Teaming with tech: SCMP’s Elsie Cheung and Tammy Tam talk about the new skills needed in the emerging digital publishing world
The digital disruption of the media sector over the last 15 years has had a particularly strong impact on organisations in the traditional print space, forcing them to rethink their business outlook and people strategies. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) is one of many such organisations navigating the digital transition, and its people are vital to leading the way in this new environment. Elsie Cheung, COO, and Tammy Tam, editor-in-chief, talk about adapting to an evolving media marketplace and the talent required to take companies forwards in this exciting time.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen to the media landscape in the past few years?
Tam: From an editorial perspective, there have been three main changes. First is reader behaviour. Not long ago the desktop was king, then the tablet was expected to be dominant. Now many of our customers consume our news on mobile.
Second is the speed at which news is expected. The internet is open 24/7, our readers are in many different time zones, and waiting for the newspaper to come out before publishing our stories online doesn’t work. Readers need a steady stream of quality content being updated regularly throughout the day and night.
Third is content packaging. We can’t just give readers a print story – they need photos and videos as well. The rise of social media means the storytelling continues on long after the newspaper is delivered to the doorstep.
What has been the impact on the business side of the industry?
Cheung: Publishers such as the SCMP once exclusively owned the platforms through which we monetised our audiences, whether in print or online. But in today’s digitally connected world, we find ourselves engaging with more readers than ever before, from more diversified backgrounds, on an expanding number of platforms. This paradigm shift poses a significant challenge to the traditional display advertising model.
Gone are the days when you could simply place an ad alongside content and assume it will reach 100 per cent of our readers. We have had to become more sophisticated in understanding our audience through the collection of multiple data points. This allows us to understand who our readers are, where they are located, their preferred platform, as well as their content preference. With this understanding we can serve ads with a high degree of relevancy, or recommend content which they may find of interest. On the platforms we do not control, we can now place targeted advertising messages in our content streams.
What skills are now in demand?
Tam: Companies can no longer afford to hire print-only specialists. We are now looking for candidates with digital publishing skills, experience in new ways of storytelling, and experience growing audience on social media. They must work well under deadline pressure – and understand that the definition of deadlines has changed. They used to be at a fixed time each night, but now deadlines are right now and around the clock. There’s much more of a real-time feeling.
Cheung: This of course depends on the role. From a product development perspective, we need technologists who are numerate, and who understand content as well as how to build good user experiences. For sales and marketing roles, individuals increasingly need to understand the importance of data and how to make sense of it. Finding individuals with strong storytelling skills who can understand and use data can be difficult.
Nowadays the majority of roles require staff to establish close working relations with people with a diverse set of skills, experience and expertise. It is therefore extremely important that candidates see the benefit of collaboration and how to do so effectively.
How can publishing companies attract young talent?
Cheung: The publishing industry has changed more in the last 15 years than it did in the preceding 100. From a technology perspective, publishers are no longer confined to a single medium; instead they can distribute content instantaneously across desktop, mobile, social and other platforms. This fast-paced environment is an attractive proposition for a younger generation who thrive on immediacy.
From a news perspective, the SCMP provides an opportunity to be part of a global media company, uniquely positioned to help readers stay abreast of the ever-changing China story. Combining the SCMP’s influence and editorial independence with the technological know-how and expertise of its new owners Alibaba, there is the chance to learn the skills and tools needed to thrive in this digital age.
Are there any particular qualities or qualifications that media companies are looking for nowadays?
Tam: Journalism degrees are as important as having a specialised understanding in areas such as international relations, economics and business, social science, and tech. Reporters who understand how to read a balance sheet or how to cover macroeconomic trends, as well as China specialists fluent in both Chinese and English, will thrive here. And because of our digital push, we’re hiring people across the business as web developers, digital analysts, video animators and aggregation producers, dedicated homepage editors, and digital sales and marketing experts. Even so, our new joiners still must adhere to basic journalistic principles and integrity to produce fair and balanced coverage that is also timely for our global audience.
Cheung: In the past, a core part of our recruitment strategy revolved around hard skills and competencies. However, as our business has evolved, so has the criteria by which we evaluate prospective candidates. Increasingly we look to identify individuals who are technology literate, embrace change and can adapt to the environment as it evolves around them.
Passion is another attribute upon which we place a lot of emphasis, and it can be the difference between a good employee and a great employee. Finding individuals who are experts in their field, are passionate about news gathering and storytelling, and who believe in news impartiality is key. The best candidates are often those who are willing to voice their opinions and offer a global perspective.
Do editorial staff and technology specialists work separately or are the two disciplines becoming more entwined?
Tam: We have to work closely together. Senior editors work closely with digital and business development staff on new product enhancements. There is still sharp separation when it comes to editorial control – the newsroom editors have the last word on what is published.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Teaming with tech.