Archive | September, 2011

Cancellation of Halloween Horrors: A Public Relations Horror

22 Sep

By now, you should have already heard: there will be no horrors at the Night Safari come this Halloween.

The cancellation of the spook fest has been the talk of the town since the announcement was made last Tuesday. It sparked a furore both online and off.

It seems that everyone has something to say. The topics run the gamut from speculating why the event was abandoned to condemning the poor management of public relations of the Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), the parent company of the Night Safari.

Netizens are up in arms over the sudden cancellation of Halloween Horrors and slammed the decision on blogs and social media. Offline, newspaper forum pages have been abuzz with viewpoints and opinions on this issue.

I am in no way affected by the cancellation and can only offer my views as a passive observer of the chain of events that unfurled over the last two weeks. I don’t celebrate Halloween (always thought it’s just another reason for adults to dress up in an attempt to hark back to their childhood days) and have never been a fan of these fright nights.

The last (and hopefully final) time I went through one was during my freshmen year. In fact, I went through two. Two fright nights in a span of two months – one for my faculty camp, and the other during hall orientation camp. Needless to say, I was terrified of the ‘ghosts’ and ‘spirits’ that jumped out at me along the dark corridor and I vividly remember telling myself that I am never going to let anyone put me through this anymore.

Still, this saga is of immense interest to me.

What immediately struck the communications student in me when I first got wind of this news was the appalling manner in which the company managed this whole issue.

Lessons from my Public Relations Writing class came flooding back as I read reports after reports about the controversy. I shall take the liberty to delve into some of these lessons.

Lesson #1: Be honest 

This is, what I believe, to be the root of all the heated public discussion. WRS seem to be hiding something behind their backs, given the abrupt turn of events. The private company, set up in 2000, cancelled the Halloween fest merely two weeks shy of the event. This was after 1000 tickets, which cost between $40 and $56 for adults, were sold. This was after 17 Singapore Polytechnic students spent the last seven months working on the event as part of their final-year project. And this, was after nearly $1 million had been pumped into the organisation of the event.

The reason for the sudden cancellation was due to “negative feedback from corporations, friends of the zoo, the public and the media, especially over the event’s relevance in relation to conservation”, said Ms Isabella Loh, WRS’ new chief executive.

It is a valid reason, granted, if the decision made to can this event was made long ago. Detractors have pointed out that if that really is the reason, then the show should go on for the last time this year. I cannot agree more. It shows a complete lack of strategic planning on the part of the management. Using this feeble excuse to justify their actions is puzzling and suspicious all at the same time.

If WRS is bold enough to make such a radical decision, then they should be daring enough to come clean with their real agenda.

Lesson #2: Never stay silent

It was reported in a story published on Monday in The New Paper that since releasing a statement, WRS has “decided not to answer further queries”. Staying silent is one of the worst thing an organisation or an individual should do when thrust into the media and public spotlight. Not coming clean with the truth is bad enough, but staying silent is worse. Keeping mum would do nothing to quell speculations and would only create the impression that the organisation is indifferent to the storm that is brewing in the public sphere. It shows a complete lack of respect to what the general public thinks. Eventually, the public backlash may even translate to poor business in future as the level of trust in the company goes downhill.

Lesson #3: Be consistent

There is disparity in WRS’ public statements. Ms Isabella Loh first attributed the cancellation of Halloween Horrors to the need for “more family-bonding and wholesome activities”. To support her point, she drew reference to President Tony Tan’s comments at a separate event at the zoo three weeks ago.

Dr Tan had said then: “Such family bonding, I believe, is very important for Singapore because we need to create informal occasions where families, children can bond with their parents and grandparents.”

Ms Loh subsequently apologised to Dr Tan for taking his comments out of context and in the process implicated him in this issue.

A few days later, she explained that the decision to abandon the fright night was because stakeholders feel that the Halloween fest has little to do with conservation. Yet a few days later, she revealed that after a visit to the Halloween Horrors programme, she felt “uncomfortable” and “upset” because it was “too scary”, suggesting that her personal views and beliefs were reasons for the cancellation.

This incongruence simply reflects poor corporate messaging. It would have worked better had WRS stated all the reasons from the very beginning. The varied accounts confuse the public and as mentioned, fuels speculations that they have something to hide.

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If anything, the horror of these events lie not in the fright night itself but in the mismanagement of the corporate communications team of the WRS. It is shocking and  horrifying to see an established organisation make such grave mistakes when the stakes are so high.

The good news for WRS is that this saga would undoubtedly tide over in no time. People will move on, in pursuit of the next scandal. But this incident will not be forgotten completely. The impact of such controversy is far-reaching. If WRS continues to clamp up and refuse to get down to the crux of this issue, they just have to live with the consequences of a tarnished reputation that will surely haunt them for a long time to come.

American man died in accident along Pasir Panjang Road

16 Sep

An American man died in a car accident along Pasir Panjang Road yesterday evening when his car spun out of  control.

Mr John Frazier, 47, was instantly killed when his Mercedes crashed into a utility pole at the junction of South Buona Vista Road and Pasir Panjang Road. The impact of the crash threw him through the car’s windshield and he landed on the pavement about 20 feet away.

