"It was a damn good one year, until I decided to make it commercial".
This remark was made by Bertha Henson, former associate editor of The Straits Times and founder of now-defunct socio-political site, Breakfast Network (BN), during the launch of her book Troublemaker at the Arts House yesterday evening.
Bertha wanted Troublemaker to be a commemoration of the BN story. Founded by Bertha in January 2013, BN was a moderate socio-political site that provided Singaporean news and views.
It ceased its operations in December last year, after Bertha and her editors declined to meet the registration requirements imposed by the Media Development Authority (MDA).
At her book launch, Bertha reflected on the BN experience and felt that the site was a "worthwhile experiment at active citizenry". She felt that her friends and undergraduates did something that was very different from what was seen online. The book details the BN story and is a collection of Bertha's blog columns and her commentaries in BN.
In her book, Bertha wrote that "troublemaker" was the word Ambassador-At-Large Tommy Koh, who was among the book launch participants, used to describe her. In their conversation about the demise of BN, Koh said that Bertha was "a good troublemaker" and Singapore "need more good troublemakers".
Breakfast Network Part Deux?
The question on everyone's mind was whether Bertha would resurrect BN.
The reply, consistent with our interview with her below, is an emphatic "no".
She felt that it was "too tiring". While Bertha did "not mind the workload", it was the "legal side, the business side" that "was the killer". She added that she rather be at the "beck and call" of her readers, rather than the people who hold the purse strings.
As a parting shot, Bertha questioned the wisdom of MDA's demand for her site to be registered.
Bertha felt that "she was in a much better position now, editorially speaking". In her personal blog, she was free to write what she has to say.
When she was at BN, she had to think about the entity and "drew the OB markers a bit tighter".
And a potential title for her next book? Troublemaker in Trouble, which she also said would "make her very unpopular with the mainstream media journalists".
Mothership.sg caught up with Bertha earlier this week before she got all nervous about her book launch.
1) You mentioned in your book that you are contemplating on re-launching Breakfast Network in early February. It's now August. So what are your plans for BN?
I also said in my book that I changed my mind about it. And that’s another story entirely.
2) Can you share with our readers how the Breakfast Network crew made the decision to close down the site? Was it a consensus? Was the decision put to a vote?
The decision was taken by the key players or the so-called "oldies" in the group.
3) In your book, you recalled your meeting with seven staff from MDA and MCI. You mentioned that MDA's CEO said that she didn't see a need to make the registration public. Do you think MDA's public exchanges with BN could be better handled? How should they have addressed your concerns?
I supposed we could have dealt with it privately and out of the public eye. Like how the G deals with mainstream media. But that’s not a style I advocate. What’s wrong with being transparent so long as you don’t dig in your heels such that there’s no room for compromise?
4) Are you still in contact with the folks from MDA after the public exchange of statements?
Hmm... should I be?
5) Where are the Breakfast Network alumni now?
Where they have always been -- studying and working -- but without the pressure of hourly deadlines!
6) The book included much detail about the Breakfast Network story. If you are a media professor teaching young journalism students, how would the story of Breakfast Network go down in history?
As an example of the stupidity and rigidity of Government bureaucracy when it comes to dealing with citizens who want to contribute to active discussion of Singapore life.
7) What inspired you to write the book?
Because Breakfast Network is a comprehensive account of domestic happenings and this disappeared when we closed down the site.
8) Tell us more about your book cover.
That was the publisher’s brainwave. His team had experimented with other designs revolving on graffiti on the wall and decided that a real photograph would work better. That’s the Toa Payoh block which had been spray-painted with some bad words and for which some youths had been charged. I thought it was a real fit for a troublemaker!
9) Can you share with us how you selected the articles for the book?
I left this very much to members of the Breakfast Network team, trusting to their judgement to come up with a coherent narrative for each section.
10) You've written a number of commentaries on ST and criticised ST's coverage and reporting. What is your view on the current editors at ST? We noticed you seldom made references to the other editors' commentaries except Chua Mui Hoong, Han Fook Kwang and Lydia Lim.
But they ARE editors – and the ones who write most frequently!
11) You now teach at Tembusu College and run your own media consultancy. What advice would you give to aspiring journalists today?
Journalism is more about reporting than writing. But while you can get the facts, it’s tougher to get to the one truth. Finally, writing simple is real hard work.
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You can contact Ethos Books to purchase the book. Troublemaker is available at major bookstores in late August.