Tell people in Singapore that you’re a journalist and they almost always ask, “SPH ah?”
They can’t be blamed for that assumption; the Big Two, Singapore Press Holdings and MediaCorp, are the biggest source of jobs for local journalists. There are many experienced, hard-working and talented journalists in both these companies, gathering news in Singapore and overseas every day. Unfortunately, The Economist described Singapore’s mainstream media as “insipidly sycophantic” for a reason. Our press freedom rankings also suck; something that the Prime Minister doesn’t take seriously but journalists should.
There are a number of international news organisations with bureaus or staff in Singapore, but such opportunities don’t come along very often. Even these big news organisations are downsizing, spreading their employees ever more thinly. Judging from research done on the journalism industry, journalists all over the world find themselves having to resort to ‘churnalism’ now and then – or even more regularly than that – to fill pages and airtime.
In this context, being a freelance journalist is practically a convenient necessity. A necessity because getting a job might be difficult if you don’t particularly wish to work for local mainstream media, and convenient because there are definitely perks that come with being a freelancer.