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‘Trading Places’ Pays Tribute to the Architectural Glories of China’s Former Treaty Ports

In an epic tribute to architecture, history and photography, FCC Member Nicholas Kittoturns his lens on China’s former treaty ports in his recently published tome, Trading Places. By Ed Peters

The sobriquet “Old China Hand” fits Nicholas Kitto like a glove. His family connections with the Middle Kingdom stretch back generations, and he has worked in Hong Kong, first as a professional accountant and more recently as a heritage photographer, since 1983.

So it’s more than fitting that his magnum opus – the 396-page coffee table book, Trading Places – pays tribute to the architectural glories of China’s former treaty ports, with a particular accent on the places once inhabited by his forebears.

“While I was on a business trip to Tianjin in 1996, I sought out the house where my father had lived on Racecourse Road as a child in the 1920s,” says Kitto.

“Eight years later we went back there together; it had been turned into a bar so we had a gin and tonic in what used to be the drawing room. By then, the germ of an idea had started to form in my mind.”

‘Trading Places’ was put together over a dozen years and granted Kitto many new insights into China past and present.

In 2008, accompanied by historian Robert Nield, Kitto set out to photograph the best and brightest pre-Revolution buildings in more than four-dozen ports and settlements. By very good luck, many had been renovated in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing. Equally fortunately, rather than inciting indignation as sometimes is the case for foreign photographers on the mainland, his Canon 5D, associated paraphernalia and outwardly eccentric peregrinations during more than 50 visits excited curiosity and admiration in equal measure among all and sundry. In all, he amassed 4,400 “keeper” images, of which 750 appear in the book.

Shanghai, and what had been done to preserve the Bund, was a highlight,” says Kitto. “And of course Tianjin exercised an allure because of the family connection, likewise Yingkou – previously called Newchwang – where my grandparents Jack and Audrey Kitto were married 100 years ago this October.”

Trading Places rolled off the presses last year, to acclaim from both the public and reviewers. When asked if he had a second volume in mind, Kitto – who made it a matter of record that he took 2,784,010 steps in the course of research – groaned in mock pain. “Once was enough for this lifetime.”

Pick up a copy of  Trading Places at the FCC or online from blacksmithbooks.com.

The Astor in Tianjin dates from 1863, and famously welcomed the Last Emperor, Pu Yi, in the 1920s after his exile from Beijing. Currently under the aegis of an international chain, the hotel was sensitively restored in 2010 when old brick walls, wooden trimmings, fittings, floors and doors were preserved down to the smallest detail.

 

The intricate brickwork of St Sophia Cathedral in Harbin might well explain why it took so long to build (1923-32). Designed by the Russian architect, Koyasikov, it replaced a simpler church that dates to 1912.

 

The exterior has been elegantly restored but the interior has received no such attention.

 

Clubs were the ‘sine qua non’ of treaty ports. The German Club Concordia (1907) in Tianjin was damaged during the 1976 earthquake, and only roughly patched-up.

 

Trade followed the flag and Customs followed trade. The Customs House at Wuhu, a hub for the rice and timber industries, was completed in 1919.

 

Kiessling restaurant is housed in what used to be the Victoria Café on Racecourse Road in Tianjin. As well as serving German food it also dispenses beer brewed on the premises.

 

Inevitably, Ningbo’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart (1872) is dwarfed – but not totally overshadowed – by skyscrapers.

 

Shanghai’s Bund looks spectacular since its rejuvenation in 2012, when roads were diverted into tunnels beneath a broad pedestrian corniche. The major historic buildings were also restored, transforming the Bund into China’s most aesthetically pleasing metropolitan riverside vista.

 

Interior of the Shanghai Club, looking down from the first floor towards the original entrance. This, the second iteration of the club, was opened in January 1910.

 

It could only be the Governor’s Mansion in the one-time German treaty port of Qingdao. Mao Zedong put up here from time to time.

On the Wall: Celebrating the Late Photojournalist Danish Siddiqui

The club’s Wall exhibit this October will be particularly poignant. Visit the FCC to appreciate “In the Moment: A Danish Siddiqui Retrospective”. The Taliban murdered Siddiqui, a 38-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning Reuters photojournalist, in July 2021 during an ambush in a town near the border with Pakistan.

