Tim the Thaiger
Meet Tim Newton, who left behind the cold winter of Melbourne for a new adventure in sunny Phuket, along the way discovering the best (and worst) of Amazing Thailand
Tim Newton is a multi-faceted media personality who I first met in Phuket, where I was Managing Editor of weekly English newspaper The Phuket News. Tim was brought in to run the nascent Phuket TV wing of the company, and I would duly trot upstairs to the studio every Friday afternoon for a recap on the important news stories of the new issue. Invariably our regular chats were fun and engaging, and Tim would impress me with his stellar work on a limited budget. Eventually I left the company to pursue a different career path, and Tim later did the same – taking over the online operations of a rival newspaper, and rebranding it as The Thaiger. Today, the page views of his new operation number in the millions. Between posts, I recently caught up with Tim to find out more about the man behind the mic (or just as likely these days, the Mac).
Let's start at the beginning – where are you from?
Broadly, Melbourne in Australia. But more specifically, the seaside area south of Melbourne called the Mornington Peninsula. Long hot summers of beach and sailing.
How did you get into media? What jobs have you done?
Well, I’ll come across as a media whore, but I’ve done just about everything from sales, to writing, to news reading, on both radio and TV, hosted radio programs and filmed and produced more than 5,000 videos. Before all this I designed boats, acted, was a competitive sailor, aerobics instructor and bad tennis player (not at the same time).
What originally drew you to live in Thailand and Phuket?
A business gone bad, a mid-life crisis, a cold Melbourne winter - all at once. So, in about 5 minutes, I decided to move to Phuket, which I had enjoyed before on holiday. I was drawn by the weather, the food, the cultural adventure, and have been in Thailand since and have no intention of ever leaving (unless they decide to throw me out).
How did The Thaiger start, and how has it changed since?
Like plenty of things in life it was part happenstance, part good luck and part serendipity. I had a perfectly good job with a media company in Phuket but had the chance to become a shareholder with the then ‘opposition’ and take over the online part of their business. At that stage their website was getting around 200,000 clicks a month. Within 14 months we’d built that up to around 17 million clicks a month. We’ve since expanded the social media footprint and into video news and information. That’s where the future is. Paddle around as a new website in 2021 at your peril!
Whilst ‘Thaiger’ started as a small Phuket news outlet, it has now become a major English-language portal for people who like Thailand, people who want to come to Thailand, and those living in Thailand, rivaling the Bangkok Post for views. However, The Thaiger is slowly moving away from being just a local news source to become an ‘Internet of Things’ for all things Thailand in the next 12 months. But we’ll keep on providing an accurate, unbiased, easy-to-read news source as part of the business.
Did you have difficulty choosing the business name?
I’ve had so many people ask me to put them onto the company that came up with the name and logo. In fact it all happened in a few short moments. I once worked for a Melbourne radio station called ‘The Fox’. We used to sign off “… you’re up to date on The Fox” and people said “they heard it on The Fox”. So I was trying to come up with some animal symbolism, but what Thai animals really convey the right vibe for a media company? An elephant? A cobra? A scorpion? But then there was the Tiger.
In an instant I could see the clever wordplay with ‘Thai’ and ‘Tiger’. As for the logo, I called a graphics friend in Australia who said “make it simple and look like a button you’d click”. I sent a yellow circle with a black ’T’ in the middle. He sent it back having twisted the ’T’ 15 degrees to the left. And that was it. We had a name, logo, colour-scheme and ‘look’ within an hour. It’s remained exactly the same for nearly 4 years.
Are you worried you might get confused with Wild Thaiger, which serves the 'best Thai food in Phoenix, Arizona'?
I was more worried about Daniel Thaiger and his famous hamburger business in Bangkok. I’ve tried to meet him for the past two years, without any luck. And his enormously popular bespoke hamburgers have gone into hibernation for now.
You spend your weekdays in Bangkok, but then weekends in Phuket, why not just choose one of those places to live?
