RIP FEER: How the mighty are fallen

It all seems so long ago now but there was a time when the FEER ruled the roost. When it was a trusted source of hard-to-get information, helped shape opinions, shake governments and gave journalists some respect.

These days we contend with Mickey Mouse publications that do not cover Asia in depth and full of cheap, young Westerners or freelancers that are good for the budget of advertising-starved publication but bad for everyone else.

Far Eastern Economic Review to end 63-year run in December

(HONG KONG) Dow Jones and Co yesterday announced the closure of the Far Eastern Economic Review, which from 1946 chronicled Asia’s miraculous post-war recovery but has fallen victim to the Internet age. FEER: Done in by legal wrangles, industry woes, neglect by its owners News Corp-owned Dow Jones said that it would close the publication, in years past one of Asia’s most respected English-language news magazines, in December.

“Unfortunately, despite several attempts at invigorating the brand, the Review’s continued losses in advertising revenue and readers are now unsustainable,’ it said in a statement. The publication’s heyday was in the 1980s when it was known for the depth and quality of its reporting and for standing up to authoritarian governments and big business.

One of its biggest scoops came in 1997 when the Review’s Nate Thayer was the only reporter to attend the trial of Pol Pot, the leader of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime who hadn’t been seen or photographed for 18 years. Circulation of the weekly edition peaked at about 90,000 in the 1980s, according to former Review editor Michael Vatikiotis. Dow Jones now puts the monthly figure at 20,000.

Some media specialists blame legal wrangles with the Singapore government, which has repeatedly sued the magazine for defamation, along with wider industry woes and neglect by its owners for its demise. ‘It was very influential among the foreign community interested in Asia,’ said Judith Clarke, associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism department.

‘It was a place where correspondents were given a lot of responsibility and it built up a good reputation based on them . . . They were getting information that was difficult to get elsewhere.’ The magazine’s combative stance was set out by founding editor Eric Halpern. He vowed to provide unflinching coverage of both politics and economics in Asia, which at the time was an impoverished backwater on the global stage and still devastated by World War II.

Mr Halpern relocated the magazine to Hong Kong after the liberation of Shanghai from Japanese occupation, contributing to the then British-controlled city’s eventual role as a media hub for the region. The Review had ‘a rich history of pioneering journalism and helped to set the standard for the press in Asia in the post-World War II era when local publications often lacked the freedom to report honestly’, said Todd Larsen, the chief operating officer for the consumer media group at Dow Jones.

The decision to close it ‘was a difficult one made after a careful study of the magazine’s prospects in a challenging business climate’, he said. Prof Clarke said that a ban on the Review in Singapore in the 1980s was particularly damaging, hitting market share just as the media industry decline began. ‘Then, in the 1990s, with the economic downturn and the growth of the Internet it became difficult to run a magazine.’

Several former staff members blamed Dow Jones’s decision to transform the publication from a weekly to a monthly five years ago, which they said hit quality. ‘As far as I am concerned, the review closed in 2004,’ said Philip Bowring, editor from 1988 to 1992. ‘It is an appalling record of bungling a successful magazine, driving it into the ground, changing the format and killing it off altogether.’

Dow Jones said that the magazine would close so opinion and commentary resources from Asia could be expanded across all its outlets, which include The Wall Street Journal Asia.

‘Dow Jones’s marketing people didn’t know how to sell it as it competed with the Wall Street Journal Asia – they ignored it and killed it by sheer neglect,’ said VG Kulkarni, a freelance journalist and former editor and correspondent at the Review.

A Dow Jones spokesman declined to comment on criticism of the magazine’s management. — AFP

One thought on “RIP FEER: How the mighty are fallen

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  1. Pity. I remember long time ago Suharto was quite ‘allergic’ to this magazine.
    I once struggled just to get a photocopy of the edition banned at the time.

    How time have changed. Too bad the magazine can’t keep up.


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