After studying film at Jamia Millia Islamia University in India, the New Delhi native worked with the Hindustan Times and TV Today Network before joining Reuters in 2010. With Reuters, he covered everything from armed conflicts, natural disasters, COVID-19 challenges and political unrest all over Asia – including the 2019 Hong Kong protests.

“He was our eye. He gave voice and agency to thousands whose suffering might have been lost,” Farhat Basir Khan, a professor of mass communications at Jamia Millia Islamia University, said in a statement. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, his were worth millions.”

He was also on a Reuters team that won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for their coverage of Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar. “While I enjoy covering news stories – from business to politics to sports – what I enjoy most is capturing the human face of a breaking story,” Siddiqui said in a Reuters profile. “I shoot for the common man who wants to see and feel a story from a place where he can’t be present himself.”

Don’t miss this meaningful FCC exhibit, which will honour Siddiqui’s life and work by featuring a collection of his most memorable photographs.

From 1 to 31 October. Non-members are welcome from 10 am-12 pm and 3-5:30 pm daily.

Women in Journalism Confront Rising Tide of Violence

From perils in Afghanistan to incessant online abuse, female journalists navigate an increasingly dangerous profession. Emma Russell investigates.

When Kabul fell to the Taliban at the end of August, 28-year-old Zahra Joya knew she needed to flee her newsroom. “All the women were in the streets trying to get home because the Taliban were very near,” says the journalist, who sat in heavy traffic for four hours while trying to escape. “When I arrived at home it was nearly 5 pm and my whole family was worried about me – about the situation and the future of Afghanistan.”

Joya is from the oppressed Hazara community (which the Taliban has persecuted in the past) and has experienced discrimination due to her ethnicity and gender.

“I was almost always the only woman in the room,” she says. It’s the reason Joya established Rukhshana Media in 2020. Named after a teenager who was stoned to death for adultery in 2015, the women-run news platform strives to disrupt Afghanistan’s patriarchal media landscape and society.

Since its inception, Rukhshana Media’s reporters have vocally opposed the extremist Islamist group and published many sensitive articles, such as a feature on girls who have been banned from school in regional Taliban strongholds and a human interest piece on the life of a divorced woman. Rukhshana Media has also written about a female district governor, reproductive health, domestic violence and, since the takeover of Kabul, what it’s like to live in a city devoid of working women.

The country’s female journalists have long faced backlash on social media, but it’s physical violence towards women in media that scares them the most. “If I were not a journalist, I would have stayed in Afghanistan,” says Joya, who escaped to the UK and was in quarantine in Manchester during our phone interview on 3 September. “[But] I’m talking about the Taliban on my personal social media [as part of my job].”

“I received some comments on my personal Twitter account from Taliban militants that say ‘America is your God’, [and that] we should stop publishing propaganda.”

 


BY THE NUMBERS

73%
Of women in journalism have experienced online harassment

25%
Have received threats of physical violence

20%
Have been abused in real life following related online violence

Source: UNESCO

 


 

During a protest in Karachi in April 2015, Pakistani civil society activists hold images of assassinated rights campaigner, Sabeen Mahmud, who also ran a media and technology company. (Photo: AFP PHOTO / Rizwan Tabassum)

Joya says some of her interviews may have put in her in physical danger, too. For example, in 2018, Joya spoke with Taliban leader Abdul Salam Hanafi about women’s education and rights. “It is dangerous for myself and my family because [the Taliban militants] are still in Afghanistan. Maybe they follow [my family], I don’t know. It’s not clear yet.”

She has reason to worry. Female journalists have already been subject to targeted killings in Afghanistan. In December 2020, radio and television presenter Malalai Maiwand was gunned down outside a Jalalabad news station. A few months later, three more media workers, Mursal Wahidi, Sadia Sadat and Shahnaz Raofi were shot dead, too – and such violence against women is only expected to worsen with the Taliban’s return to power.

“All my female colleagues in the media are terrified. Most have managed to flee the city and are trying to find a way out of the province, but we are completely surrounded,” an anonymous 22-year-old journalist based in northern Afghanistan told The Guardian. “All of us have spoken out against the Taliban and angered them through our journalism.”

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ), only 39 female journalists were working in Kabul in early September. That’s down from 700 before the Taliban takeover, even though the militants have promised to protect women’s rights under Sharia (Islamic law).

Rukhshana Media still employs a handful of women, who stayed to document what’s happening on the ground. But it’s a dangerous choice. One female journalist, who decided to remain in Afghanistan and requested anonymity, said: “If we die, we die. If we don’t, we will have survivor’s guilt.”

