Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Post wanted a younger audience, so it started rapping the news.

But not everyone was happy about it.

By Holly Robertson

As newspaper sales stagnated, the Phnom Penh Post began looking for ways to appeal to more young Cambodians.

Koam Chanrasmey, the 28-year-old head of the newspaper’s video department, searched for inspiration. He found it in online clips of newscasters rapping the news in countries like Uganda and Senegal, but felt the approach had to be carefully considered before it could be introduced to conservative Cambodia.

“Rap is not Cambodian culture, it’s African-American culture,” he says. “But we could see the increasing popularity of rap among young people, and felt it was a different way of engaging the young people with reading the news.”

“We took that idea and [decided] let’s see what we can do in Cambodia to fit the Cambodian audience.”

The Phnom Penh Post has distinct English- and Khmer-language editions, with the latter known as Post Khmer. This is also reflected in their respective social media channels. The first clip, rapped entirely in Khmer, was posted on the Post Khmer Facebook in March to a generally warm reception from its followers.

Some anonymous users reacted with negative comments, accusing the rap news presenters of “destroying Cambodian culture”. But Chanrasmey tells Splice that the team values the positive comments, which ranged from “I never thought Cambodians could do this kind of thing” to “I never consume the news except for this; I like listening and dancing to the music”.

The online rap news show had gained about two million total views, with the highest to date surpassing 200,000 for an episode focusing on the bizarre case of an immigration police officer who staged a fall in front of a barely moving car. He was dubbed the ‘Poipet flopper’ by local media and earned the ridicule of Facebook users.

“When we started with the first episode we got 40,000 views and then we kept going up to 100,000 views [per episode],” Chanrasmey says.

A video still showing Post Khmer's rap news presenters in action. Photo: Post Khmer/Facebook

Taking a break

But despite also drawing a spike in social media followers, the experiment in news delivery went on hiatus in September. One of five shows produced by the Post video team, the rap news series failed to attract an advertiser, while others have achieved financial viabilitythe travel, food and ‘Who is Who’ interview segments all have regular or semi-regular sponsors. 

“We want to keep continuing it, but we also have to make sure that it is sustainable,” Chanrasmey says of the rap news series. “We still have no sponsor yet, but we’re trying.”

Episodes are time-intensive to produce: over the course of a week a composer creates original backing music, editors choose the stories, and the rapper duo creates rhymes to match. By Saturday morning, shooting is underway and editing follows in the afternoon.

Every element is carefully considered, according to Chanrasmey, from the time of posting“normally we get more views at noon time”to the thumbnail that accompanies the videos, in an attempt to draw in an audience aged 22 to 35.

“We want to have both female and male [viewers], but we ended up having majority men, like 95% men,” he laments.

Cambodia’s hot media startup Khmerload wants to build a Southeast Asian empire.

This is how they're creating the 'BuzzFeed of Asia.'


Anything but politics

But while Chanrasmey says the video team aims to “engage young people to look at quality news and help them to shape their future,” politics has been off limits.

Cambodia’s authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been in power for more than three decades. A government crackdown ahead of elections in July has seen the country’s opposition leader, Kem Sokha, jailed on treason charges, his political party forcibly disbanded and most of the opposition’s senior leaders flee abroad. The media has not escaped unscathed: the independent Cambodia Daily newspaper was closed down in September, while U.S.-funded radio broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have been forced off the airwaves.

The focus of rap news, then, has been on topics such as international news, business, entertainment and crime. And while Chamrasmey hopes to revive the segments, any relaunch would have to navigate a tense political environment.

“We have to be careful, because with rap news there are some things we cannot explain in 30 seconds, because we know what happens in Cambodia. People are not so interested as well; they might be scared to share the story,” says Chanrasmey.

“We don’t want those kinds of feelings around the stories. We think we have another purpose, to provide positive news.”

Holly Robertson

Holly Robertson is a freelance journalist based in Cambodia and an editor for The Splice Newsroom. Her work has been published by The Washington Post, Guardian, BBC, Columbia Journalism Review and VICE, among others. Follow Holly Robertson on Twitter.

From this week



Governments & policy

Civil society groups in Singapore are concerned that a proposed public order bill would confer on police the authority to shut down communications in times of unrest.

No live broadcast of police operations. No transmission of text, photos or videos of the incident. No documentation of police action. The government’s apparent goal is to preserve an official version of information, but you can see how this is a source of worry for journalists trying to cover incidents on the ground. The definitions are so broad that the law could even be used to crack down on peaceful gatherings.




Noun Project is a delicious vocabulary of visual abbreviation.

In plain-speak: crowd-sourced icons for everything. But it’s interesting to think about what a hyper-simplified icon says about race, and this essay nails it. “Many depictions of race — icons or otherwise — rely on outdated tropes, stereotypical depictions, or fetishized myths to accomplish recognizability. Icons of race should celebrate physical differences as representative forms because failing to do so will result in misrepresentation by homogenization.”
The Noun Project

The Sydney Morning Herald launched its redesign a couple of weeks ago.

The new design system has a read-later feature called Shortlist (do people still use those?), contextual info-dives, and skimmable ‘talking points’ boxes (us old newspaper designers loved those). The website is now more horizontal in its scroll navigation, with cards in rows going across, compared to the earlier version with sections tottering about in columns. But good design is always about more than just what you see. I asked Frames subscriber and SEO dude Vahe Arabian what he thought. “I like that they’re using Varnish for the shortlist tool, and to to boost site speed. But they still need to work on optimising their topic hubs. They also need better linking to related stories instead of over-relying on their tool.” Thanks, Vahe!
Sydney Morning Herald

One of our favourite beards and designers, Van Schneider, hung out with the folks at Farmgroup, a design firm in Bangkok.

They’re largely a branding shop, but have grown into a full service design consultancy. They work on lots of interior and restaurant design projects, and I really like what they do with menus. “Graphic design is relatively young in this country; we are all still finding a place to stand in the world. I think one of our fortés is being crafty (in both meanings).”
Van Schneider