It was around this time last year that it collectively dawned upon us that we may be in this thing for the long haul, with the World Health Organization officially declaring a global pandemic in mid-March.
Personally, I had just returned from a one-week break at home in London – the trip would prove to be the last time I would see my father before borders closed and he passed away soon after. Here at the Globe, our once-lively office fell silent as staff members fled Cambodia, fearing the worst of the pandemic.
Things, to say the least, were looking rather bleak.
But with nothing to lose and everything to gain, we decided to expedite the roll-out of our membership programme and ask our readers to help support our journalism at Southeast Asia Globe. As the support began flooding in, it was a move that would ultimately prove our saving grace, with what followed a complete revolution of the publication.
With a thirst for information surrounding the pandemic, we knew we had to pivot from our niche of slow features to something more responsive to events. The result was some of our highest traffic ever, with two stories in particular – Life inside a Vietnamese government quarantine and Singapore’s working poor hit hardest by economic shutdown – receiving hundreds of thousands of reads each.
This new, more on-the-pulse Globe also saw us write a six-part, Splice-funded Cambodia in Quarantine series in August, offering a deep-dive into the different pillars of the Cambodian economy rocked by the economic downturn. We’ve continued in this vein into 2021, with our coverage of the Myanmar coup – starting with events unfolding on the day of the putsch, to document leaks, and explainers on power factions – proving some of the most in-depth I’ve personally seen.
We also took steps to better engage and connect with our readers, experimenting with new features and formats. This has resulted in our first ever podcast, Anakut – The Podcast About Cambodia’s Future (a second season is set to be released in the coming months), as well as hosting our first webinar discussion on a member-selected story about the redemption of Cambodia’s child sex tourism town, Svay Pak.
But perhaps the change I’m most proud of this past year is our regional reach.
We’ve gone from an admittedly rather Cambodia-centric publication, both physically and content-wise, to a truly ASEAN-wide outlet this past year. Unable to bring staff into the country when the pandemic struck, we turned remote and recruited regionally, bringing on young writers in Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
I’m happy to say that through these efforts we’ve helped grow young journalism talent in a region that badly needs it. Globe reporter and Thailand correspondent Wanpen Pajai in particular has this past year gone from an intern getting her very first byline, to a respected, grant-funded journalist with a bright future ahead.
But all this growth can be directly traced back to that day in March last year, in which we decided to call upon our readers for their support. The funds we received in the weeks following quite literally kept our lights on as we weathered the worst of the pandemic.
While, a year later, things are markedly steadier as we lean into our new mode of working, we’re still far from secure. We’re a small team with big aspirations, with our goal not to simply to become sustainable, but to grow the Globe so it becomes a vital and representative resource for the whole region. In the months and years to come, we want to bring on and train more journalists, to keep tackling the lesser-covered aspects of Southeast Asia that promote a more informed, inclusive and sustainable future.
Thanks for being there with us this past year, here’s to a calmer next.