 


SHOW SOLIDARITY

To support women who have been targeted online or offline, media companies can:

  • Offer training days, guidance and in-house policies
  • Invest in cybersecurity software to secure communications
  • Establish channels for reporting abuse
  • Create a company culture that encourages female journalists to report abuse
  • Implement audience moderation strategies, such as blocking abusive posts
  • Stand up for female reporters by issuing statements of solidarity
  • Provide support for journalists, particularly women, BIPOC and LGBTQI+ reporters
  • Ensure access to affordable mental healthcare
  • Provide legal assistance

Source: International Press Institute

 


 

People hold placards and photos of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a protest in Valletta on 3 December 2019. (Photo: Andreas Solaro / AFP)

A global issue

Threats to women in journalism aren’t limited to Taliban rule in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, female reporters face two sorts of threats, says freelance journalist Sabahat Zakariya. The first comes from the establishment, an army state that silences anti-government sentiments; the second, from readers.

In the comments section of Zakariya’s online articles and videos, which cover women’s treatment and rights in Pakistan, the journalist has been called a host of derogatory names: “whore,” “bitch,” “bastard woman” and the dismissive label “auntie” (which in Pakistani culture implies a woman is old and unattractive).

“As if somehow my value lies purely in how youthful or conventionally attractive I am as a woman,” says the freelance broadcaster, who has reported for the BBC and UNICEF. Other commenters have made specific threats: one man posted that he “would like to put a gun up [her] ass and shoot it.”

Zakariya tries not to take the comments to heart. However, in a country that once ranked sixth-most dangerous in the world for women with cases of rape, sexual abuse, domestic violence and murder on the rise, it’s difficult to shrug them off entirely – particularly when those threats materialise in the real world.

“A friend of mine, Sabeen Mahmud, who was a activist, was killed because of her ideas and views,” says Zakariya, referring to the 2015 shooting of a prominent Pakistani female righs activist who founded a media-technology firm and a community space for open dialogue. “Did she think that some threats she received weren’t real? Maybe. So it’s really hard to say.”

In Egypt, too, female journalists have been attacked. In 2011, on the night former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship fell, CBS war correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

According to an article she wrote for Women’s Media Centre, Logan said agents from the Mubarak regime who were “intent on discrediting the revolution” targeted her.

“Sexual violence is a way of denying women journalists access to the story in Egypt,” Logan told the New York Daily Post after the attack. “It’s not accidental. It’s by design.”

Even in countries with laws and cultural norms that seemingly protect women, female journalists still face risks. In 2017, Danish entrepreneur Peter Madsen murdered and dismembered Swedish journalist Kim Wall onboard his homemade submarine off the coast of Copenhagen. Prosecutors said Madsen deliberately targeted female journalists, inviting several women before Wall accepted.

 


DO YOUR PART

The FCC strives to provide a safe place for members to work, network, learn, attend events and socialise.

Complaints about gender, racial and ethnic slurs or derogatory sexual terms or any form of bullying or harassment will be taken seriously.

Any member found to be in breach of this policy is subject to disciplinary measures. Sexual harassment may also entail civil and criminal liabilities.

 


 

ISIS claimed responsibility for killing Enikass TV employees Mursal Wahidi, Saadia Sadat and Shahnaz Raofi (left to right) on 2 March 2021. (Photo: Enikass TV/Facebook)

Online harassment ‘worse than normal’

A UNESCO report, “The Chilling: Global Trends in Online Violence Against Women Journalists,” released earlier this year, found that nearly three-quarters of the 901 female journalists surveyed had experienced some form of online harassment.

This complements earlier findings by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which in 2017 found that journalists had received online threats before they were murdered in at least 40 percent of cases. This includes the deaths of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and Indian journalist Gauri Lankesh.

A 2021 survey conducted by the International Center for Journalists found that 16 percent of women journalists said that online abuse was “much worse than normal” during the pandemic. Based on the report, a greater reliance on social media for newsgathering, live broadcasting and audience engagement drive the trend.

For example, New York Times journalist Farnaz Fassihi has faced online attacks from Iranian opposition groups and trolls in recent months. “They circulated a death threat video against me with my picture. They doxxed [discovered and disclosed] my home address and called for people to find and attack and rape me,” Fassihi told the Overseas Press Club of America in August 2021.

