New Naratif is the trading name of and is published by Observatory Southeast Asia Limited, whose objectives are:
Build a broader understanding and more diverse, complex view of the Southeast Asian region that helps contribute to solutions for important issues facing the people of the Southeast Asian region.
Innovate on research, news, and culture publication in the Southeast Asian region, in content, form, and channel, and offer an outlet for talented Southeast Asian researchers, journalists, and artists.
Promote the universal values of democracy, freedom of the media, and freedom of inquiry, information, and expression.
In its second year of existence, New Naratif has received praise in Southeast Asia and globally for our stories on the region. Despite numerous political and financial challenges, our membership is growing and we have a steady pipeline of stories which reflect growing impact on the political discourse in Southeast Asia.
Between 1 October 2018 and 31 March 2019 (six months), a total of 143 pieces of content were published. This compares favourably with the total of 210 pieces published in the previous year. The 143 pieces include:
103 total journalism articles, including:
47 unique articles, translated into one of five different Southeast Asian languages.
23 “Akan Datang” articles— a look ahead to the week’s most important stories in SEA
2 explainers, which aim to explain an important issue facing Southeast Asia, both of which were translated into Bahasa Indonesia
5 research articles, 2 of which were translated into in Bahasa Malaysia
23 podcasts, for nearly 30 hours of total audio content
Of the 114 prose articles, 77 are in English, 26 in Bahasa Indonesia (BI), 7 in Bahasa Malaysia (BM), 2 in Vietnamese, and 2 in Chinese. While we have professional translations for the BI and BM articles, Vietnamese and Chinese translations are done by members of New Naratif whose support has extended beyond financial. We also have a partnership with Crossing, a Taiwanese news site, which translates articles from New Naratif into traditional Chinese and publishes them on its site. We are then allowed to convert these translations into simplified Chinese and publish them.
These prose articles cover a wide variety of subjects from across the region, from the ongoing occupation of West Papua by the Indonesian military, to inequality in Singapore, to the overlooked positive effects of social media in Myanmar. We even went further afield and published an article on Indonesian migrant workers in Taipei.
Overall, including all formats, New Naratif has published 143 items over 26 weeks (New Naratif only publishes 50 weeks per year, with the last two weeks off), for an average of 5.5 items per week—well above of our target of two articles per week. Excluding translations of the same article, we have published 83 items, or 3.19 items per week.
In December 2018, we published our best English-language articles in a 650-page book to commemorate the first year of New Naratif, entitled New Naratif: The First Year. To the end of March 2019, we have sold or gifted around 600 copies of the initial 1,000-copy print run. Copies have been sold to individuals and libraries in the USA, Europe, and across Southeast Asia. We have been pleased with the result of this experiment and aim to produce a print edition of New Naratif in the future. New Naratif: The First Year can be purchased here.
New Naratif’s membership continues to grow. At the end of March 2018, we had 402 members; at the end of September 2018, we had 540 members; by March 2019, we have 750 members. Calculating our active members, however, has been tricky as approximately a third of our crowdfunding members have not converted their pledges into memberships. Their crowdfunding pledges will expire at the end of August 2019, and we will then only have members who are signed up via the website. This will give us a clearer idea of our total number of members.
For the same reason, crowdfunding members’ free memberships will expire in September and they will have to manually pay for a new membership (as their initial membership was not auto-renewing, unlike members who signed up after September 2018). We estimate that a significant number—perhaps as high as 50%—of crowdfunding members will not renew. Consequently, we are not anticipating membership growth in 2019 as we will lose a significant number of members in September.
In the period under review, we gained 372 members but also lost 24 members whose memberships lapsed or who cancelled their memberships for a net gain of 348 members.
Our 372 new members are domiciled in 29 countries and territories. This includes 14 new countries, for a significant diversification of New Naratif’s membership base. Our members are now registered as being domiciled in such far flung places as the Western Sahara, the Bailiwick of Jersey, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and Slovenia. We now encompass a total of 35 countries.
New Naratif is proud to be an organisation which prizes diversity. Our staff are majority female, and come from a wide range of ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds. They are all Southeast Asian (or permanently resident in Southeast Asia), intimately connected with their local communities, and passionate about telling important, meaningful, and relevant stories about our home region.
We are supported by a network of ~150 contributors across Southeast Asia. Our relationship with our contributors goes beyond just the publication of content. Our contributors are a valuable source of information, advice, and also function as eyes and ears on the ground to help us identify important issues which we can address.
Apart from our Editor-in-Chief, New Naratif does not pay any salary to our Directors (Managing/Research, Design, or Creative), who work on a pro bono basis.
