Firstly, I need to get something off my chest. During the past month, at the South China Morning Post, we’ve been dogged by lies and rumour-spreading by a few local newspapers that we’ve gone “red,” just to make for scandalous reading. This practice of competitive mud-slinging must surely be unique to the Hong Kong news industry.
The basis of their arguments is laughable — namely the emergence of a year-old photo of our CEO pictured with a Chinese official, and last month’s hiring of a Chinese national (who’s been with us for 16 years), as our editor-in-chief. This amounts to conjecture and racism, and I openly condemn the accusations as untrue.
Truth be told, these local newspapers — who I won’t deign to mention by name — regularly enjoy spreading a few lies and scandals at the expense of the city’s most upstanding and trusted newspaper. But, guys, enough is enough. We don’t do it to you, so don’t do it to us. Especially when said articles are being picked up by international newspapers, who mistake them for fact. That really ruins my weekend.
Are we really in such an unhealthy industry that fellow newsmakers feel the need to concoct stories about their competition to win readers? In essence, that’s an offence worse than phone hacking; at least with phone hacking there is less fabrication to go with the immorality.
There are so many more ways to grab readers’ attention than sinking this low. If we’re going to create news, let’s make it fact-based and do it for the intellectual benefit of our readers, rather than to start damaging rumours.
For example, we’ve had a long standing practice at the South China Morning Post of working with Hong Kong University and research house TNS to conduct carefully managed polls on key topical issues, so that we can share our findings with our readers.
There’s often a breakthrough discovery, or at least a worthy headline or two to come out of these independently conducted polls. Our most recent efforts have been a tracking poll on reader sentiment about the three candidates in the upcoming Hong Kong Chief Executive election. Trailing the swings and shifts is more exciting than taking a ride on Space Mountain, especially as the process moves into high gear as scandal breaks loose on the candidate widely tipped to be China’s favourite, causing his popularity to swing to an all-time low.
This is news we’ve created, for sure, but it’s based on fact. It demonstrates our neutrality and willingness to engage public opinion on whether this candidate should stand tall. Publicly exposing the readers’ lack of faith in this candidate could hardly be labeled “red.”
It also demonstrates that creating news is something we in marketing have an increasing opportunity to participate in, as we enter a new world order for news-making. To do so requires a strong and open relationship between the editorial and marketing departments. We keep on our toes about what will sell the papers, and they create the environment and the best news content to meet that need.
It’s not an infringement on editorial integrity or independence, nor does it mean we have to reduce our content to a mere pandering to readers’ darkest desires. Whether it’s leveraging research findings, coming up with ideas on celebrating local heroes, or developing editorial features linked to raising money for charitable crises, we are responsible for building a deep engagement with our readers. One that listens as well as speaks.
As social media becomes the method of choice for proliferating the news, marketing’s role becomes even clearer in the new order. Our marketing dollars aren’t just spent on newspaper generalisms and promotions, as they may have been in the past, but on specific fascinations, urgent engagement with content, and a unique relevance we can bring to our current and prospective audiences.
But note to all, let’s keep it clean and truthful.