Zakariya, in Pakistan, blames the abuse on “anti-colonial drives or anti-imperialist sentiment.” There is a feeling, she says, that “feminism somehow symbolises a Western ideal, which has been imposed upon our culture.”

Mourners carry the coffin of female news anchor Malalai Maiwand Mourners carry the coffin of female news anchor Malalai Maiwand, who was shot dead in Afghanistan in December 2020. (Photo: Noorullah Shirzada / AFP)

The nature of the job is another factor. Today’s journalists are often expected, if not required, to use social channels like Twitter as part of their work. “I think Twitter is the worst of the social media platforms, just because of the quickened and masked flow [of abuse] that happens,” US journalist Jessica Valenti told Amnesty International. “The content feels pretty similar across the platforms but the sheer volume of it on Twitter is different.”

Rappler’s Maria Ressa, in the Philippines, says Facebook should do more to protect journalists. The platform considers journalists to be public figures, which is problematic, she says. According to Facebook’s policies, the platform protects private individuals from bullying and harassment, but not public figures.

“Online violence against women journalists is designed to belittle, humiliate, and shame; induce fear, silence and retreat; discredit [women] professionally, undermining accountability journalism and trust in facts; and chill their active participation (along with that of their sources, colleagues and audiences) in public debate,” reads the UNESCO report, which tallies 2.5 million social media posts directed at UK-based Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr and Manila-based Filipino-American journalist Ressa.

In response to an investigative series on government disinformation, Ressa received an estimated 90 hate messages per hour on Facebook. They amount to “an attack on democratic deliberation and media freedom”, says the UNESCO report. Such abuse not only impacts the public’s right to access information but also normalises abusive online discourse.

Police escort Philippine journalist Maria Ressa Police escort Philippine journalist Maria Ressa (second from right) through the airport in Manila on 29 March 2019. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Impacts on the industry

Whether online or offline, harassment and violence against female journalists directly impacts employment, productivity, mental health and safety. Of the women surveyed by UNESCO, 11 percent of victims of online violence missed work, 38 percent made themselves less visible both online and in public,
4 percent quit their jobs and 2 percent left journalism altogether.

And with newsrooms slashing budgets (the US has seen a 26 percent fall in employment since 2008, according to Pew Research Center), there’s even less support than usual.

“Even the most open-minded media organisations are still run by men who don’t fundamentally understand the misogynistic nature of these attacks,” one American reporter, who didn’t want to be named, told Vanity Fair. “I really feel like there’s a space here for some male allies to step up and call this what it is.”

She pointed to examples of times where a story had multiple bylines, yet only the female writer was harassed online. These campaigns of abuse impact women’s emotional and psychological wellbeing, even leading to post-traumatic stress disorder in some cases.

It can also drive some women to censor themselves or leave their jobs altogether. In the case of deeply patriarchal societies and political upheaval like Afghanistan, says Joya, the threat of physical violence was terrifying enough to flee the country.

It’s important that “we have seen women’s voices in this crisis,” says Joya, adding that Rukhshana Media has started publishing in English to make coverage more accessible. “But now that the Taliban have taken over, women have lost their freedom of expression, their right to work and education.”

“I’m very worried about journalists,” she continues. “They don’t have any safety.”

 

Emma Russell

Emma Russell is a Hong Kong-based freelance journalist specialising in features and profiles that have appeared in publications like VICE, i-D, The New Republic and HKFP. She has also worked at Vogue HK and Conde Nast Traveller.

From the President: In Praise of Journalism’s True Unsung Heroes

Dear FCC Members,

For this column, I would like to give a shout-out and a thank you to all the interpreters, fixers, drivers and office assistants around the world who regularly risk their lives to help foreign correspondents get the story. They rarely get the bylines and the glory, but these brave media workers are journalism’s true unsung heroes.

The last two weeks of August were filled with harrowing stories of international media outlets going to great lengths to get their local employees and their families out of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover. Every report of an interpreter making it out safely with their family members has been a cause for cheer.

I covered the first decade of the Afghanistan war as a correspondent for The Washington Post, starting with the American bombing and the Taliban retreat from Kabul in 2001 and making multiple trips to the country until 2010. I remember all of the Afghan interpreters and drivers who supported me on every visit. 

They helped me navigate the country’s byzantine tribal politics, warned me when a highway was too dangerous to travel and accompanied me on trips from Kandahar in the south to Kunduz in the north. Most left Afghanistan a long time ago and I am eternally grateful to them all.

