Weekender – A New Print Newspaper
You are not likely to find this story in The Straits Times, Today, and most other mainstream, for-profit media.
I started to receive this newspaper at my home perhaps about half a year ago, and I didn’t think much about it. I had thought that it was just one of those supplements that came with my Straits Times subscription.
Some time later, I realised that this was something quite different. It was actually delivered on a Friday night, and it wasn’t a Chinese tabloid.
Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a brand new newspaper! And a social enterprise was producing it.
As a Communication Librarian, I was intrigued.
I didn’t think that anyone or any company in Singapore would ever see the financial sense of competing head-on against the media giants Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and MediaCorp.
And given the current debate on newspaper licensing for online websites, I also wondered what it was like to apply for a newspaper permit in Singapore, even though this story was going to be about a print newspaper.
And so, I conducted an email interview with the “humble team” at Weekender to find out more.
ORIGINS OF WEEKENDER
Mr Frank Young, 49, was studying for his Master’s degree a few years ago when he spotted a gap in the marketplace for “a large-circulation lifestyle publication”.
Young said: “As I was doing my research for business projects, I discovered a need that was unmet… and based on my calculations there was tremendous potential.”
“Meeting unmet needs profitably is the foundation of any sustainable enterprise. By creating this enterprise opportunity, another opportunity presented itself as well – the potential to hire disadvantaged to deliver the papers on a weekly basis.”
Young presented a proposal to the Ministry of Social & Family Affairs (MSF), who agreed to support the social aspect of the operations.
For the business aspect, he roped in Mr David Phey, 50, a fellow veteran in the advertising industry.
Young shared: “David was instrumental in attracting the attention of an investment company, Centurion Corporation, which were quite keen on the idea of an enterprise with dual mission – Profitability and Social responsibility.”
As expected, it required “millions” of dollars to start a print newspaper. Centurion Corporation became the majority shareholder, with Young and Phey contributing financially as well.
Next, the two founders applied for a Newspaper Permit and founded Weekender. According to Young, the application process was very straightforward.
“Simply download and fill out the form, have a good business model, a few prototypes for their evaluation.”
THE SOCIAL ASPECT
Weekender “provides training and employment to disadvantaged Singaporeans from CDCs (Community Development Councils), ISCOS (Industrial & Services Co-operative Society Ltd) and IMH (Institute of Mental Health)”.
Disadvantaged Singaporeans make up over 40 per cent of the company’s staff strength.
Depending on their talents and capabilities, the jobs that they do include writing, newspaper distribution, and office admin work. About half of the staff at Weekender work in the editorial and sales departments.
It is Young’s hope to help the disadvantaged people re-integrate back into society, and he is fiercely protective of their identities.
When I asked to interview some of his workers, Young explained: “These disadvantaged do not want to be known for the past as ex-offenders, suffering from bi-polar syndrome or being single mothers. It’s very personal and very private.”
“I know there are many companies who parade their disadvantaged people as promotional elements. Doing so continues to stigmatize them publicly… I know it’s hard to believe, but they simply aspire to be treated as normal people.”
Young directed me to the IMH Job Club, where Ms Camellia Soon, a vocational specialist, was willing to share that the employment opportunities provided by Weekender has benefited more than 10 of her clients.
She added: “Besides giving our clients employment, the job of newspaper distribution also helps train our clients in areas of physical stamina, social interaction and independence. This is very important as it is an opportunity for those recovering from mental illness to further improve themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
THE BUSINESS SIDE OF THINGS
Despite its status as a social enterprise, Weekender faces the same business challenges like any other profit-driven media organisation.
Young explained: “Our biggest challenge from the start is to break into our potential advertisers ‘considered set’. As a challenger brand against two very large and very established organisations (SPH and Mediacorp), trying to convince advertisers to try something new requires us to change their behaviour.”
“Being a social enterprise is not a competitive advantage. In fact most in the B2B (Business-to-Business) sphere, where we operate, people don’t know what a social enterprise is. And people seldom buy from companies they don’t understand. If people do understand it, there may be some advantages but only in very specific cases.”
In less than a year since its inaugural issue in October 2012, Weekender has become the third-largest circulation newspaper in Singapore, with 230,000 copies circulated weekly via a proprietary system of distribution.
Weekender is distributed on Fridays. Digital copies of the weekly issues in PDF format are available on their website.
THE EDITORIAL POSITIONING
In sharp contrast with the all-in-one serious news and lifestyle reporting editorial model in mainstream media, Weekender’s content is “focused on participating in events, hobbies, and info that makes people happy”.
Sections in the newspaper include Events, Entertainment, Sports, Fashion, Food, Travel, Home, Health and Wealth.
Young says: “We believe information can help to change people’s mindset, and participation in activities with family and friends is paramount to enduring happiness.”
Their editorial positioning makes Weekender an excellent choice for promoting the Arts.
Young adds: “Another effort we provide is to create awareness for various Singaporeans media artists, from filmmakers to literary artists. By creating greater awareness for them, we aim to help them succeed and by extension help make Singapore a richer, more dynamic country.”
This deliberate positioning of the paper has scored for Weekender start-up funds from the Media Development Authority (MDA).
As a business with a social bent, Weekender also promotes fellow social enterprises such as Laksania and Beat’a Box.
Overall, Weekender seems to be well appreciated by its readers.
An in-house survey conducted by Weekender among 500 people showed that 44% used the paper for ideas on what to do during weekends.
Such encouraging feedback bode well for the future of Weekender. Although the business has yet to turn financially sustainable, Young believes that their break-even point is “not very far away”.
Borrowing a phrase from GOOD magazine, Weekender appears to an excellent example of “pragmatic idealists working towards individual and collective progress”.
It remains to be seen how the birth and growth of Weekender will impact SPH and MediaCorp, but the founders are very clear about what it takes to succeed in doing good.
Young shares: “…(A)t the heart of all social enterprise is the enterprise itself… Without a sustaining enterprise, there is no social enterprise.”
- Digital copies of Weekender in PDF format are available at www.weekender.com.sg
- Support Weekender on Facebook!
- For WKWSCI students and graduates, Weekender is “always looking for talent”. At the time of the interview, there were positions for salespeople and a content planner for the editorial department.
Credits: Images in this blog post are courtesy of Weekender Singapore.