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Hong Kong's South China Morning Post Launches International Edition (Q&A)

The English-language publication looks to boost its global readership.

South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s oldest English-language newspaper launched an international edition in April as it seeks to capitalize on the world’s growing interest in China.

The South China Morning Post will look to expand its readership by showcasing coverage of issues that would appeal to a global audience. The inaugural edition, published April 20, featured stories about Chinese search giant Baidu’s work on self-driving cars; Beijing launching an investigation into retired military chief Guo Boxiong amid a government crackdown on corruption in the People’s Liberation Army; and fossilized dinosaur eggs unearthed during road work in southern China.

“As a 112-year old newspaper anchored in Hong Kong, we believe we have a unique perspective of a globalized world in which a rising China has become the biggest story of our lifetime,” said SCMP Group Chief Executive Robin Hu in an interview conducted via email.

The publication’s online reach and influence already extend beyond Hong Kong, with 30 percent of its readers coming from the U.S. and Canada. It also draws a following from the U.K., Malaysia and other English-speaking countries. The edition’s managing editor, George Chen, recently spent time in the U.S. at Yale University where he was a 2014 Yale World Fellow.

As with newspapers around the world, the SCMP seeks to bolster its digital readership at a time when its print subscriptions are contracting. It publishes around 104,000 daily copies of its broadsheet, though its website grabs about 2.07 million monthly unique viewers — a 40 percent gain over 2013.

The soft-launch of the global edition comes at a time when Chinese technology companies are grabbing headlines around the world. One of the world’s fastest-growing smartphone makers, Xiaomi, became the most valuable tech startup with a funding round that valued the company at $45 billion. E-commerce giant Alibaba set a record last year with its $25 billion initial stock offering.

 South China Morning Post Centre in Hong Kong
South China Morning Post Centre in Hong Kong
South China Morning Post

The reader appetite for independent news from the region has intensified as China rises as a global economic power. But reporting has grown increasingly difficult for both Chinese and foreign media, with a crackdown on press freedom since China’s President Xi Jinping took power. Last year, a record number of journalists were imprisoned in China, according to research from the Committee to Protect Journalists. Political unrest last fall in Hong Kong attracted thousands of protestors to the streets — and the eyes of the world.

We spoke with South China Morning Post Group Chief Executive Robin Hu about the expansion. Here’s what he had to say.

Re/code: Why has the South China Morning Post chosen to launch an International edition and how will it differ from the English-language publication that readers around the world can already access online or via the mobile app?

Robin Hu: Since our last revamp and introduction of a metered paywall two years ago, we’ve seen our traffic grow multi-fold, and a significant portion of that growth came from an audience beyond Hong Kong and China, notably North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. We learned, not surprisingly, the reason for such rapid growth was due to the world’s interest in knowing what’s truly happening in China and the impact of a rising China on the rest of the world. Our current edition is designed to serve the business community in Hong Kong, albeit it being international in both outlook and composition.

How will the SCMP differentiate itself from other news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times or Reuters, which devote great resources to covering China?

They are all well-respected publishers and wire service providers and each serves a well-informed and discerning readership, some of whom overlap with that of ours. As a 112-year-old newspaper anchored in Hong Kong, we believe we have a unique perspective of a globalized world in which a rising China has become the biggest story of our lifetime. Here, the One Country Two Systems political model plays to our advantage. One Country makes it possible for us to be the insider of a highly complex political economy constantly evolving to changing circumstances and Two Systems give us the security of press freedom that protects our trusted and insightful voice.

South China Morning Post strives to tell the story of China’s rising to the English-speaking world with balanced reporting and insightful analysis. We want to see Hong Kong succeed and we believe a successful and responsible China is critical to Hong Kong’s continued success and indispensable to a prosperous global economy.

What coverage areas does it plan to focus on, and what readers does it hope to attract?

SCMP’s strength is our China coverage at large, and specific pillars that we want to highlight include coverage on China’s politics and policy implications, its emerging technologies and its wealth. This is made possible through our on-the-ground network of reporters. An example of this is the multi-faceted approach to reporting on President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft campaign that included sociopolitical analysis, investigative reporting on individual high-ranking officials being probed and prosecuted, and business coverage on how the campaign has affected retail spending in China and Hong Kong.

On the technology side, this is best illustrated by our frequent reporting on China tech’s next big thing ranging from the Big Three of Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, to emerging giants like Xiaomi, ZTE, Huawei and drone-maker DJI.

With more and more companies and countries’ interests becoming intertwined with China’s growing economic influence, we aim to reach out to a growing global community of professionals hungry for news and analysis on what’s truly happening in China, of which Hong Kong is her gateway to the world.

How does the International edition fit with the digital strategy for your publication?

As China’s rise on the world stage increasingly impacts both global politics and economics, we believe the world’s interest in China will grow commensurately. With the South China Morning Post’s ability to regularly break exclusive stories on its growth, we see the International Edition as a relevant and unique solution to satisfy the information needs of the global citizens and China watchers of the world.

While content remains king in our minds, distribution is equally important to us. To serve our readers, we need to be agile and quick. That is why we have further established our mobile platforms which include our … native mobile apps and our tablet version. In addition, we also treat social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Weibo as an extension of our publication to ensure we are serving our readers according to their consumption preference.

We’ve seen in the past three years, digital subscription revenue has contributed to improved overall subscription income for the group and the momentum is accelerating. With data analytics and deployment of Big Data strategies, we hope to turn data into business intelligence that will improve further our rate of conversion from mere eyeballs into loyal subscribers.

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