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October 30, 2004



I was a FEER subscriber from 1996 until sometime in early 2000 - when they joined the 'tech bubble' and started the shift to technology/product placement articles. In 2001 (while I was a lowly Dow employee), the bubble burst and they merged the editorial staff with the AWSJ - which pretty much indicated where they had placed their priorities. So, I had expected this for quite some time. Should the revised monthly edition be, as the IHT suggests, an Asian version of 'Foreign Affairs' it may even be an improvement over what the publication had devolved into. It will still leave an unfortunate gap in terms of regional news magazines though.
BTW: Nice blog, (I was directed here by Carl - friskodude.bl;ogspot.com)

Nui T.

2Bangkok.com gave me the link to your article. Sad to read about this vacuum or reliable news for SE Asia. This is how big media company destroys the media as source for quality and alternative information.


Hi Al.

I was a regular reader of FEER. The poor (Asian) man's Economist. I picked up Asiaweek occasionally for its good photo essays a la Life Magazine. I remember that many of the FEER reports from the Philippines were written by Bobby Tiglao, now GMA's Chief of Staff, who was a FEER writer for many years. Before that he was chairman of the National Capital Region Committee of the CPP-NPA.

Here's a comment from this morning's IHT op-ed page. (I simply refused to read the terrible news on the front page today.)



A confraternity mourns another Asian magazine

Philip Bowring
Thursday, November 4, 2004

HONG KONG It was like the death of a family patriarch. But instead of long-lost cousins and aunts arriving for wakes or phoning condolences from Patagonia, there was a surge in e-mail traffic among that far-flung but tight-knit community - journalists, past and present.

One is a billionaire, one a new media entrepreneur, another a big name banker, a clutch are analyzing economies, ensconced in think tanks or lecturing in academia. Others are still scribbling or editing for a living in Tokyo, New York, Dhaka, Jakarta, Hanoi, London, Bangkok, San Francisco and Beijing. Others are retired in the Dordogne or on the Queensland coast.

This was the community of the many past and a few current journalists of the Far Eastern Economic Review, a once iconic Hong Kong-based weekly that came to an end last week after 58 years. The magazine had been bought by Dow Jones in 1987 when it was at the peak of its reputation and profitability. For whatever reason, it went into a decline that proved fatal. Rather than sell the title, Dow Jones fired the staff and is turning it into a Beijing-based monthly.

One person who might have had a wry smile on his face was Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's former leader. In 1989 the Far Eastern Economic Review was the last foreign publication to confront in the Singapore courts one of Lee's many libel actions. It lost, but its defense was so vigorous that Lee was kept in the witness box for five days and the judge awarded aggravated damages because the cross-examination "exacerbated the hurt to the plaintiff's feelings and the damage to his reputation."

In its youth and in its prime the Far Eastern Economic Review thrived on not readily kowtowing to the likes of the Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Its journalists were not infrequently asked to leave, occasionally jailed, and the publication frequently banned for specific issues.

Many a business leader was similarly discomfited by its exposés of insider dealing, banking scandals and corporate skulduggery. If that upset the advertisers, too bad. It was the readers that mattered and the ads would follow.

Its editor for 23 years, the late Derek Davies, gave correspondents their heads. The rotund, pugnacious and occasionally crude Welshman believed the magazine was there both to inform and to incite debate. Editors were there to make sure that the magazine came out, but not to impose an ideology or rewrite copy into homogenized prose. It was sui generis, not an Asian version of Newsweek.

The magazine cared little whether many thought its articles too long or too dense, as long as they appealed to part of the coalition of niches that made up its market - the minutiae of Malaysian politics, Southeast Asian diplomacy, Bangladesh development or Hong Kong investment scandals. It declined to write down to its readers. Journalists, especially the young and ambitious, naturally liked to write for such a publication, even if the pay was modest. Under Davies, roughly half the contributors were Asian, half expatriate. A few became famous writers, and many more made reputations that they parlayed into more lucrative jobs in journalism, finance, government and politics.

The magazine later appeared to lose its way. Having had just four editors in its first 46 years, it had another six during the final 12 years, and various makeovers aimed at broadening the appeal, making it less controversial and easier to read. It was allowed back into Singapore, but did it now have anything to say to Singaporeans? Business coverage became more gushing than teeth-gnashing. In 2001 it was forced to merge editorial staff with Dow Jones's Asian Wall Street Journal, previously a rival for stories and revenue.

It lost many core readers without gaining new ones. Of course the market had changed, too, with the entry into the Asian marketplace of new media and magazines such as The Economist and BusinessWeek. But those interested in Asian media diversity and freedom could not resist a feeling that multinational corporations were not the right owners of small niche businesses, particularly ones that competed for revenue with their other products.

The Far Eastern Economic Review's earlier success had spawned rivals, notably Asiaweek, started in 1975 by rebels from the Davies camp. It was more self-consciously Asian and for a while had a Chinese edition. Time Inc., a shareholder since 1985, took full control in 1994 and closed it in 2001. Sic transit Asian weeklies.


Sad, and sadder still that the passing of FEER has little impact in the U.S., which is enthralled with the homogenization of news.


As an international advertising buyer, I was very sad to see the death of FEER.

It provided a ideal channel for high-level business advertising in Asia, distinct from the homogenised lightweight global mags. Only the Asian edition of the Economist comes even close now.

Brian Wai-Yip Leung

As an economics student, this magazine made the subject interesting. FEER was an excellent magazine for anybody interested in knowing what was going on in Asia. I haven't read the Asian edition of the Economist, but i know that it's won't even be in the same calibre of quality that FEER possessed. I mourn for its demise.

Robert Lumley

Resurrect FEER with FEAER - Far East - Asia Economic Review with ex-team from Asia - prior to Dow's debacle -based it out of Asia. Rather than feel sad or sorry, those in the business should do something about it. Over the next 50 years, Dow Jones and other American giants, will loose influence.

Cyrus Baines

The new FEER looks interesting and has many good articles. I think it will do well with its much reduced staff. As a former FEER editor Philip Bowring would naturally prefer the publication when it was under his leadership. But good luck to the modern FEER and its new editors, who have to face up to a changed Asia and the age of the internet.


But what is it? A scholarly journal? Something else? I had a look at the contents page on the website and, although there were some interesting articles listed (interesting titles anyway) the whole project seems misconceived to me. The new FEER certainly has no newstand presence in Manila and if they are hoping to make money selling it by subscription they had better be prepared for a disappointment.

I think Dow Jones couldn't bear the humiliation of actually closing the title they had ruined so comprehensively so they saw this as a face saver. If it is still there in three years time I'd be surprised.

I don't think the internet had anything to do with FEER's demise. There would still be a place for a decent news magazine on Asia. It was mismanagement, from the top to the bottom--I wrote a couple of book reviews for it in the late 1990s and was amazed at the incompetence with which the staff dealt with authors(including losing a signed copy of a book that I lent them for an illustration).

Paul McNamara

The failure of FEER (and Asiaweek before it)was as much about commercial realities as it was about the quality of journalism. Publishing in Asia is expensive.

If the 'big' advertisers like watch companies and automotive companies and airlines won't support a magazine, then it is very tough to survive on circ income alone. Frankly it doesn't matter how great the edit is - if the cash isn't there, the publishers won't stick with it.

Sad but true.

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