Making Asia-Pacific news global

The art of making Asia-Pacific news global for the world’s #1 digital news destination

written by Brett McKeehan, director of CNN Digital Worldwide covering Asia

June 29th, 2020

Brett McKeehan

Just for a minute, let’s consider the biggest Asia-Pacific news of the last 12 months. Pandemic? Check. Protests? Check. Extreme weather? Check. Volcanos, fires and pestilence? Check, check and check.

 You name it, we covered it. All in our patch, all in extreme detail. In arguably the most dramatic 12 months of news in modern human history, the CNN Digital APAC team published thousands of articles, live stories and videos covering every aspect to inform our users.

In journalism, we call such events the news cycle, with the content we create in response to breaking news traditionally regarded as the absolute bedrock of CNN Digital. And it still is, no doubt – CNN remains the world’s top digital news destination, with April’s 234 million global unique visitors an increase of almost 70 million on 12 months earlier. Then there’s 668 million multiplatform video starts the same month, which places behind only YouTube, Facebook, Hulu, Vevo, Yahoo, Twitch, Netflix and Disney in digital video streams.

Extending that even further, nearly 2 in 5 adults globally engage with CNN on either digital or TV on a regular basis. Across our key markets, that’s a grand total of about 640 million adults.

Now on the surface, that’s an incredible number. Drill a little deeper, however, it’s also a huge set of relationships and data touch points from which we can learn. We want to know what people read and watch, when they read/watch it, where they read/watch it, how they consume it and (at least in theory) why they do. This influences every step in our content creation, editing, publishing and distribution process … how we treat content, how to package content and when we publish content.

“...our audience isn’t just the result of our efforts … it helps define our efforts.”

Most importantly for us, it creates opportunities. It breaks down like this: audiences today have both higher expectations and lower attentions spans for the content they consume. The digital news market is more competitive than ever – and we must not only meet audience expectations, but also maintain CNN’s quality expectations at the same time. Yet we’ve found we can still aim high, not low, and grow. We just have to work smart. So we make every effort to learn about our audience and how we can best tell their stories for the world. This means our audience isn’t just the result of our efforts … it helps define our efforts. We learn from what works and innovate.

How has that played out in practice? By embracing the founding principle of journalism: a firm commitment to original, enterprise reporting helps set the agenda. We know we’re not just telling the Asia-Pacific story to this region, we’re telling it to the world. As a result we aim to break down complex regional issues, to give context as to why they are relevant and important for everyone, regardless of country.

“With such a crowded digital news marketplace, enterprise journalism is how we can increase brand loyalty even more.”

This is how regional news becomes global. With such a crowded digital news marketplace, enterprise journalism is how we can increase brand loyalty even more. To do so effectively, however, we need to think about our target audience – that is, exactly who we’re reporting for.  If we were to tell a local story for a local audience, our global users wouldn’t be engaged and they would miss out on the information. But when we broaden our landscape – and our imaginations – this changes rather quickly. So in APAC we always report with a global audience in mind, because we know that’s what CNN’s global audience wants.

CNN’s APAC headquarters is in Hong Kong, but we also have extensive newsgathering reach via bureaus in Beijing, New Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul and Bangkok. This gives us plenty of opportunities to explore stories many news organizations cannot. An interesting example came last November with the tale of Jolly Joseph, a mother-of-two from a small village in southern India. One particular day, amid months of fierce protests in Hong Kong, we spotted a tiny news piece in local media about a woman who had been arrested in the state of Kerala over a series of alleged murders. We did some digging, activated a local freelancer, spoke to police and crafted a compelling, engaging feature involving cyanide and deep family feuds. Turns out Joseph was a churchgoer, a chatty neighbor … and a suspected serial killer.

The story broke through a dense news cycle to be a runaway global success – just like similar packages on subjects like rainforest destruction in Borneo, the rise of Kim Jong Un’s sister in North Korea, a surge in anti-African xenophobia in China, the relative strength of Taiwan’s military, the Australian hotel that became a prison, the legacy of history’s deadliest air raid in Japan and systematic surveillance in Beijing.

This applies to analysis, too. As I mentioned earlier, we operate in a complicated region that often requires a deft touch to explain. So we go out of our way to explain it. For example, no doubt you’ve heard about the deadly spat between India and China over a particularly barren, inhospitable strip of the Himalayas. At least 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a brawl with Chinese troops. For us in Asia, it’s an extremely important story – they are both nuclear-armed neighbors and by far the world’s biggest countries by population size. But how do we make the rest of the world to sit up and take notice? By breaking the subject down for mass-market consumption, to explain why it matters to everyone, whether you be in the US, Norway or New Zealand. We’ve done the same in demystifying the mythical dangers of MSG, Rodrigo Duterte’s war on the press in the Philippines, the long-term impacts of Hong Kong’s protests on an entire generation … the list goes on.

This is precisely the kind of sharp, distinctive journalism we hope will define CNN APAC in the years ahead. With audiences being more connected than ever, having more choice, and more information, this is how we can stand out from the crowd.

Brett McKeehan, director of CNN Digital Worldwide covering Asia