Jakarta’s soon-to-be-declared ‘s English-language newspaper war has just got more interesting with the Jakarta Globe’s appointment of Bhimanto Suwastoyo, a 23 veteran journalist at AFP Jakarta as the paper’s Deputy Chief Editor. Bhim will pull equal weight as the other Deputy Chief Editor Joe Cochrane (who apparently may be tying the knot soon if little birds in Face Bar are to be believed).

By signing Bhim on, the Jakarta Globe may finally begin to get some respect from media observers here who were wondering whether the paper would be stuffed with bules who may have excellent technical skills but not the necessary the insight and perspective of an Indoneian.

Unspun‘s known the 52-year old Bhim for more than a decade and he must rank as one of the mot knowledgeable, articulate and open minded journalists in Indonesia. Bhim speaks French ad a sprinkling of European languages frequently because he spent his younger days in Europe (then becoming an architect before moving into journalism).

Friends close to Bhim have told Unspun that Bhim decided to pack it in at AFP because he was tired of the the agency sending rookies to Indonesia who think they have an instant understanding of the complexity in Indonesia and of news editors far away with a dubious grasp of what’s newsworthy coming out of the achipelago.

They said Bhim joined the Jakarta Globe only when he was satisfied that he would have equal say among the newspaper’s editors on the treatment and placement of news, and also after seeking reassurances that the paper would have editorial independence. His other motivation, say th friends, was also a desire to see more competition among the English-language dailies in Indonesia.

Bhim’s entry into the Jakarta Globe should send alam bells ringing in The Jakarta Post, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly of the English-language daily market for most of its 25 years in existence. But chances are that it won’t because the Post is stuffed with too many old timers who have acquired a sense of invulnerability from their many years as a monopoly.

Unspun would be very worried if he was working at the Post as the Jakarta Globe, which is funded by James Riyadi and therefore has suspect credential, has suddenly, with Bhim’s appointment, gained some respectability. The Globe also has the money and right now it doesn’t take much for someone who knows what they are doing to trump the Post. And in Bhim they have a veteran journalist who knows the country inside out. Plus he can write.

There are signs that the Post is trying to fight back. In a recent move it instituted extensive training for it new recruits and increased their salaries, after several months of training, to Rp6.1 per month. It also bound them to a three-year contract to prevent poaching from the likes of the Globe and the wores services.

That’s a quaint tactic to improve standards because some media analysts do not think that the problem lies so much with entry level journalists but with the higher ups. In change management it is always the middle layer that is most resistant to change.

8 thoughts on “AFP’s loss, Jakarta Globe’s gain

  1. Patung: Thanks for pointing this out. I went to my feed reader and reloaded the Jakarta Post feed and it does look like its working, so to be fair to them I’ve deleted the erroneous paragraph. Thanks for pointing this out.

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  2. Unspun,

    Very sharp post — and a decision that made me completely rethink my thoughts on the Globe launch. Informed sources say they have a unique “twinning” policy of matching many senior “Bules” with Indonesians.

    Informed sources (I’m just a ukuele player), also say Mr. Bhimanto has an incredible talent of transforming newbie Asia rookies into apparently capable bureau chiefs through deft management, shrewdness and talent.

    What a star.

    Informed sources (just who are they, anyway), also point to an open-mind at the Globe’s editorial helm, a willingness to hear criticism, (especially over the bar).

    The big question, then, seems to be James. How much red ink will the Riady’s be willing to take in what promises to be the newspaper showdown of the decade in Jakarta ?

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  3. This is a great piece, Unspun!

    I agree with you 100 percent on your last paragraph : “That’s a quaint tactic to improve standards because some media analysts do not think that the problem lies so much with entry level journalists but with the higher ups. In change management it is always the middle layer that is most resistant to change.”

    I’ve worked with The Jakarta Post long enough to easily identify such problems.

    This Indonesian-English media race will be worth to watch. Some of my fellow media junkies (and veteran journalists) even put a bet, which of this newcomers English paper will prevail?

    James Riyadi has the greenbucks, The Jakarta Post is the “longest survivor”, The Point and The Jakarta Morning?? Guess….

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  4. Bhim was always very patient with me. But AFP is a racist company that assumes Asians need training to understand the media and Bule looking after them to gain ‘perspective’.

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