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Splice News Trends: WhatsApp murders in India, that Quartz sale and Rolling Stone’s rebirth

In his weekly round-up newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg Alan Soon deconstructs the media happenings including yet another SPH content marketing rebrand, podcast binges and the SCMP's CEO Gary Liu on the paper's new direction

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Soon dives into this week’s media happenings

Transformations

Japanese financial publisher Uzabase acquired Quartz — yes, that Quartz — in a deal worth between $75 million to $110 million. Uzabase is keen on using Quartz as a way to get into the US and European markets. The deal price depends on Qz’s financial performance this year. According to Uzabase, Quartz made $27 million in revenue last year. Tokyo-listed Uzabase is best known for NewsPicks, a $15-a-month subscription product.

I finally got that transcript to my interview with SCMP’s CEO Gary Liu written up. Liu talks openly about his 18-month journey into transforming the Hong Kong-based newspaper — the challenges he faced and the lessons he learned. “I heard [it] more than once: I’ve seen it before; it didn’t work before; wake me up when it’s over.”

Rolling Stone is on an aggressive new path. Management is cutting circulation in half. It will publish just once a month instead of twice. And the cover price is going up. They’re also getting into events. “We want to set ourselves up for long-term success. You can’t do that if you are creating a fake audience for your magazine and are buying tons of traffic online.”

Singapore’s SPH rebranded its content marketing division — now known as Sweet. It brings Brand New Media, Content Lab, CreativeLAB and Think Inc under one unit.

Governments

Australia’s anti-trust regulator, which is investigating the role of digital platforms like Facebook and Google, outlined four key questions in the probe. Paraphrased:

  • Do the platforms have “market power” — how is that being used?
  • Are consumers deriving value from the data they hand over to the platforms?
  • Do the platforms enjoy a competitive advantage in the current regulatory framework?
  • What does the impact of reduced ad revenue mean for newsrooms’ ability to deliver “quality journalism”, which it defines as “investigative, verified and diverse journalism”.

We’ve been following this probe with plenty of interest. We take the view that this inquiry is merely interested in protecting Australia’s archaic duopoly advertising market, instead of the championing a healthy, vibrant news industry. Read the piece we published in June.

‘WhatsApp murders’ are a thing in India. The government wants Facebook to do something about the messages circulating on WhatsApp that have led to murders. Eight people have been killed in recent days after rumors were spread on WhatsApp that child kidnappers were on the prowl. The government has had to resort to walking the streets with megaphones to dispel the rumours.

The Foreign Correspondents Club in Thailand cancelled the second screening of a documentary about the imprisoned Vietnamese blogger Mother Mushroom. The Vietnamese embassy protested the screening. Mother Mushroom is serving a 10-year prison term in Vietnam for calling attention to a toxic chemical leak at a steel plant.

Indonesia banned the popular short music video app Tik Tok (also called Douyin in China). The communications ministry says the app’s content is a bad influence on young people but says it will lift the ban if the Bytedance-owned app cleans up.

(Btw, a local court in China used Douyin to name and shame debt defaulters. It made short clips of their faces, set it to music, and put it up on the platform.)

A Myanmar court will decide next week whether to charge the two Reuters reporters accused of obtaining secret documents. The jailed journalists face 14 years in prison under the Official Secrets Act.

Under pressure, Philippine online news site Inquirer pulled down articles mentioning the involvement of the new Senate President in the rape of a child actress in 1982. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines declared the takedown “one of the darkest days in the annals of Philippine journalism”.

“We need to see if you are guilty.”
“Guilty of what?”
“We will see.”

This is how Cambodia’s once free press collapsed within months.

Trends

Alibaba claims it now has an AI-based copywriter that is ready to work for creative agencies and brands. It says the tech has passed the Turing Test, which means it’s practically indistinguishable from humans.

Platforms

Some advertisers in Australia are calling for an independent audit of Facebook after the platform deleted more than a billion fake profiles. The Australian Association of National Advertisers says advertisers will also want “make good” provisions in place.

Facebook acquired Bloomsbury, a UK-based AI startup focusing on natural language processing. Facebook is reportedly planning to use the technology to combat fake news.

Reporting

The Australian Press Council censured the Sydney Morning Herald for its reporting of a teacher who was stabbed to death. SMH’s story carried graphic details of the murder and ran videos of the victim with his two young children. It also showed the police questioning the accused.

Tools

The folks at Freedom of the Press Foundation released a bot to help reporters track stories on Twitter. Here’s how you can get it.

Start-ups

My podcast binge of the moment: Zig Zag. It’s about Manoush Zamorodi and Jen Poyant, who left WNYC (you may remember their work on the Note To Self podcast) to start a media company — on the premise they would get funding from an angel investor. They quit their jobs, only to realize later that the money wasn’t on the table. (I had a giddy fanboy moment when I met Manoush in DC last year, but that’s another story.) Check out their new podcast series here.

Talent

Facebook is quickly ramping up its Asia news partnerships team. Key positions are open in Singapore, Sydney, and Mumbai. They’re looking for Strategic Partner Managers “to build and enhance successful partnerships” with publishers and broadcasters.

Notables

Splice reader and ex-FT reporter James Crabtree has published a book on India’s “black-money economy”. A good look at how investments and capitalism work in the country.

Samsung’s texting app Messages is apparently sending photos from the camera roll randomly to people. Not the kind of problem you want. Samsung says it’s aware of the issue and is “looking into it”.

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