Monthly newsletter: March 2018

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.

Keith Richburg
Director of the JMSC

JMSC honorary lecturer and former AFP editor-in-chief Eric Wishart was joined by AFP Asia Pacific regional director Philippe Massonnet for a talk on "Why media ethics matter in the era of fake news". Read more about it in a piece by our Master of Journalism student Tang Ziyi here.
The HK Transparency Report published the findings of its survey of cyberspace surveillance in five jurisdictions. The research seeks to shed light on solutions for Hong Kong to improve the current surveillance law and calls for the government to issue guidance to law enforcement agencies in accessing user data. Read the full report here. Project manager Benjamin Zhou (second from left) announced the findings at a press conference with Hong Kong legislative councillor Charles Mok (first from left) on 9 February.
Nancy Tong and Ruby Yang were joined on stage on 6 February by renowned cinematographer Kirsten Johnson and editor Mary Stephen at the "Women Make Docs" symposium where they shared their experiences of making films in different parts of the world.
The event was part of a series of screenings, lectures and master classes with Johnson and Stephen that attracted close to 600 attendees.
Faculty & Staff News
Ruby Yang, founder of the Hong Kong Documentary Initiative, attended the Hong Kong International Film Festival press conference on 28 February where it was announced that the HKDI, in collaboration with the film festival and Goethe-Institut Hongkong, will
be presenting a master class with filmmaker Werner Herzog (details below). Top photo: Roger Garcia, Executive Director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, Dr. Almuth Meyer-Zollitsch, Director of Goethe-Institut Hongkong, and Ruby Yang.
Student & Alumni News
Angela Cheung, Managing Director at film and creative agency APV, and Josh Ye, multimedia journalist for the South China Morning Post, visited the JMSC last month as part of our ongoing programme to invite media professionals for workshops and talks with our students.

Angela (centre in top photo), who has over 20 years of experience leading broadcast and production groups across Asia, gave an interactive workshop on effective communication skills to a small group of our students. Josh (first on right in bottom photo), who joined the SCMP as a cadet reporter, shared his experience on the recruitment process and practical tips for surviving the newsroom.

Selected Articles by Students & Alumni

5 February  – Asia Sentinel: A woman’s sad tale embodies Myanmar’s HIV problems, by Deng Yang (MJ 2017)

9 February – Quartz: The US and China are overhauling their approaches to diplomacy, in entirely opposite ways, by Zheping Huang (MJ 2014)

9 February – Sixth Tone: The fading embers of a centuries-old fireworks ritual, by Yin Yijun (MJ 2016)

13 February – South China Morning Post: Occupy founders appeal to quash ‘unconstitutional’ charge fails as Hong Kong judge takes case to next stage, by Jasmine Siu (BJ 2013)

18 February – Hong Kong Free Press: Hong Kong Kin-ball heads to the World Cup, but struggles for recognition back home, by Harriet Lai (BJ 2018) and Tina To (BJ 2018)

18 February – Hong Kong Free Press: Ming-gor runs a Sham Shui Po restaurant with a difference: profits are not on the menu, by Vincent Wong (HKU undergrad minoring in journalism)

28 February – The craft beer firm with a thirst for global growth, by Medhavi Arora (BJ 2016)

Selected Articles by Faculty & Staff

11 February – South China Morning Post: Here's a lesson from the 1997 stock crash: Don't panic, by Keith B. Richburg

2 March – South China Morning Post: Someone tell Trump the trade war is over. China won, by Keith B. Richburg

1 March – Initium Media:「抱歉,此內容違反了《規定》」──2017年微博審查回顧, (In Chinese. "Sorry, the content violates relevant laws and regulations”—A review of Sina Weibo censorship in 2017), by King-wa Fu and Regina Chung

Coming up this month

Investigative journalist and novelist Suki Kim will be speaking at the University of Hong Kong this month. Details to follow on our website and Facebook. She will talk about her undercover experience in Pyongyang, which she wrote about in her New York Times bestseller, Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea’s Elite. (Photograph by Ed Kashi/VII)

In collaboration with the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Goethe-Institut Hongkong, the HKDI will be hosting a master class by Werner Herzog on 21 March at the University of Hong Kong. Find out how you can get up close and personal with the filmmaker here.

The annual programme continues with in-depth conversations with five other documentary filmmakers—Hara Kazuo, Jin Xingzheng, Gustavo Salmerón, Xu Bing, and Yang Li-chou—from 22-29 March. Click here for more details and to sign up.