The car hit two pedestrains who were walking their dog. All three suffered light injuries.

Police said that it was raining at the time of the accident and that Mr Frazier, had been driving about 20 mph over the speed limit. The Asia Pacific director of U.S. investment bank Hogawny Flinch, who has been living in Singapore for four years, was believed to have not been wearing the seatbelt.

 

Of cakes and dreams.

15 Sep

Wentong shares about her aspirations and her love for baking.

Part I

In this first part, she shares about her when and how she first started baking. The video also showcases some of the yummy goods she has created over the years.

Part II

I sit down with her and ask her to share her thoughts on baking as well as her goals and hopes for the future.

9/11 – Thoughts

9 Sep

One Election, Many Themes

2 Sep

A few pertinent themes surfaced in the blogposts my coursemates and I wrote. It is worthwhile to look at these themes because underneath them lie deep seeded issues that have been brought up time and time again. After reading through the stories, I categorized them as follow:

Social Media

A couple of friends talked about the use of social media in this election. The May General Election was dubbed a social media election. It is no surprise that analysts are keeping tabs on how social media has been employed in the Presidential Election as well. Anjali wrote at length about how social media was used in covering the results of the elections. However, she also showcased in her post the ills and downside of using social media in a live broadcast. This was most apparent when a laughable comment made on the channel’s twitter account was shown live on television.

Taken from Anjali’s blogpost:

This tweet went viral and it wasn't long before it became the butt of jokes

Singaporeans who did not vote

This was covered by two of my coursemates, Yi Han and Natalie. I thought this was a refreshing angle to take because much has been said about Singaporeans who ho exercised their rights as citizens and voted for their seventh president but not many stories focused on the people who did not have their say. Yi Han brought up an interesting issue, one that has not been covered in the papers before – of Singaporeans who did not vote in the Presidential Election because they were unaware of the deadline that they would have to meet in order to reinstate their names. The interviews that both of them had in their stories were also appropriate and strong as they managed to find people that can support their story angles.

Reporting ‘live’ from the gathering place

A couple of friends blogged about what happened on the night the results were released. These were reported from the gathering places of the various candidates. Tamilai was at Dr Tony Tan’s gathering place (Toa Payoh Stadium) whilst Wonky Wan  and Samantha Branson was at Dr Tan Cheng Bok’s gathering area (Clementi Stadium). Their blogposts were interesting as the writers gave a first hand account of what happened throughout the night. It gave me, the reader, a good feel of the events of the night as they gave a minute to minute account. In particular, Wonky Wan incorporated multimedia and a slideshow of photos in his post. He also managed to get good quotes from the supporters present at the stadium and these capture their mood and raw emotions.

This quote from Wonky Wan stands out to me in particular because it aptly represents a generation who is increasingly politically conscious:

One of his youngest supporters present at Jurong East Stadium, Poh Emran, 15, said he is “happy for Singapore to have a new President” and if he could say one thing to Dr Tan Cheng Bok now, it would be “Thank you and (the campaign was) a job well done”.

Samantha, on the other hand, took some excellent photos. I find this the most poignant:

A tired looking Dr Tan Cheng Bok thanking and greeting his supporters. Photo credits: Samantha Branson

Voters and the prevailing mood of the election

There were a few opinions on how well received the election was by the younger voters. In his blog post, Kenneth wrote about how young Singaporeans were excited about the election. He later moves on to talk about how these young people made their decision on who to vote for base on materials found on alternative media. Twofourfive on the other hand, wrote about how there was not much hype and excitement surrounding the Presidential Election. She managed to get good quotes from Singaporeans (of all ages) which acurately reflected the disinterest and this helped strengthen her story and made her angle believable.

One of them being:

An elderly citizen, Mdm Teo, expressed her discontent, saying, “This is so troublesome. I had to come here from the market just to vote.”

Analysis

A few course mates such as Wen Tong and Ken gave an overview of the election. One which left an impression is Amelia Tan’s post on the silent majority and how they are a formidable force. It is a fresh perspective, one which throws light on a group of people that has not been mentioned much, if at all. Her lead paragraph was wonderfully crafted and it drew me into the story at once.

My Thoughts

Reading these blogposts gave me a comprehensive understanding of the Presidential Election and brought me to think of issues which I had not consider previously. What makes a good story is one with strong angle, supplemented with appropriate interviews and quotes. Incorporating photos and videos into the blogpost, as Wonky Wan did, are plus points as they add colour to the story.

RSS Feed for an environment reporter

2 Sep

As a reporter, it is important to stay on top of the news and be in the loop. Using RSS feeds is one of the best way to be in the know as subscribing to different feeds would enable the journalist to receive latest news related to his beat.

As an environment reporter, I have chosen to subscribe to both local and international websites. Below is a list of the websites I have added to my Google Reader and my reasons for subscribing to them.

1. National Geographic

This provides a comprehensive look on current environmental issues that plague the world. Perhaps I could even explore to see  if any of the issues discussed can be applied to Singapore.

2. Science News – Environment – The New York Times

Just as with National Geographic, subscribing to this feed would enable me to keep up to date with environmental issues in the west and again, see if any of these issues have a significant impact on Singapore so I can follow up on these stories.

3. Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

As an environment reporter, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources is the government ministry that my beat would work closely with. Subscribing to their feed would enable me to receive first hand news and information. For instance, they would upload speeches of the ministers. This would be useful as I would be able to get my hands on the information I need as fast as possible. 

4. National Environment Agency 

Similarly, subscribing to the NEA feed would allow me to get first hand updates about the work of the agency.

5. Dr Vivian Balakrishnan’s Facebook Page

As he is the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, monitoring Dr Balakrishnan’s Facebook page would be good as it would allow me to keep tabs of any announcements that he might make via his Facebook. Ministers are increasingly using social media to reach out to Singaporeans and it is not uncommon for them to make news-worthy comments or even announcements via their Facebook page.

This is the link to my Google Reader: http://www.google.com/reader/view/#stream/user%2F11799655095984623352%2Flabel%2FEnvironment

Political high comes to a low in Presidential Election

1 Sep

The political game caught on like wild fire amongst many young Singaporeans during the General Election, but seemed to have died down in the recent Presidential Election

Throngs of young people turned up at political rallies such as this during the campaigning period of the General Election. Photo Credits: The Online Citizen

A few days before Singaporeans head to the polls to vote for their President, Ms Stephanie Tan logged onto Facebook, expecting to find out what was being said about the candidates on the social networking site.

Much to her surprise, there was little talk about the Presidential Election (PE) save for a few comments and repost of news stories.

This was a far cry from the General Election (GE) when her Facebook and Twitter feed was inundated with self-penned articles, discussions, status updates and links to political websites, said the 22-year-old auditor.

Ms Tan also noted that the topic of electing our next president was rarely brought up during conversations with her friends.

“Everyone was talking about politics during the GE but this time round, things seem quieter. At times, it didn’t even feel like we were having an election,” she added.

Singapore elected its seventh president last Saturday in a nail biting race. Dr Tony Tan emerged victorious by a razor-thin margin of 0.4 per cent. Runner-up Dr Tan Cheng Bok trailed Dr Tony Tan by a mere 7,269 votes.

The unprecedented race saw four candidates vying for the keys to the Istana. In the only other contested election in 1993, there were only two contenders.

Fresh from the May elections, which roused the political consciousness of many Singaporeans, one could expect the political high from the GE to spill over to the PE.

Many whom this writer spoke to, however, noted that the PE was not as warmly received especially amongst the younger voters.

“The disinterest could perhaps be due to the fact that the President do not affect our everyday life as much as the government does. We were after-all electing our Members of Parliament for our constituency in the GE,” said Mr Lee Wenkai, 24.

The banker said that he gauges the prevailing mood of the PE and its hype amongst his peers base on social media such as his Facebook feed and in his conversations with his friends.

Mr Lee was however quick to point out that though there was lesser hustle and bustle on social media in this PE, it did not mean that youths were apathetic.

The comparatively limited role of the President coupled with the fact that there were lesser candidates to scrutinize could have attributed to the dearth of postings online, he noted.

“People were still concerned with the matter, and from what I observed, they still bothered to find out about the candidates. But it was quieter this time round probably because there’s less to discuss about in the first place,” he said.

While the lack of talk online might serve as an indicator of the popularity of the PE among younger voters, it does not give a holistic picture, as there were some who still turned to mainstream media for news.

Ms Tiffany Tham, 22, kept abreast with the election news by reading The Straits Times everyday.

The final-year communication studies student said that she prefers reading the papers to online commentaries because “there is more structure in a traditional news story”.

“Editors help readers sift the wheat from the chaff. Even though I know that there are many sources out there, I do not have the luxury of time to assess for myself which bloggers are better than the others,” she said.

Ms Tham agreed with Mr Lee’s view that lesser talk online does not translate to indifference.

Whether or not there was hype built around the PE, what is of most significance is that these young voters make a discerning choice, she added.

“Ultimately, it is about making a rational, informed decision and choosing the one whom they feel would rise to the President’s role,” she said.

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Singaporeans’ hopes for the new President

Five young Singaporeans share their expectations of the President-elect, Dr Tony Tan, as he officially begins his six year term today.

Joel Haw, 30, Senior Technical Service Officer

“My hope is that he would be a people’s president – one who would go out and meet regular Singaporeans, talk to them and find out their concerns and if necessary, feedback these concerns to the government.”

Goh Yiling, 23, Management Trainee

“I hope he would hear the voices of the people and safeguard their interest while working together with the government to sustain the nation’s economy.”

Jonathan Goh, 22, Undergraduate

“To be an international representation of dignity and good stewardship, so that the reputation of Singapore can be enhanced – to use his considerable soft power to benefit Singapore overseas and at home through charity. And to be a head of state that we can be proud of.”

Jamie Lui, 27, Civil Servant

“To advance causes which are in the best interest of Singaporeans and for him to have the foresight to make decisions that will bring the country forward.”

Phang Xiao Feng, 25, Undergraduate

“I wish for him to have genuine care for Singaporeans and to support causes that would benefit and help the less privileged.”