Message from Keith
Finally, some good news.
After a decade of disruption and decimation of newspapers, we are seeing some positive, unmistakable signs of a turnaround.
The New York Times reports that the company now gets two-thirds of its revenue directly from readers, and subscription revenue topped US$1 billion in 2017. The Times now has 2.6 million digital-only subscribers and made more than US$600 million in digital revenue last year.
The Washington Post is on a hiring spree and expanding its foreign coverage, with plans to open new bureaus in Hong Kong and Rome, and adding a second correspondent to Mexico City. With the expansion, the Post, under new owner Jeff Bezos, will have 27 correspondents spanning the globe in 19 bureaus.
And the South China Morning Post, under the Alibaba Group’s ownership, is hiring more staffers, launching new digital products, and completing a move to sleek new open space design office in Causeway Bay. The SCMP under Alibaba took a different tack than the Times, dropping its paywall and making its online and mobile sites free to expand readership.
Part of the print revival, at least in the U.S., might be attributed to the so-called “Trump effect”—there’s just so much news emanating from the White House every day that readers are flocking back to the traditional, trusted media sources to keep up. And every day, the Times and the Post seem engaged in a good old-fashioned newspaper war, battling each other for scoops and energising both newsrooms.
I believe the turnaround is proof of the old axiom that “quality counts” and investing in reporting—as opposed to cutting costs through layoffs and buyouts—is not only good for journalism but for the bottom line. Too many news organisations tried to slash their way back to profitability by reducing their newsroom budgets and firing reporters; the result was hollowed out newspapers that few people wanted to buy.
The picture for print is certainly not all rosy. Many of the once great newspapers that boasted bureaus in Hong Kong and around Asia no longer have a single foreign correspondent—those that have survived, that is. Local and regional newspapers are still struggling, which matters because those are the areas where corruption most often happens and where deep investigative reporting work is essential. With print advertising in a tailspin, local newspapers are still searching for a new business model to survive.
But count me an optimist. The good news from the Times, the Post and the SCMP show that there is a way forward. The future is unmistakably digital. It’s likely to be increasingly mobile. But whatever the platform, I think newspapers are here to stay. Because what matters is the journalism and the storytelling, not the means of delivery. And one lesson we have learned is that quality still counts.
Director of the JMSC