Words From the Editor - Where Have All the Readers Gone?

Mak Yin-ting

Starting from early year 2009, there has been a steady stream of bad news for the news industry. Various news outlets have had salary or manpower cuts. In the last twelve months about 1,000 media staffs have lost or left their jobs. This figure does not include those who left of their own volition. Some media organizations resorted to other methods to cut salaries.

With recovery from the financial turmoil, some media organizations have revised salaries upwards. However, staff vacancies have not been filled and thus remaining staffs have continued to work under tremendous work pressure.

These adverse conditions may be temporary. The enduring condition comes from the popularity of internet which has left the print medium reeling. The cry of “the newspaper is dead” or “the newspaper is dying” gets ever louder. Actually, it is not the newspaper that is the sole victim. According to a public opinion poll conducted by a special team from the University of Hong Kong, 14.4% of respondents said the internet was their main source of news in 2009. It has been a steady increase from the 5.7% in year 2000. Correspondingly, the newspaper as the main source of news dropped from 33.1% in year 2000 to 27.3% in 2009. Similar percentage points fell in television viewing. In 2009, only 32.2% of respondents said television was their main sources of news.

Counterparts in other parts of the world hit by the same impact. Even Time magazine had “How to Save Your Newspaper” as the cover story for its issue of February 15, 2009. It showed how seriously the newspaper industry is in working out ways to deal with the deteriorating situation. Individual websites even use “Newspaper Death Watch” as the name of the portal. It chronicles the closure of newspapers and staff cuts. At the same time, it advocates the merger with the internet for a rebirth of journalism. In short, it all leads to one conclusion, namely, the newspaper is not going to die but changes have to be made to adapt to the changing environment. Otherwise, it will be the dead end for the newspaper.
Therefore, Jackie Sam, deputy chairperson of the HKJA has summarized the discussion overseas, with reference to the condition of Hong Kong newspapers. In Hong Kong, adaptation is taking place.  Apple Daily and the Oriental Daily Groups have developed television and internet news-sites alongside their own newspaper. The development of multi media can use the sources better and cultivate teenagers to be their future news receivers. And Apple Daily is pioneering an animated news format, using cartoons alongside the news photos or video captures. Will it deviate from news which regards truth as paramount? How will the idea be served up? The answers lie in the dialogue between Albert Wong and Simon Li, General Manager of Next Media Interactive Limited. On the other hand the Hong Kong Economic Journal is evolving into a more professional format. In-depth reporting is the key. Chan King Cheong, the Chief Editor of the HKEJ explains.

The Talk of the Town focuses on the controversy aroused by Professor Ai Xiaomeng from Guangzhou. She complained that Hong Kong reporters’ refusal to be interviewed to help to clear the name of Tan Zhuoren, the detained writer who was documenting the death of children in earthquake which shook Sichuan Province in 2008. The accusation may not be valid but, nevertheless, is worth discussing.

We are not going to give a definite answer but it is a point for our members to consider.  Also, it helps the layman to understand better journalistic work and ethics more.