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Engagement of young people urged on media

Switch in focus crucial for sustainability of news business, say experts

To deal with challenges in a rapidly changing media landscape across Asia, experts suggest that news companies and agencies should fully understand their audiences in order to create the right valued content, and shift their focus to the engagement of young people, if they are to achieve business sustainability.

"The newspaper business used to generate a high profit margin of around 30 per cent, but this has now fallen to around 10 per cent. On top of that, we found that a 1-per-cent variance in circulation causes a 3-per-cent variance in advertising revenue," Gilles Demptos, director for Asia at WAN-IFRA (the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers), told a forum yesterday.

He made these remarks at the annual "Media Crossroads: Pathways to Sustainable Independent Journalism" seminar, which is part of the Temasek Foundation's "Asia Journalism Forum 2014" gathering of media experts and journalists from across Asia.

He also suggested that transferring from a circulation focus to an engagement focus was crucial. This means that the challenge is not simply in transferring audiences from print to digital, but in engaging younger people in society.

Another growing news-industry area focused on in the seminar was independent news organisations like The Hoot in India; Malaysiakini in Malaysia; Ujyaalo Network in Nepal; Kantor Berita Radio in Indonesia; ThaiPublica in Thailand; the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism; and Storyful, a social news-verification agency in Hong Kong.

Sarinee Achavanuntakul, co-founder of ThaiPublica, said her news site concentrated on investigative news reporting, which was rarely seen in today's Thai mainstream media.

Launched in 2011 and fully funded by private grants, the news site currently enjoys sufficient revenues from various sources such as ThaiPublica Forum sponsorships, producing sponsored series, and supplying TV programmes related to its investigation stories.

"Our main source of revenue comes from ThaiPublica Forum sponsorships. We organise four to five forums a year. That is enough to cover the fixed costs," said Sarinee.

Premesh Chandran, co-founder and chief executive of Malaysiakini, said his organisation had been established in 1999 at a time when people needed alternative media to consume, while mainstream media appeared to support the government.

He said the key to its success was creating a shared value among staff members and building a strong relationship with local and international allies, which would stand with the company and help the organisation in terms of fund-raising.

Malaysiakini last year maintained its business operation with a mixed source of income. Fifty-five per cent was from advertising, 45 per cent from subscription, and 5 per cent from grants. From 1999-2001, the key sources of revenue came from investment and grants.

However, Sevanti Ninan, media critic and founder-editor of The Hoot.org - a South Asian media-watch website - pointed to the current situation in India and expressed concern over the mushrooming media outlets in those earlier days.

"Even though there were a number of new media put in place in the industry, advertising spending was not yet stretched enough," she said.

Given this difficulty, advertising spending became more squeezed, with many newspapers resorting to cost-cutting, rather than innovation, she added.

In terms of advertising, Nopparat Yokukon, regional partnership management executive at Google Southeast Asia, said: "Buying things online is not easy in Asia, but advertising is a way to earn online revenue."

The mobile market is continuing to expand, because many new users are adopting the new technology now that smart phones and tablets have arrived.

Given this trend, the executive suggested that online publishers should seek to fully understand their key audience, particularly in regard to audience value, in order to collect data, guide and create news value. This is a way for them to set the right strategies to retain and attract audiences at their sites.

"Online publishers should act as an intermediary between the audience in terms of readers and viewership, and advertisers," Nopparat added.


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