Journalism’s New Horizons: A Soapbox For Students

Written by Descalsota Ann Nicole Bernardino, Lim Ziqian
Photography by Victor Lim

Not many people are aware of the power that words wield – after all, they are merely different permutations of the alphabet. However, words can inspire us, and they are the medium through which we tell our stories. In the same vein, words can also manipulate and inflict hurt. By extension, journalists, who are wielders of words, then occupy an especially critical role in society today, especially in the media industry.

In 2019, two aspiring journalists from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI), Matthew Loh and Osmond Chia, started Soapbox.sg, an independent and student-run news organisation. Its mission is to provide impartial news about campus events and issues that matter to students at NTU.

The decision to start Soapbox emerged in part due to the termination of The Nanyang Chronicle in 2018. Launched way back in 1994, the Chronicle was a trusty student-run campus newspaper published by WKWSCI. With its cessation, life at the mass communications school just felt incomplete.

For the majority, life at school went on. However, for Matthew and Osmond, who had set their sights on specialising in journalism from the get-go, they knew something had to be done. Matthew explained: “We thought that we could become the ones to help them get their voices out.”

With that, Soapbox was born. Fast forward two years later to today, the news organisation comprises a team of 16 dedicated writers, editors and photographers. For the team, Soapbox is a training ground for them to dip their toes into journalism. Soapbox’s stories run the gamut, from updates on the pandemic to amusing accounts of students running into macaques on campus.

“We might not be the best or the most experienced, but at least we can have a platform for journalists to come together, encourage each other, and hopefully do something for their portfolios,” Osmond said.

Soapbox going strong even in the midst of a pandemic. Photo credit: Osmond Chia

Additionally, while the publication was only started in 2019, the friendship between Matthew and Osmond actually goes all the way back to when they were freshmen back in 2017! Their shared passion for journalism, coupled with overlapping interests and mutual friend circles, brought the two together such that their working partnership in Soapbox felt like a natural fit.

In many ways, the personal friendship between the two had benefitted the publication as well. For instance, Matthew has been known to spur Osmond to take on a few gutsy interviews on quite a few occasions.

Despite being marketed as a club under WKWSCI, Soapbox is run independently. This has given the publication and its writers more space for creativity to cover stories of interest. But at the same time, this independence is a double-edged sword, especially when you’re running a news organisation.

“We’re not protected by any organisation. It leaves us vulnerable to being criticised or shut down,” Osmond confided.

Opening up about the risks of running this publication, Matthew and Osmond highlighted the importance of impartiality when writing. Writers had to be cognisant of the language and tone used. They are also pushed to exercise neutrality by gathering perspectives from all parties involved.

Matthew shared:

The job of a journalist is not to express themselves.

The onus is on the journalist to simply collect information and convey events objectively. Ultimately, Soapbox aims to serve their readers by allowing them to think critically and formulate their own opinions.

However, given the nuances of expression where substituting one word for another can turn a sentiment on its head, this job is anything but simple. It’s safe to say that the journey of starting Soapbox hasn’t been all that smooth sailing to say the least. However, at the end of the day, what matters to both Matthew and Osmond is having a platform that gives student a collective voice. Come what may, having a meaningful purpose in mind helps them tide through even the toughest of times.

“It’s tough work, but you never know who these stories will benefit,” Osmond said.

If these stories can help someone or can put the spotlight on certain issues, it’s worth getting up for. That keeps me going.

Matthew and Osmond have been featured as part of our Humans of NTU series, where we spotlight NTU undergraduates and their passion projects. From environmental startups to dating services, these individuals truly bring out the diversity and innovation of the NTU spirit. Check the rest of them out on our website!