By Gobind Rudra
The sudden departure of FZ.com’s editor (» FZ editor quits on short notice) after just three weeks will put an edge on the meeting scheduled for this morning between the proprietor, Tong Kooi Ong, and a downcast editorial team pondering the future.
The big question is: what does Tong want?
Does he have a political agenda, as some say, or does he expect to pull off a commercial success with FZ.com, as he has managed to do with The Edge and its stable of spin-off publications and sections?
The Edge carved out its own territory in the go-go days of the 1990s, having slipped strategically into the gap between two dailies, the Star’s business section and NSTP’s stodgy Business Times, and NSTP’s equally stuffy monthly, Malaysian Business.
Television creams off 65% of total advertising expenditure, leaving the rest to be shared by the press. The Edge’s editorial content created a clearly defined and targeted advertising market: executives with corporate and private purchasing power, and personal disposable income.
So it won a steady crowd of readers and made money from the various specialised and cleverly-targeted sections aimed at the executive lifestyle.
For FZ.com to be a commercial success, as an online offering without a printed edition to capture a slice of the press advertising, it needs eyeballs. Online advertising is a game of numbers. But in its initial first three weeks FZ.com has been a nebulous offering, lacking a clear sense of purpose with a web site that reflects the static approach of a printed newspaper, not the dynamism of online news.
It doesn’t look like a news operation. It doesn’t feel like a serious news operation. It gives the appearance of providing a smorgasbord feast of news but which goes down more like a buffet of Teochew porridge — watery and snackish — rather than a full meal.
It’s news in soft-focus put to an audience used to high definition.
With elections due by April 2013, the months ahead offer the brightest prospects for catching eyeballs — if that’s what Tong wants, but the crowd of hardcore political readers is of little interest to advertisers.
It would also mean taking on Malaysiakini, Malaysian Insider, Free Malaysia Today, Malaysia Today, Malaysia Chronicle and Malaysian Digest.
Or he could take the general-interest approach, with a mixture of hard news, opinion and soft news, a la Malaysian Insider, which FZ seemed to be attempting without much serious intent.
Either way FZ must compete. It needs to make an impact, create buzz, and have a recognisable identity. It must stand for something. And that probably means getting down and dirty and breaking some real stories. Big stories. Otherwise, why bother?
It will be interesting to see what comes out of Tong’s meeting.