Looking at the situation over at Tomorrow.sg, I have to say that things have indeed become more cranky, more contentious, more combative than seems healthy. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I have always believed Tomorrow went about mixing their content in a good, even-handed way. Sure, some posts were annoying, frivolous, or moronic, but hey, that's the blogosphere. The whole point of Tomorrow is to present as accurate a portrayal of the Singapore blogosphere as is possible. Just because I think something is inane doesn't mean that a majority or even a substantial minority will agree with me. So their 'slice of life' approach from the beginning seemed not just adequate, but appropriate.
Nowadays, every post seems to be controversial (even the ones you wouldn't think would be). People are irate, and leave ever more vitriolic comments. The flames are getting higher, the trolls more trollish. Don't get me wrong -- I think disagreement is a healthy thing, especially in Singapore. I've participated in more than one heated discussion in my time. But when people started verbally brawling over the fate of La Idler's blog, a level of ludicrousness was reached that will be extremely difficult to fully recover from. The reputation of the entity known as Tomorrow.sg has been damaged. The tone of Tomorrow is suffering.
Like it or not, agree with it or not, one of Tomorrow's functions has become that of 'legitimizer' in the Singapore blogosphere. If someone's post is picked up and published by Tomorrow (and the 'brand names' of the editors associated with it) then there's a lot more happening there than just elevated hits. A certain amount of validation and respectability is conferred along with being Tomorrowed. you may agree or disagree whether that should be the case--but that is the case. Much like athletes who become, whether they like it or not, a role model simply because of their level of celebrity. Maybe they're worthy, maybe not, but they are leaders in many areas, from behavior to beliefs.
Tomorrow, in my opinion, needs time to regain its composure, as any entity does when it suffers such a blow. In fact, La Idler's death struck a double blow to Tomorrow: there is the sorrow and confusion resulting from her death, and then there is the loss of La Idler's editorial voice, which has in a very real way diminished what Tomorrow was and is supposed to be. Some of its personality, if you will. When dissenting voices are silenced (in this case unwillingly, tragically, bitterly), then the richness of the discussion suffers. Tomorrow is the social discussion that Singapore has sorely lacked-- real people talking about their lives, loves, what they had for lunch and whether capital punishment is abhorent... it's messy, it's chaotic. It's life. And in 20 years, people will look back on Tomorrow and mark it as one of the turning points of Singaporean society from authoritarian and overly conservative to democratic, and possibly socially liberal. It will be one of the benchmarks of the maturing of Singapore into a first world nation not by economic standards, but by social ones.
So to the editors of Tomorrow, I say: Grieve. Regret. Get angry, hell, get furious. And then go out and find someone who will not replace Sondra (no one can do that), but who will be able to fulfill her critical function in Tomorrow's operations. You need that individual voice of dissent now more than ever.
V.L.P.S. (Very Long Post Script)-
Let me be quite clear about one thing: That voice of dissent should not be me. I wasn't hinting at it, and I hope none of the editors were considering it. I belong exactly where I am--on the outside.
I am not Tomorrow's apologist. Not exactly. Not quite. I sit here on my day off, watching the rain come down, watching the grey-haired auntie in matching print top and pants hawking tissue packets out of a red plastic bag. "Three for a dollar," she says to the passing crowd that wants only to scurry towards or escape from the maw of the MRT. I drink my tea, iced for the ang mo, and listen to other bands pay musical tribute to morose Fleetwood Mac songs on my i-shuffle.
That's the point. I'm an observer. I am in some sense an outsider, and have been my entire life. There has always been in me that which is emotionally and intellectually distant. That is what allowed me to weather four years in the US Army relatively unchanged, that detachment; it's what allowed me to survive X. It's both a strength and a weakness. It's ruined some of my past relationships and friendships. It's just part of who I am, as inescapable as gender or skin color. I could probably change it, excise it if I put the effort into it, but there's no point really. It has already shaped who I am and how my life has proceeded.