After spending 10 years living and working in Phuket I call the island home now. But to run a SME business in Thailand you simply have to be in Bangkok, otherwise you’re just not trying. Luckily our office is a short walk from the an Airport Link station so getting to Suvarnabhumi is easy and VietJet Air continue to have inexpensive daily flights to and from Phuket. I think I must be one of their most regular customers. My twice-a-week flights are my only time when the phone isn’t buzzing and I get some quiet time to get some writing done… like these responses to your questions :)
Is there a certain type of person drawn to live in Phuket?
Phuket, as a place to live, isn’t for everyone. I’ve seen many, many good people come and go over the years. But the things I like about living on the mercurial tropical island vastly outweigh the things I dislike. I now have a partner, a home, 3 cats and a garden and live a thoroughly boring existence for at least a few days a week (in between doing a few articles). So Phuket has become a sanctuary away from the intensity of Bangkok.
To survive happily in Phuket you need to be equally mercurial, open minded and endlessly adaptable. If you have nothing to do it’s very easy to fall into bad habits. If you are busy and get a good set of friends around you, there’s an endless supply of great places to visit, apart from some of the world’s best beaches at your disposal 24/7.
How has it been flying, albeit domestically, during these times? Are the airplanes and check-in counters empty or full? Any concerns about going through airports?
Since the domestic flights started again in June 2020 I have been flying at least twice a week without any problems, except maybe one delayed flight. Apart from the wearing of masks and a few different check-in routines with apps (related to Covid), it’s actually been a more pleasurable experience than before. Fewer people, less crowded planes, staff who appear to be trying just a little bit harder than in the past. Really, it’s been a doddle, even during the latest Covid scares and restrictions (during January 2021).
Thailand has relied so much on tourism for decades, do you see the tourists returning to the kingdom any time soon?
No. The world’s travel industry has been profoundly impacted by this pandemic. What emerges on the other side will be very different, in ways we can’t even imagine yet. For Thailand I am sure the days of the 40 million annual arrivals are forever in the rear-view mirror. In the short term there is going to be a risk-averse Thai government matching a world traveling public without the disposable income of pre-Covid days.
I’ve always thought that the Thai government could massively benefit from marketing itself as the perfect long-stay, digital nomad or retirement destination. But they’ve always made it easy for the short-stay mass tourism and increasingly difficult for the longer stayers. People will still flock to Amazing Thailand but there’s going to be a lot fewer of them in the future and the things they want to see will be different from the ‘good old days’. But when that’s all going to happen, I really have no idea - no one does. All I know is that we’re still in the middle of this Covid pandemic, not near the end.
Your site covers a lot of news – what have been the main trending topics since you started? Based on your stats, do you think it's true that everyone loves bad news best?
There’s no doubt that most news is bad news, but that’s been the way since people first put pen to paper. But there’s certainly ‘hot topics’ and ‘trending topics’. The Thaiger, as a data-driven tech company, keeps a very tight track on what people want to read. Our audience always want to know (in no particular order) about Thai visa changes, any restrictions or laws that affect their life here, interesting places to visit or eat, expats-behaving-badly, and, sadly, expats that have got into trouble or made an undignified exit from this life. After doing some 16,000 stories since starting Thaiger, we still remain slightly surprised when some articles just get unwarranted ‘traction’, whilst others we’re sure will get lots of ‘clicks’, just don’t seem to attract much interest.
Out of those 16,000, what have been the top three most viewed stories you've ever published on the website?
If you weren't running one of Thailand's top news sites, what do you think you would you be doing instead?
I have never really planned my next step, so I really don’t know. But I’ll be doing something! Probably involving writing and communicating - it’s all I know how to do. At the moment The Thaiger is massively pivoting towards video and concentrating on YouTube as the next-big-thing for media. As a company we’re convinced that the headline / photo / story websites are on the wane. Any measurement of media shows the push to video and away from written words. My job is not to despair about the changes in media consumption, but understand them quickly and adapt. We pour over stats endlessly and the future is much easier to predict when your crystal ball is clear.
And if you ever retire, what would you like to do next?
Write a cool travel blog and do Q&As with people in the media.