s. perhaps the only thing that might delay the launch of this media brand is if I find an exciting opportunity with a cutting-edge global media outfit. That experience might help me in the long-term.