Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

John Berthelsen on the future of Asia Sentinel

May 1, 2008

Asia SentinelI recently met with John Berthelsen, the founding editor of the website Asia Sentinel to hear about the site’s plans and aspirations.

Launched in August 2006 by a group of veteran and prominent Asia correspondents (more background here), Asia Sentinel is intended to fill a void left by the closure of such publications as AsiaWeek and the weekly edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review.

Slate.com meets The Far Eastern Economic Review (the weekly version)

“Regional magazine journalism is dead, so we want to fill that void,” Berthelsen said. “Our target are the more in depth investigative pieces that nobody does anymore.”

Asia Sentinel’s ideal kind of articles:

1- The inside story of Thai coup: The King and the role of Prem, his longtime advisor.

2- Murder of the Mongolian translator in Malaysia (“We’re the only ones keeping this story alive and tying it to government officials.”)

Operational details: John Berthelsen

- 35 contributors from around the region. (Who get paid, Berthelsen said, “peanuts”)

- New stories are supposed to be posted twice per day.

- A tie-up with the International Herald Tribune gives Asia Sentinel a space for their headlines on www.iht.com

- 7,000 unique visitors per day. This is well short of the 30,000 per day which Berthelsen said would generate US$10,000 per month to make an advertising model viable.

Long-term view is for Asia Sentinel

Tie-up with a journalistic company looking for a presence in Asia. One model is to offer Asia Sentinel Consulting, along the lines of the Australian site Crickey.au, which offers a free news site, archives and paid in depth custom research.

Traffic frustrations
“We ran a great piece on the shambolic state of Indonesia’s air traffic system just one week before the Air Adam crash and it only got several hundred hits,” Berthelsen said. “Our Edison Chen coverage, on the other hand, shut down the site twice, with more than 13,000 hits in a single day.”

Other overlooked stories include a series of pieces on a US$200 million slush fund scandal related to Samsung. The top traffic topics now seem to be those involving Malaysia and politics.

Lessons learned about coverage: “Every now and then we clearly need to have sex, drugs and rock and roll.” (As of May 2, 2008, the Edison Chen story had 125,000 hits.)

View of the AsiaTimes, a website at atimes.com aimed at covering Asia news

“They are both polemical and act like a whale,” Berthelsen said. “They take in all plankton and do not practice the same standards of journalism as us.”

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John Berthelsen of Asia Sentinel
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Discussion

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View Comments for “John Berthelsen on the future of Asia Sentinel”

  • Asia Sentinel won another distinction that the whistle-blowing American journalist who spotted self-censorship in South China Morning Post had his insider's account published in Asia Sentinel.

  • The disgruntled American journalist of South China Morning Post who gave his piece to Asia Sentinel to publish on-line is the highest tribute given to Asia Sentinel.  Paradoxically it is a sad event that no other media outlet in Asia would do it for him.

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    serios journalism in english is important for Asian countries where different languages and dialects are used.  That's why Asia Sentinel can provide a forum for discussion not available to other regional newspapers albeit written in English.  Self-censorship and blant censorship are practiced in many countries.  At least Asia Sentinel is rather unique in this respect.

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    Even Lord Patten complained that Rupert Murdoch blocked the publishing of his book to gain favors from China.  You can imagine how newspaper owners in Asia are controlled by tycoons who are doing business with China and other governments or who are cronies of the government.  More intimating and prevalent is called self-censorship with direct or over interference.  Hiring editors or reporters who won't create trouble may be the key. 

  • Frankie Fook-lun Leung

    an alternative media is vital to Asian news where most conventional media outlets are either controlled by government entities or financed by powerful business conglomerates.  Let the outliers speak.  There is an on-going debate whether trained journalists are better than amateur bloggers.  My view is that both can survive and operate in parallel to each other. 

  • bronsonpercival

    john,

    I'm a prof at SAIS (knew you in KL) and going to a conference in Ottawa. Do you have any idea how to contact Janet Brons, who was in the Canadian Embassy in KL?

    Bronson Percival

  • janetbrons

    Bronson Percival? Hello, this is Janet Brons! No longer in Ottawa, but would love to hear from you.

    Cheers,
    Janet

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