I also fondly remember my longtime interpreter and my driver from Somalia from when I was the Post’s Africa correspondent covering the 1990s US military intervention. They were always waiting for me at Mogadishu airport when I flew in from Nairobi; they waded into angry crowds with me to interview witnesses to the most recent military clash, and they dutifully went along with my boneheaded ideas to drive to faraway towns like Baidoa and Bardera in our battered white Toyota. They kept me safe, and I thank them.

Some of my former interpreters and drivers I came upon by chance. In Iraq, I found my interpreter through the Red Crescent Society in Basra at the start of the 2003 US-led invasion when I drove across the border from Kuwait; he stayed with me for the next few weeks. 

Flying into Casablanca in 2003 to cover a series of suicide bombings, I found a taxi driver who spoke good French and hired him on the spot for the next week. In Kinshasa, adrift without a fixer, I wandered onto the university campus, found the English Department and asked a professor for his best English-speaking student, who became my regular guide.

Many of the local hires I worked with were longtime Post employees, and they always showed dedication and loyalty, even though most had never set foot in the head office in Washington, DC.

In China, interpreters and fixers are called “news assistants”. They are journalists, although, under Chinese rules, they were not allowed to have bylines. I was lucky to have three of the absolute best in Beijing from late 2009 through 2013. They found scoops, accompanied me on trips and translated the Chinese papers and social media sites for me. And our longtime Post driver could somehow get me through Beijing’s notorious traffic jams in record time.

Some have gone on to become journalists in their own right. One star is the intrepid Atika Shubert. She started as my interpreter and fixer in Jakarta when she was just out of university. She later became The Washington Post stringer in Indonesia, writing stories when I was back in Hong Kong, and together we covered the Jakarta riots and the fall of the Suharto regime in 1998. She covered the independence vote and the militia rampage in East Timor for the Post, among many other stories, before joining CNN, where she is now a European correspondent.

Behind every good foreign correspondent, there’s an interpreter, a driver, a fixer or a news assistant. They rarely get the recognition they are due. Let’s take a moment to sing their praises.

Keith Richburg
Hong Kong
6 September 2021

How COVID-19 Has Impacted Hong Kong Media

As Rick Boost discovers, the pandemic has pushed many media organisations in Hong Kong to adjust workplace policies, find new revenue streams and come out stronger. 

When COVID-19 swept across the globe in early 2020, it pummeled many media companies. Some slashed freelance budgets, others cut staff, closed offices and reduced nonessential spending.

Here in Hong Kong, we’ve witnessed mass staff layoffs and office closures – as seen at i-Cable and Quartz, respectively – as well as radical shifts in how teams work together. Nearly two years on, media companies in Hong Kong have found some footing, but the ground continues to shift.

“In early 2020, no one could have foreseen the impact that COVID would have on our personal and professional lives and changed the ways we live, work and interact,” says Atifa Silk, the Asia managing director of Haymarket Media.

“We had to adapt quickly and, thankfully, most of our people were able to embrace the changes and reap the rewards that working from home can bring.”

Magazines Entertainment and media revenue in Hong Kong plummeted 11.8 percent, or US$1 billion, in 2019, according to PWC.

The great migration

In early 2020, the government appealed to employers to allow staff to work from home to minimise social contact. Many Hong Kong media companies, including Haymarket, swiftly instated mandatory work-from-home (WFH) policies and entered a period of trial-and-error.

While Haymarket identified many benefits with remote work – more efficient meetings, fewer distractions, no commutes, time with family – they encountered a fair share of hurdles, too. “The sparks of creativity that happen in face-to-face conversations are hard to replicate virtually,” says Silk. “There can be fewer opportunities for immediate support and training for young talent. And there is the pressure of feeling like you’re always on – that lack of separation between work and home life can impact wellbeing and mental health.”

In September 2020, Haymarket conducted a company-wide survey on flexible work, asking staff: “Would you value the option to work from home one to two days a week?” Roughly 96 percent of staff in Asia responded positively. So, in November 2020, the company began piloting a flexible work model that encouraged employees to work from home. Since moving into a new office in Sheung Wan in August 2021, the company has refined the model. Now, all staff work in the office three days a week – two of which centre around collaborative tasks.

