All-in-one approach to journalism

Ken Lui, Phyllis Tsang

[Nov 2011 - The Journalist] High-circulation of free newspapers does not mean better job opportunities for journalists. Those already on the job simply do more, with reporters doubling as editors or even doing the art work. As Sharp Daily and HK Headline relies on content provided by Apple Daily and Sing Tao Daily – their respective “parents” – this also changes the work routine of reporters on paid-for newspapers.

Sharp Daily (circulation: 900,000) has a 30-man team, all previously reporters or editors on Apple Daily. They are responsible for rewriting news content provided by Apple Daily. Its front page is usually off-stone just after 10pm. This early schedule is to cope with the big jump in printing and to allow later editions to cope with new developments in major news events, according to Cheung Kim-hung, the editor-in-chief.

At HK Hadline early deadline is the norm for the staff. All stories must be ready by 6pm. It has over 140 pages. It is difficult to get every detail correct with such a rushed schedule. Even when the first edition has rolled off the editorial team's work is not over. Reporters have to start work for the second edition if there is a major news event.

The workload on free and paid newspaper is about the same, according to Siu Sai-woo, editor-in-chief of HK Headline. However, reporters must keep important news items to a few hundred words while those on sister paper Sing Tao Daily have much greater leeway. Both papers share the same sources for stories, but some reporters of HK Headline have occasionally to do their own reporting. The reporters have to write three stories, averaging 300 to 500 words each.

Accuracy remains a ''must''

Journalists on am730, are also responsible for post-production duties as well. Lo Kwok-lun, the editor-in-chief, says his reporters must be able to multi-task, meaning they have to report, edit, and do layout. Courses on computer software are provided for all new staff. Instead of beat reporting as in other paid newspapers, reporters at are responsible for international news, sports and even entertainment news.

Being the first free newspaper in town, Metro Daily has a circulation of 400,000 every week day. The journalists not only have to be responsible for reporting the news in short, precise articles, they also have to work on in-depth features, according to Leung Kam-hung, deputy editor of the Metro Daily. “There is no difference between free newspapers and paid newspapers in terms of accuracy,” said Leung.

The introduction of freebies have affected the pattern of news reporting of paid newspapers. Cheung Kin-hung, editor-in-chief of Apple Daily told The Journalist that editorial judgement of Apple Daily would have the readers ofSharp Daily in mind as well. “Sharp Daily is a paper with a million readers target. That means more consumer news and down-to-earth topics will be considered by the news team of Apple Daily,” said Cheung. He added that reporters of Apple Daily are going to be content providers for various new units of the Next Group, using different mediums including animation.

In the past it was common for journalists to shoot on the spot with their cameras. Now they have to use the iphone and send it online instantly. There is also the video footage and photos for Apple Daily and Sharp Daily. Cheung pointed to the lay-off at HSBC as an example, “The business desk at Apple Daily got the news that HSBC was going to have a large lay-off. The news-desk had to decide whether to to report via online instant news. Even if it is only 2 hours ahead of the announcement, we still have to do it,” said Cheung.

Reporters can still excel

The average staff size of a free newspaper is about 30 people on the editorial team. Lo Kwok-lun, editor-in-chief of the said that there are not many promotion opportunities in such a small unit. Some reporters moved to paid newspapers or changed careers. Some have remained on which was launched a few years ago. Though small it has relatively more variety in terms of editorial work, including in-depth features or personality profiles, said Lo. However, going out to get news is a rare exercise for journalists of free newspapers. Instead of going out to report and interviewing people, journalists of free papers mostly sit in the office and watch TV news. “Leave the TV reporters to ask the questions. It will be more efficient to spend time reading reports for further analysis,” said Lo.

Though there are fewer opportunities for reporters on free dailies, they can still excel because of the high-circulation of free dailies, said Siu Sai-woo, editor-in-chief of HK Headline. 

(Translated by Gillian Yau )