New Naratif’s team has drastically expanded in the period under review. In September 2018, we employed four editors. By March 2019, we employed 12 editors:
Editor-in-Chief: Kirsten Han
Deputy Editor, Editor (Bahasa Indonesia), Regional Editor, and Consulting Editor for North Sumatra and Aceh: Aisyah Llewellyn
Membership Engagement Editor: Deborah Augustin
Editor (Bahasa Malaysia): Adriana Manan
Comics and Illustrations Editor: Charis Loke
Design Editor: Ellena Ekarahendy
Consulting Editor (Sulawesi and Maluku): Ian Morse
Consulting Editor (Sabah): Jared Abdul Rahman
Consulting Editor (Cambodia): Matt Surrusco
Research Coordinator: Chua Minxi
Consulting Editor (Kalimantan): Nita Roshita
Consulting Editor (Peninsular Malaysia): Ooi Kok Hin
We are also finalising new hires in several areas, including an Academic Editor and technical expertise in podcast and video production. We would like to employ more Consulting Editors for other major urban areas and majority-minority areas of Southeast Asia, but this is subject to our budget being able to accommodate this.
New Naratif is also committed to publishing in multiple Southeast Asian languages. Due to technological and funding limitations, we are currently publishing chiefly in English, Bahasa Indonesia, and Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia. We run a newsroom that works on articles in multiple languages simultaneously, with the Editor-in-Chief leading the English language output, and two Editors in Bahasa Indonesia (Aisyah Llewellyn) and Bahasa Melayu/Malaysia (Adriana Manan) taking charge of content in those languages respectively.
New Naratif continues to look to expand the team. We will hire an Academic Editor and we further plan to hire a Public Engagement Editor, who will be our liaison with our non-member audience.
New Naratif is a non-profit organisation. We have adhered to the principle of sustainable funding, spending only what we have on hand. Thus, while we lost money this year, we did not incur any debt as we had cash reserves from the past year. This year was anticipated to be a challenge as we would essentially be working largely from crowdfunding pledges the previous year, as crowdfunding members got a free year and did not have to pay for membership again this year.
In September, we anticipate that a number of our members will renew their memberships. At this point it is hard to anticipate exactly how many will renew. To be conservative, we are working on an estimate of 50% renewals in our budget projections.
It is of utmost importance that we continue to expand our membership base, and find new grants and donations.
A chart showing a general breakdown of New Naratif’s expenditures is below.
The political and regulatory environment for independent media remains overwhelmingly hostile. This past year, Southeast Asian journalists on the receiving end of state-sponsored intimidation and harassment—such as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo in Myanmar, and Maria Ressa in the Philippines—were among those named as Person of the Year and featured on the covers of TIME magazine. Apart from instances of violence and criminalisation, Southeast Asian journalists also regularly face obstacles in reporting, such as the lack of freedom of information laws, politically appointed editors, and widespread self-censorship. All ASEAN countries are in the bottom 60 of the World Press Freedom Index, from Malaysia (the most improved country in the past year) at 123 to Vietnam at 176 (out of 180). Other major markets for New Naratif include Indonesia at 124, Singapore at 151, and Cambodia at 143. The lone bright spot in Southeast Asia (relatively speaking) is Timor-Leste at 85. Neighbouring Papua New Guinea, by contrast, is at 38.
Across Southeast Asia governments are introducing legislation ostensibly aimed at curbing the influence of online misinformation (“fake news”) but which is also ripe for abuse. The track record of these governments in abusing laws for political gain and increased censorship is not encouraging. Joining the Undang-undang Informasi dan Transaksi Elektronik (UU ITE) in Indonesia (introduced 2008 and revised 2016) are the Cybersecurity Law in Vietnam, and the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) in Singapore. These all threaten activists, academics, and journalists who choose not to toe the government line.
In summary, there is a very difficult legal, regulatory, and political environment for independent media in Southeast Asia, on top of a market that does not generally pay for news. Publishing in this region also carries significant political risk. New Naratif mitigates much of this risk by being incorporated as a private company limited by guarantee in the United Kingdom. Avoiding any Southeast Asian jurisdiction shields our work from political interference in Southeast Asia.
Furthermore, while we are committed to transparency, we employ pseudonyms where necessary to protect our writers. We also have a policy where only one editor knows who the author behind the pseudonym is, to minimise any potential exposure. We are constantly reminded that our contributors face threats to their safety across Southeast Asia, and we will continue to do what we can to help our contributors and staff remain safe while they do their jobs.
Long-term financial sustainability remains a major challenge. However, we have grown every month. As noted above, to be conservative we are anticipating that a significant number of the crowdfunding members will not renew their memberships in September. This may cancel out any growth in membership numbers in the coming year, or even cause a fall in our overall membership. However, all remaining members will be on auto-renewing plans and we can be more confident of their support going forward. We will operate at a conservative level this year that we feel confident is sustainable and, in the meantime, we will continue to apply for grants from various funding bodies.
Over the next 12 months, New Naratif has three main aims:
Using the lessons from the past two years, revamp and realign our publication schedule so that we can better focus our output on products which are of value to our members.
Do a better job regularly engaging our members and building them into our processes, so that New Naratifis a product of co-creation between our team and our members.
Improve the functionality of our website, in particular improving user experience, language functionality, and the ability to display content.