The point I'd like to make is that I'm not carrying water for Tomorrow or its editors. I have no vested interest in whether Tomorrow succeeds or fails beyond what anyone living in Singapore has. The only editor I've spoken to more than once or twice is Mr Myagi, and while I think he's a hell of a guy and a good writer, neither of us owe each other anything. I'm just a small if occasionally vocal fish that enjoys swimming around in the big, messy pond that is Tomorrow.sg. Because, while a part of me will always be standing to one side noting details, an increasingly greater portion of me is engaging and is being engaged by this strange creature known as Singapore.
I live here. My son was born here and will grow up here. My wife is from here. I may be just a permanent resident, but I am increasingly invested in this country, and because of this I feel increasingly obliged to shoulder some responsibility for the future direction of this country. That may sound incredibly overblown, but I mean it. Singapore didn't ask me to come. I asked Singapore if I could come, and Singapore said 'ok'. And so if I can contribute something to Singapore in some fashion by virtue of who I am and what my abilities are, I feel obliged to do so. Who I am, in part, is an observer. Who I am, in part, is a writer. I have a certain facility with words, and I have a certain frame of reference that may be of some value in the discussion of the liberalization of Singaporean society.
That frame of reference tells me that Tomorrow is an important step or milestone in Singapore's cultural maturation. That frame of reference also tells me that when you're fighting on the sandy floor of the arena, the blood and sweat and dust can obscure your vision, causing you to make mistakes that an observer can see, but you cannot. And in the end I am saying that while missteps are bound to be made, they need to be viewed in the larger context.
It's no secret I believe in the sanctity of freedom of speech. I am a product of the environment I was raised in, specifically the United States. I believe that freedom of speech is the greatest deterrent to tyranny available to the masses. I am a writer, and I am descended in large part from the Celts, from warrior-poets. Of course I believe in the power of words. Of course I rail against any move to stifle them. Of course I support anything and anyone that has as its goal, stated or understood, freedom of expression. To do otherwise would be to betray my heritage and my upbringing, my beliefs and the very definition of who I am.
Is Tomorrow perfect? Of course not. There is no such thing as perfect. But it's a damn sight better than what we'd have without it.
Some people rail against the fact that 'celebrity' bloggers moderate Tomorrow's content; others bemoan the fact that Tomorrow's editors show biases and partiality, faults and foibles. Comparisons are made between Tomorrow.sg and the Singapore government. And some of these complaints are valid. But they are also irrelevant. Cyberspace, unlike Singapore, is infinite. If someone gets fed up with Tomorrow, they are free to set up another Singapore blog aggregator based on a different model of moderation. I hope somebody does. The greater the diversity the better, especially in Singapore's case.
As far as 'celebrity' bloggers are concerned, it hardly seems fair to blame someone for being who they are. I can blame Xiaxue for writing crap because I honestly believe she's not writing to her potential. For whatever reason, she has gained a platform from which she is able make a difference and sway opinion. In my opinion, she pisses that opportunity and talent away on frivolities and lazy writing. But it's her opportunity. Even I can recognize that.
And as far as Tomorrow's editors being human—well of course they are. Tomorrow is not an emotionless mechanism into which one deposits posts, and posts get processed and published. Tomorrow is its editorial team as much as it is its contributors. And because of its editorial team, Tomorrow is an entity with a personality, not just a thing, a process, a resource. And the thing about personalities is, sometimes they come into conflict.
Welcome to the world. Welcome to the humanization of cyberspace. Do remember to wipe your feet at the door.
If you'd like to hear my opinion on the vacant editorial seat left by La Idler, here it is: Tomorrow should run a poll as to whether her seat should be filled. If the majority say yes, then they should start a nomination process. Once the frontrunners are determined, another poll should be set up and people should vote as to who they would like to see become an editor at Tomorow. (In case you were wondering, i'd vote for the rather mad jac.)