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Quality journalism remains central during digital disruption

World News Publishing Focus

World News Publishing Focus
Your Guide to the Changing Media Landscape

Quality journalism remains central during digital disruption

Ng Yat Chung was appointed CEO of Singapore Press Holdings on September 1, 2017. Prior to joining SPH, he was the Executive Director and Group CEO of Neptune Orient Lines Ltd (2011-2016) and Senior MD of Temasek Holdings. Before that, he was Chief of Defence Force in the Singapore Armed Forces. PHOTO: WAN-IFRA


Ng Yat Chung

Ng, a former chief of defence in the Singapore Armed Forces, joined SPH as CEO in September 2017. He oversaw a retrenchment exercise aimed at lowering wage costs by up to 9% and has continued his predecessor’s policy of growing the property business along with related verticals like nursing homes.

While SPH’s media business are still profitable, the company now derives about two-thirds of operating profits from real estate.

In his speech at Publish Asia 2019, Ng said media will always remain a core business for SPH and that the company continues to invest in new digital capabilities to secure the future. He further described the newspapers owned by SPH as “important institutions” that have constructive roles to play on behalf of the country and the communities they serve.

In particular, he highlighted Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao as a media brand with potential as it had a tremendous following in China that far exceeded Singapore’s population of 5.6 million.

Ng added that as CEO of a listed company, part of the job involved finding alternative revenue streams to satisfy shareholders.

Looking ahead, Ng said his challenges as CEO included changing an organisational mindset that had been entrenched over decades during a period when SPH’s print newspapers enjoyed a dominant position.

Likening the task as “getting an elephant to dance,” Ng said SPH needed to adopt a company culture more suited to a digital organisation that is less silo-ed and less hierarchical. This involved staff becoming more cross-functional, more data literate and more willing to make decisions and experiment with change based on evidence.

“Until recently SPH sold our advertising space and inventory by titles and platforms … Often, an advertiser would have to deal with several competing teams to get any campaign going. It was not easy to do business with SPH,” he said.

SPH has since integrated its sales team such that they sell across different publications and platforms to help advertisers reach their target audience.

The company also set up Singapore Media Exchange – a joint venture with traditional rival Mediacorp – to sell programmatic advertisements across their different media properties. SMX is in the process of bringing on board other partners and aims to become a regional player in the sale of brand-safe advertising space.

Ng said SPH needs to offer a positive vision to attract and nurture journalistic talent so that its publications can continue to provide high quality and reliable news that readers will pay for.

This, he said, will allow SPH publications to “provide the common space for civic discourse that Singaporeans need”.

Hu Shuli was named one of the World’s Greatest Leaders by Fortune in 2017, awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2014 and listed among the Top 100 Influential People of 2011 by Time magazine. PHOTO: WAN-IFRA


Hu Shuli

Hu, an internationally-respected and decorated Chinese journalist, editor and publisher, has ensured Caixin stayed close to its origins as a provider of financial and business news. Besides offering content through its website and various publications, Caixin also organises events and provides data such as the widely-followed Caixin Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) that tracks manufacturing activity at small and medium-sized companies in China.

Caixin became the first major Chinese publication to put most of its online content behind a paywall in 2017. The company has more than 200,000 subscribers, according to recent reports.

In her speech at Publish Asia 2019, Hu described the newsroom as Caixin’s “core business engine”. Getting subscribers to pay for content directly monetises the company’s core product and establishes a direct relationship between writers and readers.

In the same vein, she said that companies need to upgrade their internet infrastructure regularly despite the costs involved as user experience was key in a digital world.

She added that media companies should stick closely to their core competency of producing original news content and protecting the intellectual property, as that was why many of its employees got into the industry in the first place.

“Our old, very successful business model, which depended on advertising, doesn’t work well anymore. While we are searching for new business models, we shouldn’t give up our core value,” she said.

At Caixin, editorial independence is enhanced via a Board of Trustees that is independent of management. The trustees have the final say in setting editorial principles, as well as in the appointment or dismissal of the editor-in-chief.

Hu added that recent concerns over fake news only served to highlight the importance of professional news organisations.

“Producers of such high-quality news can’t be replaced by immature aggregators and commentators in China or anywhere else for that matter. Such work requires time and commitment to determine what is important and to integrate and interpret the news for ordinary people.”

“High-quality news will always have an important place in any society, especially in transitional societies such as China and Asean,” she added.

Hu said the business models adopted by media organisations will have to change in response to technology trends and user preferences, but the importance of independent, quality journalism will never no away.

“Even though we may hear the same pessimistic voices that winter is coming, tomorrow is going to be even better,” she said.



About the author: Kevin Lim is a financial journalist based in Singapore.


Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim


2019-05-13 05:07

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