Cliff Buddle, special projects editor at the South China Morning Post and FCC board member, says remote work shook up the legacy publication. “For the first time in our history, we produced a newspaper with no editorial staff in the newsroom,” he says. “This was done at very short notice when our office temporarily closed. It was an impressive achievement, given that print publication requires much collaboration.”

Nick Thorpe, the East Asia director of media intelligence platform Telum Media, says many media companies in Asia had resisted the move toward remote work before the pandemic due to a “complex web of cultural and social hurdles”.

“Some staff had never worked from home before and found the prospect so alien – both due to traditional workplace structures and small apartments,” he continues.

“Some [people] opted to remain office-based even at the height of the pandemic, while others have barely been into the office for 18 months.”

By contrast, some young, nimble companies like Liv Media have long preferred flexible work models, encouraging employees to work remotely since launching its flagship, Liv magazine, in 2015.

“While there is a slight tradeoff in efficiency, we have seen great staff retention and overall employee satisfaction as people feel they have more control over their lives,” says Sarah Fung, Liv Media’s founder and publisher. “Productivity isn’t measured by a punch card – if you have good employees, you can trust them to manage their own schedules.”

 


5 Media Trends to Watch

  1. Remote Work: WFH will become an acceptable, and expected, aspect of employment.
  2. Health and Safety: Wellbeing in all its many guises will be an essential part of any work contract.
  3. Audiophilia: Podcasts are commanding more and more attention.
  4. New Revenue Streams: With so much free content on offer, media must look to value-added services.
  5. Social Media+: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and their progeny will command ever greater importance.
Sarah Fung During the downturn, Liv Media publisher Sarah Fung looked to new revenue streams such as awards, supplements and content creation.

Revising revenue streams

COVID-19 exposed the vulnerabilities of many industries – and media was not spared. In its “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2020-2024: Hong Kong Summary”, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) reports that entertainment and media revenue in Hong Kong plummeted 11.8 percent, or US$1 billion, from US$8.5 billion in 2019 to US$7.8 billion in 2020.

“Hong Kong revenue was the worst-hit compared to global and Asia-Pacific markets,” states the report. The study also found that newspapers, magazines, and online advertising markets shrank, while video games, podcasts and over-the-top video services (such as Netflix or Hulu) grew.

“The pandemic has created a challenging environment for news organisations around the world,” Buddle adds. “The economic impact has hit advertising revenues, exacerbating problems newsrooms were already facing in finding new income streams and operating models. Those challenges will continue, although there are signs of improvement in Hong Kong as social-distancing restrictions are lifted.”

Organisations like Liv Media also felt the squeeze. “Lifestyle media budgets have been affected massively,” says Fung. “When the pandemic hit, our core sales categories – hospitality, travel and tourism, food, beverage and gyms – completely disappeared.”

During the downturn, Liv Media changed its strategy to look beyond traditional advertising. A significant portion of the brand’s revenue now comes from events, awards, guides, supplements, and bespoke content creation.

Fung also rolled out a free subscription service for readers and increased Liv magazine’s distribution network to 500 points across Hong Kong. These strategies – combined with the return of traditional ad spending – have put Liv in a stronger position for growth post-pandemic, she adds.

Haymarket also regrouped and pivoted. According to Silk, the company evaluated its operations, portfolio and services. For example, Haymarket conducted market research on the finance and marketing-communications industries, including qualitative interviews with readers and clients to better understand their needs.

The company also expanded its content solutions arm, leaned into subscription models and shifted its content strategy, adopting new tools, such as the digital storytelling platform Shorthand, to boost audience engagement.

“We challenged ourselves to think differently about our audiences and platforms,” says Silk. “The reset enabled us to reshape the Asia business and transform our revenue and financial profile, giving us a clear focus on building digital-first ideas and solutions.”

PWC’s more recent outlook, published in July, seems more optimistic. The report anticipates a 7.65 percent rise in Hong Kong’s 2021 entertainment and media revenues, from US$7.8 billion in 2020 to a projected US$8.4 billion in 2021.

Fung says she’s seen some renewed momentum on the sales front. “We’ve found that clients are starting to come back,” she says. “I think they’re tired of waiting for the pandemic to end and have realised that they need to keep marketing through the ‘new normal’.”

Many companies have leaned into digital-first storytelling.

Evolving career paths

Though the employment market for media professionals seemed dire this time last year, job openings in the industry seem to be picking up again. Thorpe says he’s observed exponential growth in the number of roles posted across Asia on Telum’s online Jobs Board.

