INTERNATIONAL: Medium of the month

A Hong Kong paper’s frank style is paying off so far, Helen Deal reports

A Hong Kong paper’s frank style is paying off so far, Helen Deal reports



It takes a strong personality to launch an outspoken tabloid into a

market where press freedom could soon be a thing of the past.



But in Hong Kong, the fashion tycoon turned media mogul, Jimmy Lai, has

ventured into the crowded Chinese language newspaper arena with Apple

Daily. In 16 months, Apple has become the second most popular paper in

the territory.



Lai had already made an impact with a mould-breaking weekly news

magazine called Next - a move which earned him firebomb attacks from

triads and boycotts by wrathful advertisers as he stuck to Next’s

mission of ‘warts and all’ reportage.



Lai has come under the scrutiny of the mainland Chinese authorities for

roundly criticising them in print. And he has since resigned as chief

executive of his retail chain, Giordano, because mainland business was

affected by his publishing aspirations.



With such a reputation, and with government handover to China on the

horizon, Lai has nevertheless sunk HKdollars 150 million into his new

paper.



From the start its editorial has been aggressive and sensationalist in a

newspaper market used to passive, not probing, journalism.



Partly as a publicity stunt, Lai announced he was hiring former pizza

delivery boys as junior reporters, because of their ability to beat the

traffic and arrive before rivals at the scene of a crime.



Politically, Apple is pro-democracy, while many competitors are trying

to secure their future with neutral reporting about mainland Chinese

politics and its expected impact on Hong Kong.



It has also brought huge, full-colour, dramatic pictures to Hong Kong

newspapers for the first time. In stark contrast to Chinese language

papers here, too, Apple’s front page shrieks news instead of carrying

ads.



The paper has upset the commercial status quo, sparking off a bloody,

year-long price war. And, when that was over, Apple incensed advertisers

by raising ad rates four times since its launch.



Lai’s first months have been action-packed, and the next few will become

profitable as Apple moves into the black.



Whether Hong Kong’s new masters will smile so favourably on Apple is a

debate that will surely keep the newspaper bathed in publicity in the

coming year.



One thing is certain - Jimmy Lai will thrive on that.



KEY FACTS



Launched 20 June 1995

Language Chinese

Frequency Daily

Circulation (ABC audit for Jan to June 1996) 289,049. Second behind Oriental Daily News’ claimed 600,000

Readership 1,475,000

Current print run 320,000



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