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Go digital, go global: SCMP's business transformation

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World News Publishing Focus
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Go digital, go global: SCMP's business transformation

“We used to have 90% penetration of our marketplace, and now 90% of our audience is outside our marketplace.” – Gary Liu, CEO, South China Morning Post.

For 150 years, the South China Morning Post has been the English newspaper of record in Hong Kong. But in just under two years, the print publication has transformed itself into a digital and international medium, complete with launches of multiple products, a state of the art newsroom, and an in-house pub with free beers. CEO Gary Liu, the opening keynote speaker Thursday at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Asia 2018 conference in Hong Kong, said the key to SCMP’s current success all began with thorough changes in its company culture. 

South China Morning Post has put itself in the fast lane of transformation since it came under the Alibaba group two years ago. Liu joined as CEO in January 2017 with a mission to bring “wholesale change”, as he calls it. It was “not only about transforming from print to digital, but from being a regional newspaper covering the world, to a global media company with regional expertise”.

The company is now seeing the results from the plans it had been making: monthly active users grew almost five times, and the number coming from outside of Hong Kong has grown over six times from what it used to be. “We used to have 90% penetration of our marketplace, and now 90% of our audience is outside our marketplace”, says Liu. 

Moving with the company, not commanding from top-down 

So among all changes to be made to a legacy company, Liu says SCMP started by creating a new culture for itself, because it would drive focus and direction going forwards, for both the audience, and the staff within the newsroom. SCMP decided to rewrite its mission statement, outlining what SCMP’s values are, and what it is as a publication to consume, and as a company to work in. 

Employees were asked what kind of company they wanted SCMP to become, and what kind of company they would like to work in. They were asked to vote for these values, and the management was able to change themselves according to this new mission. The key to making this the new company DNA, Liu explains, is to create that culture with the staff, and not from the management from top-down. 

Physical space matters, too

A photo of SCMP’s old office shows a dim, and almost lethargic, open-plan workspace with big stacks of papers interlined with desktop monitors. The darkest side of the office is in fact near the windows, blocked by a giant billboard facing one of the busiest junctions in Hong Kong. It paid some bills, but ultimately the space was not built for what a modern newsroom demands.

“The space was a physical expression of the way we wanted to work and live with one another”, Liu explains. With this in mind, SCMP‘s new headquarters combines the original open plan with flexible seating, to encourage staff to move around and collaborate with different parts of the company. Ubiquitous dashboards showing traffic analytics remind employees that the publication is now fully digital, and immediate feedback is available to finetune decisions. Office communication is streamlined using Slack, and other intranet redesigns to foster transparency and accessibility within the company. And on top of all this, is the in-house pub that serves its own free beer every Friday evening. 

“Data is always on tap, never on top”.

Following Liu’s remarks, Deputy Executive Editor Zuraidah Ibrahim added that although the SCMP print team now selects from the digital content to curate their broadsheet, the print legacy is still a powerful torch that shines on the company’s editorial values. “The platform remains digital first,” says Ibrahim, but “Data is always on tap, never on top”. This is the reason why there are still editors, and data helps inform their decisions rather than dictating them.  

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Selina Cheng is an investigative reporter at HK01, a Chinese-language publication in Hong Kong. She previously reported for Quartz in New York. Selina's work has won honourable mention at the 2018 SOPA Award and a silver at the 2018 US Telly Awards.

 

 

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Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim

Date

2018-11-08 17:39

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