“Today’s paper is just sparkling. I’m very proud of it,” exclaims Mario García – also known as the newspaper doctor – from his seat at Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post offices in Causeway Bay. Having spent 30 years whipping print institutions such as The Wall Street Journal and Die Zeit into shape (he’s played a part in redesigning over 500 publications), García turned his attention to the 108-year-old English-language SCMP eight months ago. The revamped paper hit newsstands last Monday.
“I don’t think that it was a paper that you needed to rush by ambulance to the emergency room,” García explains, before adding cautiously: “This is a newspaper that did not have a good sense of navigation, if we may say so.”
It certainly does now. Scrapping the former, slightly demure colour scheme and non-descript layout for bright section headings and a front page with a larger masthead, info-graphics and teasers on what’s inside the covers, the new SCMP is as perky and expertly laid-out as it could be. The new design also includes daily tabloid supplements – Money Post, Health Post, Family Post and more – that will launch over the next few weeks. And, inevitably, it has an iPad application.
“We’ve looked at every column, every headline and every page to create a newspaper that is modern and seductive, and [will] attract a new generation of readers and users in Hong Kong. This newspaper is being re-thought for a generation of digitally-minded people,” says García.
While he believes print will live forever, García explains newspapers have to adapt to stay relevant. “The papers that will not survive are the ones that are set on ‘sitdown for 45 minutes and read me from cover to cover’,” he says. “The paper that will make it is going to have the robustness of depth and focus and, at the same time, the quick way to get there. I may get this information as quickly as swallowing a pill or I may get this information as a seven-course meal like grandpa used to do. Both are here,” he says pointing to a copy of the new SCMP in front of him. The re-vamped paper is as confident as García himself.
The investment in the paper has paid off with the redesign. But bosses at SCMP need to start addressing the editorial content too – a dispatch of dedicated correspondents to cover regional beats such as Bangkok, Taipei and Kuala Lumpur would be a good start.
SCMP‘s section on China affairs speaks loudly and authoritatively. Yet just like the old version, the paper’s wider Asia content is still mostly wire-generated – a letdown for an otherwise laudable reinvention.