Keeping newspapers relevant in Sabah

Keeping newspapers relevant in Sabah
Published on: Sunday, December 22, 2019

By: Ricardo Unto

The list of top social media and messaging applications in Malaysia. (Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018)

WHEN was the last time you bought a newspaper? Probably not too long ago if you are still reading this by flipping these pages. The advent of digital technology has altered the publishing industry. 

Many believe that the emergence of eBooks, audiobooks, and online news marks the impending death of the printed word. 

Some say the demise of the daily paper is just a matter of time and the future of journalism is in the virtual world of online websites and mobile applications, not newsprint.

But is the print media truly on its way to becoming a museum piece or will it prove to be resilient in the face of the digital era?


Sabah Journalists Association (SJA) President Datuk Muguntan Vanar insisted that the newspaper industry had yet to reach its finishing line.

“For now, I will not want to predict where the industry is heading to… but to me personally, it is not a sunset industry,” he said.

“We do not have answers and newspapers all over the world have tried various approaches to meet the challenges. Some have met some levels of successes in keeping up with the challenges of the digital age.

“Personally, I believe that the mainstream media still has a major role to play in providing the accurate and fair accounts of events and situations. 

“Having said that, it is no secret the newspaper industry like many other industries is facing its toughest challenge in the current age of information technology taking over many aspects of how the world does it business in the new world.

“The issues of dropping circulation and advertisements revenue facing the newspaper industry is being debated or argued by newsrooms and owners all over the world since the 1990s.”

The decline of print circulation within newspapers should not come as a surprise to those who have been paying attention over the past decade or so.

Not only that, the display and classified advertisement revenue are also drying up and the industry has witnessed a significant wave of lay-offs in recent years.

Based on a recent Daily Express’ survey with a sample size of 205, it was found that 88.3 per cent of the respondents prefer sourcing out their daily news from the social media.

Television and news portals tied at the second spot with 51.7 per cent, while messaging applications like WhatsApp sat on the third place with 46.3 per cent.

The survey also found that print and radio were tied at the fourth place with 40.5 per cent.

At the national front, the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018 has showed that 72 per cent of Malaysians sourced out their news through social media, compared to 41 per cent for print.


‘The rapid rise of mobile and other technologies has re-shaped the manner in which the world creates and consumes information, and this change is greatly affecting the media sector.’ 

The convenience, affordability and instantaneous nature of having a mobile device made it easier for the mass to obtain up-to-date news.

To this end, Muguntan said some newspapers had opted to re-shape themselves into e-Papers and online portals to meet the changing needs of consumers.

“This business model seems to gaining some positive progress especially among trusted news brands.

“Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat have definitely, greatly impacted us (journalists).


“Today citizen journalists are also telling the events via live feeds on social media.

“It has definitely impacted us with the younger generation getting breaking news, be it ‘true or false’ through online sources.

“The impact is there, but many of these breaking news fail to follow it up and put it in proper perspective. 

“Here, I believe that conventional media role is most important to give a proper picture of events or incidents that goes viral in the Internet.

“Many times, we in the conventional media are left to clarify or explain what the real situation is,” he said. 

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) Communication Programme Senior Lecturer Dr Haryati Abdul Karim said one of the plus points for social media over conventional media is its speed in distributing news.


The trend among some of the news consumers in Sabah getting their news. (Source: DE survey)“The audiences or news consumers do not have to wait for the next day to get the latest news. 

“But this also means the audiences have high expectation of getting news faster, for example, breaking news… through Facebook and Twitter, such news can be disseminated more quickly so that the public can be more alert and anticipate for the full news.

“Journalists too, will be affected as they need to work faster to obtain accurate information which lead to much pressure for conventional media to retain audience’ loyalty.

“According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, the number of conventional media consumers in the UK and the US are declining.

“News consumers tend to get their news via the Internet by using their smartphones.

“In UK, about 28 per cent people used their smartphones for news, compared to 27 per cent for television in 2019.”

Haryati also said the digital platforms had turned the process of news reporting to be more interactive.

“Netizens are more involved in reported news published on social networking sites. For example, a news on a proposal to revamp the school curriculum can receive a quick direct reaction from netizens.

“Aside from that, conventional media now have to compete with non-commercial news enterprises.

“Such platforms provide the opportunity for small-scale and non-established media organisations to push their news to the public,” she said.


The types of news preferred by readers in Sabah. (Source: DE survey)

She also said the print media should diversify their news types, especially producing more ‘soft news’ which are “more relatable to the public’s daily lives.”

“There should also be a balance between human interest stories and hard news in print news.”

As newspapers circulation continues to shift from print to digital, Haryati said the print news remain relevant, especially among senior citizens or rural folk who may not have good Internet access.

“Hence, they still rely much on print media or television for their news consumption.”

Another challenge for the conventional media is the emergence of “alternative” online media which have a substantial number of followers.

The rapid rise of mobile and other technologies has re-shaped the manner in which the world creates and consumes information, and this change is greatly affecting the media sector.

Muguntan stressed that “journalism is not a job, it is a passion to chase stories.”

“I do not believe it will disappear. There will always be a need for journalists to tell a story in the correct perspective. “For Sabah, all of us have to wake up to the new digital reality. We cannot take a defeatist stand or be overwhelmed by the digital age.  

“Like the rest of the media around the world, we have to latch on to the digital news feed with business packages and produce quality stories for our readers in the print. 

“If we fail to change, the industry might die a natural death.” 

For now, he said, there is still a demand for local newspapers with more local content that does not find its way to the social media. 

“I believe Sabah still has an advantage as far as demand for printed newspapers is concern. Editors and journalists have to hold on this demand for localised news to keep the readers.

“Readers are already keeping abreast with major news breaking around the State, nation and world through various news breaks through online portals and social media platforms.

“I hope owners and editors play a more proactive role in keeping the newspapers in Sabah relevant,” he said.

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