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SCMP’s Top Editor Talks About Changing Technologies, Changing Times, Changing Newsrooms

The age of the iPad is changing the way news is created and consumed, and journalists need to acquire new skills in technology and embrace new ways of telling stories if they are to survive and thrive in these fast-changing times, said Reginald Chua, Editor-in-Chief of the South China Morning Post.

Reg Chua at the JMSC (Photo: Cedric Sam)

Chua, the top editor at Hong Kong’s leading English-language daily newspaper, shared the realities of a changing newsroom in the age of information technology and social networking to a packed audience of JMSC faculty and students at The University of Hong Kong on September 30, 2010.

The event was part of the JMSC Industry Talks, which bring in media and industry leaders to discuss media trends.

“In some ways what we do as journalists is alchemy,” said Chua who focused his talk entitled “The Alchemy of Information” on what remains core in journalism and what has changed. “We take base information like base metals, throw in a little insight and analysis, weave in some narrative magic and, hopefully, at the end it becomes gold. Except things have changed quite a bit.”

“I think in many ways this is a golden age for us, we’ve never had so many tools, or opportunities to collaborate on information gathering, and it’s never been so easy to publish.…It’s a plus for the world, and great for start-ups, entrepreneurs and great for people unencumbered by (the way things were done), but we have to learn how to co-exist with the science, the chemistry and the audience,” he continued.

However, Chua also noted the flip side: “It is a very testing and worrying time for journalists.” He pointed out that gaining adequate advertising revenue remains a challenge as readers  turn increasingly to the Internet for information; the South China Morning Post charges a fee for its online edition.

In these changing times, we need to decide what is really core, he said: “We really have to ask the question `what is journalism for?’ It performs a witnessing function, it performs a watchdog function, it should explain and analyse, it should try to explain the world to you, and in the old days it built a sense of community.”

For example, the newspaper is adapting to the changing times in part by adding analysis and content both online and in print. Earlier this year, the newspaper hired Yolanda Ma, an alumnus of the JMSC, as its first Social Media Editor, and the newsroom has found ways to deepen its coverage and analysis in areas such as China, the environment, health and business.

Reg Chua talks to students (Photo: Cedric Sam)

Before joining the SCMP as Editor-in-Chief in 2009, Chua had a successful 16 year career at The Wall Street Journal, most recently as Deputy Managing Editor at the paper’s base in New York. Prior to that, he was Editor of the Asian-edition of the Wall Street Journal in Hong Kong. He had previously worked as the newspaper’s Manila correspondent and also opened the Hanoi bureau.

A native of Singapore, Chua started out his career at Singapore’s Straits Times, followed by working at Reuters in Singapore, and was also a television and radio journalist at the Singapore Broadcasting Corp. Chua earned his Master in Journalism from Columbia University and his Bachelor of Mathematics from the University of Chicago.

As a journalist and media executive, Chua is keen on keeping up with the fast changes in information, and often explores and examines these issues on his blog