We’ve sold out for our launch party! For the 80 of you with tickets, see you next week: 5-8pm, December 2nd Friday, 42 Waterloo Street, S(518086).
Our F&B line-up: snacks by Shahi Maharani, beer by Watering Hole, wine by Analogue Wine Merchants, and an old-school ice cream cart by Uncle Chieng. Thanks guys!
We’re also very appreciative of the support of Centre 42, a non-profit committed to the creation, documentation and promotion of Singapore theatre. You’ll meet some of their staff next week; C42 is housed in that cute, blue building where the party’s at.
This week’s essay, “Subtitles: Lilian Sim”, is a story by Tak Meng, a Singaporean who currently lives in Paris, about growing up in 1990s Singapore, and watching local television dramas everyday.
On the cusp of the current digital revolution, Tak Meng’s generation may have been the last to communally, ritually, follow the same shows at the same times on terrestrial TV: Channel 8 favourites like “Morning Express” (阳光列车), “The Price of Peace” (和平的代价) and “Stand by Me” (家人有约); and Channel 5 ones like “Under One Roof” and “Phua Chu Kang”.
“As a people, we have perhaps become accustomed to looking outwards for our cultural influences and inspiration—and certainly are all the richer for it. Yet, it would be a shame if we lost sight of the fact that we too have our own stories, uniquely ours to tell, with many still waiting to be told.”
It is a nice complement to last week’s piece about hallyu, the Korean wave. But how did we decide on these two essays? I’m going to spend the rest of the newsletter talking about the method behind the content that you see, including the essays and the Singapore This Week blurbs.
Let me first start with our broad ideological approach to what Jom should or shouldn't talk about. Think of some prickly social and political issues: drug liberalisation, military national service, S377A, and the death penalty.
Jom’s position is that: for drug liberalisation and military national service, we are happy to showcase commentaries for and against. (Even if internally we disagree with them.)
But for S377A and the death penalty: we will not offer a platform for supporters. In other words, commentators who are in favour of criminalising gay men or in favour of the death penalty will not be able to push their agendas on Jom.
Why not? Some have told me that Jom should showcase every view across the entire spectrum in Singapore, including extreme nativist ones (another no-no for us).
There are several problems with this approach. I’ll mention two. First, it ignores the potential harm to vulnerable groups that may be caused by allowing such speech. A pastor in Singapore calling for the criminalisation of gay men is, to us, a form of bigotry that can lead to prejudice and violence against them.
(There is a longer discussion to be had about the ongoing tension in journalism between “objectivity” and “moral clarity”, which was sparked partly by journalists failing to call out Trumpian lies and bigotry under the guise of “objectivity”, or bothsidesism.)
Second, Jom has strong and clearly defined values: Independence, Humility, Solidarity, Diversity, Inclusivity. Everything we publish has to be consistent with them. There is a bit of subjectivity in the application. A commentary about maintaining national service may, to some, conflict with our values. It might often come down to the precise phrasing and words.
One framework we used in our bootcamp was Hallin’s Spheres. Topics within the sphere of consensus are presumed unworthy of journalistic attention, because there is no debate about them. Topics within the sphere of controversy are where most attention is paid. And topics in the sphere of deviance fall outside the bounds of legitimate debate, and so journalists can ignore them.
Consider poverty in Singapore. In my assessment, over the past two decades, this has moved from the sphere of deviance (“there is no poverty in Singapore”) into the sphere of controversy, mostly thanks to academics like Teo You Yenn and Ng Kok Hoe. Singaporeans debate it openly today.
Or consider S377A and cannabis. Jom, through our journalism, hopes to help move cannabis from the sphere of deviance into the sphere of controversy—while pushing S377A in the opposite direction. (Helped, no doubt, by its likely imminent repeal.)
Let’s move from ideology to week-to-week story selection. How do we do it? For Singapore This Week, it’s actually a collaborative process between seven people every Wednesday to Friday morning. (Think we’re all still getting used to the manic crush.)
One topic of discussion this week was whether to include another FTX blurb, given recent revelations. But we’re conscious of the fact that we wrote about it last week, and will probably do so again next week (since Parliament debates it from next Monday).
In the end, we decided not to. Three consecutive weeks of FTX may be too much for our readership.
Our essays, meanwhile, typically take two to three months to produce. One of the joys of starting Jom has been working with Singaporeans on their long-form journalism. But it’s also a cause for some stress—we’re always worried about our pipeline.
Some essays are more time-sensitive than others. For instance, we wanted to publish our pieces on farms and Dover Forest quickly, given their imminent destruction. Others, like the one we’ve published today, have actually been sitting patiently in our stockpile. We could have published it last month, or next year, it would still be a beautiful piece of 1990s’ nostalgia.
Because these less time-sensitive ones serve as a sort of editorial backup, I think we’ve learned that it’s important to always commission both: those relevant to current affairs, and those less so.
Finally, who at Jom decides which stories to commission? It’s really Charmaine, Jean, Waye and I reaching a consensus. Those editorial jams are actually some of the most fun sessions I’ve had this past year.
And for those who’ll be at our launch party next week, you’ll meet all of them! And we’ll talk a bit more about what happens at Jom behind the scenes.
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