Clubhouse wins race against old news elephants

Clubhouse wins race against old news elephants

With the new audio chat application Clubhouse in town, who will still want to read a newspaper? A few hands may be raised. A few hundred or even a few thousand probably.

But those may not be enough to pull the old media out of its downward spiral. The writing is on the wall; it has been for a while.

The print media, and by extension "journalism", in Thailand is on its deathbed, being drowned out by fast, constantly connected social media platforms and their plethora of "content."

What is striking about it?

The decline of newspapers, being disrupted by new online media, isn't news.

This waning has gone on for more than a decade, with international and domestic mastheads going through several rounds of transformations as they struggle to survive.

The situation is more pronounced in Thailand where the mass media have become intrinsically embroiled in the political conflict over the past decade.

Whether due to the need for financial survival or inherent political bias, the independence and role as purveyors of fair and balanced reports of some media outlets have been called into question.

Like other content-generating social media platforms before it, Clubhouse will not only influence how we interact with one another but how we perceive the world around us.

It's possible that our lives will be dominated by voice technologies more than written words and keyboards in the future.

Under the scenario, it's not just old-school journalism that will be sidelined but also our relationship with "truth".

Clubhouse, currently invitation-only and available only on iOS, has arrived in Thailand at an opportune time.

Facebook has been the most popular social media platform in the country, with about 50 million users out of a population of about 70 million.

Some analysts, however, believe that Facebook may have reached a limit in terms of its audience growth.

Some people feel fatigued with the social media's algorithms and its seemingly overly aggressive attempt to "feed" us with what it thinks we like.

The Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing have also made many crave other forms of human interaction apart from news feeds and written comments.

Clubhouse, which allows people to listen to or participate in conversations on various topics in digital rooms, seems to have filled the need.

As celebrities rushed in to set up rooms and start conversations on the new platform, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) set in.

Clubhouse soon became the talk of the town as Bangkok's who's-who show hopped onto the new platform.

The app has become so popular that invitations to join it, two of which are available to each member, are up for sale on e-commerce sites.

Another reason why Clubhouse is on everybody's lips is that it's a place where people can discuss taboo topics.

The "elephant in the room", that many mainstream traditional media have turned a blind eye to, is dancing around in Clubhouse to enthusiastic participation.

While an allegation made by Move Forward Party's member Rangsiman Rome of corruption involving so-called "elephant tickets", which have allegedly helped police officers "buy" promotions, was left out of most traditional media, digital rooms about the topic flourished on Clubhouse which were filled to the max in minutes.

Although Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwon denied the accusation, saying none of it is true, the hashtags #elephantticket and #policeticket trended on Twitter last weekend.

The contrast is too stark to ignore.

On one hand, the difference between the bustling discussions on Clubhouse and the near silence on the part of the mainstream media on the same topic could underscore the political polarisation that is largely based on the generational divide.

On the other, the arrival of Clubhouse and its quick rise in popularity has reaffirmed the deadly weaknesses of the old media.

People do not stop reading newspapers because there is a new audio chat app which allows us to have direct conversations with celebrities and people in the news.

People do not stop reading newspapers because it's slow and not interactive either.

The press' reason for existence is to report the truth, calling a spade a spade.

People do not stop reading newspapers because there is Clubhouse. They stop reading newspapers because there is the elephant in the room but the press wilfully ignore it.

They stop reading newspapers or any media old or new because it's irrelevant.


Atiya Achakulwisut is a Bangkok Post columnist.

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