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
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
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
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
One thing is certain - Jimmy Lai will thrive on that.
Launched 20 June 1995
Circulation (ABC audit for Jan to June 1996) 289,049. Second behind Oriental Daily News’ claimed 600,000
Current print run 320,000