The Edge and Singapore Business Times today have the story about white knights and the Malay Mail. My name was mentioned in the reports.I left the Malay Mail on Valentine's Day in 2006. I had to leave. The Board of the New Straits Times Press had already made the decision to turn the Malay Mail into what the CEO then described as "a college paper". And they didn't think I'd like to be the Editor of such a paper. Of course, they were right on the last one.
"Siew and Mohamad intend to recall Ahiruddin Atan (sic), a blogger who used to edit the newspaper when it was under the NSTP, as the daily's editor."
I can confirm that we have been talking, and that I am seriously considering going back ...
Months earlier, the Malay Mail had to close its offices in Penang, Ipoh, Melaka and Johor Baru to allow the New Straits Times, which had just been shrunk to its current size from broadsheet, to grow. It was thought that the Malay Mail was in the way of NST's effort to catch up with The Star. Someone said the NST's circulation was poised to hit 180K a day in no time if the Malay Mail pulled out of the "regions".
In 2003, two years after became the Editor of the Malay Mail, it emerged as the fastest-growing English daily in Malaysia, doing particularly well in JB and Penang. We were doing what theSun does very well these days. People first, even back then. Mudrakers, exposes, probes. Good old-fashioned news. We were never that interested in politics (except when we got hold of pictures showing the MCA boss with a triad chief or when a certain politician got caught for multi-million ringgit casion debts). After we branched out from Kuala Lumpur, the average daily circulation exceeded 60k for the first time since the mid-1980s' peak (as reported by the Singapore Business Times, reproduced in White Knights here). Ads remained an issue, though. We failed to recover the Classifieds we lost to The Star's great siege of the 1990s. It was always "NST first" when it comes to ads, something which we'd learned to accept as the small brother in the NSTP family.
The college paper project was an experiment that went awry. After the Weekend Mail was suspended, here, there was talk that the NSTP was going to sell the paper to Ananda Krishnan or Tony Fernandes, or even closing it down. In March last year, Blue Inc.'s Ibrahim Nor, a former NSTP man, and Abdul Rahman Ahmad of Media Prima, one of the few who backed me openly against the shutting down of Malay Mail offices at the regions, bought the paper from the NSTP in an attempt to save it from closure.
After more than a year, Ibrahim's team did good to bring back the spirit of the "old" Malay Mail, the Paper That Cares. But sales continue to languish. The daily circulation is said to be around 20k. Why that is so, nobody can really answer. Perhaps the world has moved on. Perhaps the newspaper-reading public have lost faith in the paper ...
In any case, the newspaper business is never meant for the faint-hearted. Given today's environment, it has become tougher than ever. The economic slowdown, competition from the new media, stifling laws and regulations, and low esteem. Five years under the Abdullah Administration, the credibility of some of the major newspapers has reached bottom.
The Malay Mail, at 113, is the oldest Malaysian newspaper (the NST claims to be 164 years old but 1845 is actually the year The Straits Times was established in Singapore; the New Straits Times that was born in KL following the Malaysia-Singapore "split" is only 37 years old). It survived two World Wars, it survived the television, and was there at the start of our Nationhood. The Malay Mail has given the ordinary people a voice through a mass media, assumed the role of government watchdog, and helped draft the history of this country.
To me, it is more than just a newspaper. It's a Malaysian heritage.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The Malay Mail: A Second Tour of Duty
at May 30, 2009