Not long ago, there were two excellent English language weekly magazines covering Asia: Asiaweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Both were bought by American conglomerates – Asiaweek by Time Warner and the Far Eastern Economic Review by Dow Jones – and both were subsequently closed, leaving the region only with the feeble “Asian” edition of Time. An excellent account of the Asiaweek debacle by a friend and former senior editor of the magazine can be found here.
The mismanagement of the Far Eastern Economic Review by its corporate masters is a textbook case of how not to handle an acquisition. Under its previous editor, Derek Davies, the Review had carved a name for itself for the excellence of its economic reporting, its refusal to be cowed (the Singapore Government banned it on several occasions) and its wide-ranging book reviews.
When Dow Jones took over the Review it:
· introduced pompous “editorials”, which, while clearly reflecting an uninformed American-oriented view of the Region, invariably included the phrase “we in Asia” in a transparent attempt to appear local;
· indulged in numerous revisions to the format, each more disastrous than the last;
· brought in large numbers of American journalists and editors at the expense of well-established writers who knew the region;
· moved the focus from business and politics to “innovation” and “lifestyle”, neither of which was particularly of interest to its core readership and both of which were much better covered elsewhere; and
· dramatically reduced the scope of the book review section.
I've been a subscriber to the Review for most of the past 20 years, and an occasional contributor, but I ended my sub last year. There was really nothing left to read.
Clearly flailing, last year Dow-Jones merged the editorial operations of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal in an attempt to cut costs. On Friday, it bowed to the inevitable and closed the magazine after six consecutive years of losses.
One of the reasons for the closure given by “the top Dow Jones executive for global news coverage” was last year’s SARS outbreak, almost as fatuous an excuse as that offered for the closure of Asiaweek three years previously (the 9/11 terrorist attacks).
As well as providing cautionary tales on the perils of acquiring assets in cultures about which you know nothing, the closures of the Review and Asiaweek give the lie to the claim that under globalization everyone benefits. On the contrary, it seems that everyone lost from this sorry story; journalists and other staff who have been made redundant, Dow Jones and Times Warner who have both lost a packet as a result of their mismanagement, and the magazines’ loyal readers, who after having to put up with steadily deteriorating products for over a decade now have no weekly magazine at all.
But wait. Not everyone has lost out. The New York Times story on the closure informs us that Karen Elliott House, the architect of the progressive degradation of the Review from well-respected mainstay of economic and political reporting in the region to flimsy lifestyle magazine, is now a Dow Jones senior vice president. Such a flagrant example of incompetence rewarded is another reason why business schools will have plenty to discuss when they come to analyse the ruination of the Far Eastern Economic Review.