Words From the Editor

[Jan 2011 - The Journalist] After several winters, the news industry seems to be greeting the return of spring. It is not clear if this is a prelude to the arrival of the full spring. What is certain is that there is a continuous blossoming of Internet news.

Internet news has been developing in Hong Kong for about a decade. However, it is still a side product of mainstream media. Not much improvement has been made in terms of quality. To name a few: quantity rather than quality; speed but less fact-checking, superficial and brief rather than comprehensive views are presented. Less problematic is the over reliance on hit rate.

It is true that media has to take into consideration what the general public is interested in. However, if this becomes the only yardstick and we forgo the role of the journalist as a gatekeeper, I think only entertainment news will be worth headlines in all portals of newspapers.

This should not be the case. How to strike the balance between hit-rate and the role of gatekeeper should be dealt with seriously. Journalists cannot turn a blind eye to that.

Another unavoidable question is how to make money from internet news. According to an article written by academics Paul Frijters and Malathis Velamuri, based on a study and entitled "Is the Internet Bad News? The Online News Era and the Market for High-Quality News," in Review of Network Economics, the existence of bloggers and news aggregators who recycle the stories of news-providers reduces the effective property rights of high-quality news producers, thus forcing the business model of the internet to be advertising-based.

Individual news managers in Hong Kong may think otherwise. What is their rationale and whether it will work are the main themes of the cover story of this issue of The Journalist.

In the last quarter, the alleged sexual crimes committed by Edward Yum, nicknamed “Brother of Victoria Park” definitely had a higher hit rate that the story about the award of Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiao-bo. However, the importance of the latter, which marks the first Chinese citizen in mainland China to receive this award in more than a hundred years, is much higher than the former. How important are these two news items in the eyes of the media may be a good yardstick to measure the media you receive news from.

The handling of news reflects the importance of the media outlet. The Journalist studied the news reports of local media outlets the day after the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize. It found that approximately half of the printed media did not headline this story. Among them are those closely associated with the Central Government and those with high circulation and appearing to be impartial in the eyes of the public. Why these newspapers handling the news in such a manner? It is impossible for outsiders to understand. Is there any relationship between this negative position and the Beijing government? If so, such media must review its ethical standards, especially their responsibility in safeguarding freedom of expression and press freedom.

Upholding press freedom is listed in the code of ethics of the Hong Kong Journalists Association. What is the origin and how JA was founded may be an interest to our members as well as the public. The Journalist therefore has a new column about the HKJA, which is in its 43th year, as a pioneering trade union. In the future, we shall look into different media outlets and organizations to enhance the understanding of the individual journalist to the industry you are in.