Change is in the air for journalism in Malaysia, as the Malay Mail, a 122-year-old institution in the history of the country’s press, published its last version on December 1, Saturday, while the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of The Star, Datuk Seri Wong Chun Wai, announced that he is stepping down as of January 1, 2018
From the December 2 and onward, the Malay Mail is going completely digital. The broadsheet was first published on December 14, 1896, and is the oldest daily newspaper in English in the country. Its staffers have been given the option of staying on and being re-trained for positions in the digital version or moving on to other employment. Around a third of the Malay Mail’s 165 workers will be affected by the transition to fully digital publishing.
Owner Datuk Siew Ka Wei bought the paper in 2009 and was aware back then that the glory days of news in print had long gone. However, he considers this an opportunity for a transition into a new phase for the company, saying, “The print plant can be used to print other publications and so forth. But the Malay Mail brand goes forward and it will grow even stronger. I think our online news has been very different and led the way in many stories and with the team we have today, we have created a name in the market.
Many people tell me that they read only Malay Mail online. If you think about it, we never really pushed the brand, despite the fact that the sister company Redberry controls a lot of media assets. Now as part of regional media play there’s a lot we can do. I’ve read it in Europe, Japan, online is everywhere, there are no borders.”
Editor-in-chief Datuk Wong Sai Wan did admit to some sadness that the print edition is ending. “Of course I’m very sad, I started life as a print newspaperman, when we celebrate the 122nd birthday, that’s the last print issue, but it’s also a new adventure, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Still, his remarks about the paper’s future were optimistic. “It will be very exciting for everyone, me included. We have no examples to turn to in the world but I would like to inform everyone that this is only the first in many steps that Malay Mail as a corporation will enter into in the digital business. We will not stop at news content.
We will form alliances, acquire others to make us a truly digital company. And not just a digital content company, it will set the trend and become a pioneer.
We’ll do everything from e-commerce to e-events to gaming, we are looking at the entire sphere of the digital business.”
Owner Siew believes that the future of journalism is online. “I am not saying that print is dead but the future isn’t as rosy as you think.”
At a farewell party for the Malay Mail, he said that the front page has always been his favorite section of the paper, having broken exclusives several times in spite of the paper’s low circulation in the last few years.
“Some loved it, some hated it. And that’s what a good newspaper is. You don’t create the news, you break the news. For this I must thank the team, both when we first got it till now, everyone contributed in their own way to the Malay Mail brand today.”
Over at the Star Media Group (SMG), on November 30, Friday, it was announced that Wong, a longtime journalist, would step down as the managing director and chief executive officer by January 1. But Wong will continue in an advisory role even after he steps down.
Wong, who has worked for The Star for more than 30 years, had been expected to stay until 2020. He became youngest group chief editor of the paper in 2007, at 46 years old.
In a statement he said, “I am deeply thankful that I was given the opportunity to serve as MD/CEO for six years. That’s a pretty long time in Malaysian corporate life, and more so in a most challenging business like the media.
It’s not the end of an era for me. I just want to return to my passion — journalism and writing. After all, this is part of succession planning and transformation.”
Wong talked about changes within the SMG group and expressed full confidence in his colleagues. “From print to online to radio, to events and exhibitions, and now OTT (over the top) video service provider, SMG has transformed.
Transformation has taken place, and we are completely into the digital era, where we are digital first. But I will leave my trusted colleagues, whom I’m sure will do a better job, to deal with the changing times.
I’m blessed to have worked for the company, and if I were to start all over again, I will still choose The Star.”