August 5, 2021

In Hong Kong, the “South China Morning Post”, owned by Alibaba, in the hot seat

By Florence de Changy

Posted May 05, 2021 at 9:13 a.m. – Updated May 05, 2021 at 5:30 p.m.

Sporting the cool and universal look of tech people, thick solid black sweater over skinny pants, the young CEO of the South China Morning Post (SCMP), Gary Liu, embodies the opposite of everything that characterized the rather rigid and dusty daily life, of which he took the reins in 2016, at the age of 33, in the wake of his takeover by the Chinese champion of online commerce Alibaba, for $ 266 million.

It was he who drove the digital transformation of this newspaper, which was, until the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the mouthpiece of the colonial government, “the SCMP “For the Hong Kong people and” the Post For its employees. A Harvard graduate, this Chinese American who grew up in New Zealand and Taiwan had already cut his teeth for ten years at the forefront of the technological revolution emanating from the United States, working at Google, AOL then Spotify Labs and finally Digg, in New York.

The front page of the

He was recruited by Taiwanese-Canadian Joe Tsai, co-founder of Alibaba with Jack Ma, and chairman of the board of directors of SCMP. His mission ? Modernize the newspaper from top to bottom and increase its international influence. As soon as possible.

« Any press organization these days must react quickly », strikes Gary Liu in the office he occupies with the editorial staff, at 18e floor of Times Square in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. Only two years ago, before the riots of 2019 and before the epidemic, it was the most expensive neighborhood in the world. The newspaper moved to its new four-story offices in 2017.

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Almost everywhere, on the walls of open spaces whose floors are connected by an open atrium, large screens announce, in real time, the site’s performance: the most read articles, their theme, their author, the areas of the world where the site is most visited… Real-time information on the “product” and on market reactions is available to both the editorial staff and the sales and advertising teams. “Gone are the days when you had to wait for the annual general meeting to adjust your policy. Today, it is at least twice a day, even in real time, that everyone knows what is happening on the market ”adds Gary Liu.

Click culture

This constant immersion in the results creates a culture of clicks that got the better of the recalcitrant. The challenge is now to “Capture the reader’s attention”. “We look at what BuzzFeed News, the news aggregators Google or Jinri Toutiao [l’équivalent chinois de Yahoo News] across the border », says the young boss. The secret of success would thus be to have identified « the right platforms that brought in the right audiences ». After five years under governance “But As the people of the house say, the numbers are impressive.

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