“We’ve seen a lot of media outlets subsequently bounce back and kick-start hiring again, with digital and video journalism seeing a particular focus alongside more traditional reporting roles,” he says.

But now, publishers and editors prefer new hires to be just as diverse as their new revenue streams. “There’s probably not as much of a career path for someone who is just a writer post-COVID-19,” says Fung. “Employers are looking for media professionals with lots of strings in their bow, whether that’s graphic design, SEO, social media, photography or paid content creation.”

Thorpe broadly agrees, adding that the global crisis has shaken up traditional career paths in media. The pandemic – combined with a wealth of content creation channels online – has enabled many people with multimedia skills, like podcasting or video production, to break into the industry.

Thorpe expects that aspiring and existing media professionals alike will likely need to gain new skills in order to keep up. “There has been an explosion in media brands seeking experts in data, social media, video journalism, digital content creation and so on,” says Thorpe. “And of course, every media brand is looking at audio content today – there’s a gold rush in podcasting right now that shows no sign of slowing any time soon.”

 


Post-COVID Skill Set

Employers are increasingly seeking enhanced skills such as:

  • Video production
  • Audio production
  • Livestreaming
  • Graphic design
  • Social media skills
  • Writing for new media formats

 

Rick Boost is a born and raised Hongkonger. He has overseen copy and multimedia content at several of the city’s media outlets, including as HK Editor of Marketing Magazine/Interactive.

Stephen Vines on What Makes the FCC Special: ‘It’s About the People’

The FCC was a second home to Stephen Vines, who hastily decamped to England in August after 34 years in Hong Kong. The former FCC president and veteran journalist shares a few parting words with his FCC family.

Like the Hotel California, at the FCC “you can check out any time you want, but you can never leave”.

But after more than three decades of membership I have, much to my consternation, checked out. It was not easy to do so but as the “White Terror” slashes and burns through the foundations of Hong Kong, it seemed like the right time to go.

I have written extensively elsewhere about why I had to leave, so this is not the place to cover that ground again. However, it is the right place to talk about what it means to leave the FCC because the club played a pivotal place in my life before a somewhat hasty departure.

I am a fully paid-up member of Tribe Hack. We are a reprehensible group – overconfident, sarcastic, argumentative, arrogant, sometimes a bit shouty. Other times, rather sneaky, keeping things to ourselves in fear that they might find their way into rival outlets.

But at the same time Tribe Hack offers lifelong friendships, impressive mutual assistance and, perhaps most of all, the promise of escaping that worst of all afflictions: boredom.

At the FCC, all these traits come into sharp focus, making it an infuriating place but one which is simply the best journalists’ club in the world. This did not come about as a result of careful planning, or to be frank, any kind of planning.

From its early days in Chongqing to the forced evacuation to Hong Kong, the FCC was an itinerant entity, in turn finding shelter in a grand mansion, a luxury hotel, an office block and now a historic building where we stay at the tender mercy of the government.

But, of course, the club is not really about the buildings that house it – it is about the people. Some are rather famous, like Clare Hollingworth. Then there was BBC stalwart Anthony Lawrence, a true gent in every sense of the word, who had the knack of being extremely self-effacing. Hugh van Es, the gruff Dutch photographer, was always on hand to remind me that I was “talking shit” (he was often right, darn him).

I have mentioned various deceased members because I feel that discussing my relationships with the living slides to the wrong side of intrusion, but I can say without reservation that friendships formed at the FCC have been among the most important in my life.

The club is a place of cliques, magnificently long-running feuds and, at its best, offers comfort, reassurance and the kind of irreverence that stops us from taking ourselves too seriously.

It’s hard not to be maudlin at the prospect of never returning to the FCC. But having left due to the pressures and dangers of pursuing the dismal trade of journalism in Hong Kong, it would be downright myopic not to recognise the special problems that afflict an institution carrying in its title both the words “Correspondent” and “Foreign”.

However, foreign correspondents have survived in places where the pressures are considerably greater and where the threat to life is hard to exaggerate. The FCC has a plaque memorialising colleagues who were killed in the line of duty, in case we should forget. None of them perished in Hong Kong.

I am acutely aware that, for some people, the FCC is little more than a glorified bar. If it were only that, it would never produce the strong emotions that it does.

But some of us are emotional – I plead guilty.

The Correspondent, October – December 2021

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