Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Apple a Daily and Action Comics

In 1997 I spent a month with Jimmy Lai aboard his rocket-like media story Apple Daily. Who is Jimmy Lai? He's the guy they said swam across from China to Hong Kong with nothing, rose up to found the down-market Gap like Giordano (which he sold for a $1.0billion) and went on to start a newspaper business (complete with his own printing presses) just as China was regaining Hong Kong.

Apple Daily was just over a year old when I was engaged as a member of a PriceWaterhouse consulting team and, even then, Apple Daily was already the most talked-about newspaper in Hong Kong. And they did it sensationally. In the weeks I was there, the scandalous and the salacious were on full color display: I will not forget the images of mobster "Big Spender," who was tried, sentenced and hanged all in the month I was there. There's only room for a summary appeal in China and to the satisfaction - no doubt - of the Apple Daily editors, the story reached its denouement in double-quick time. They promptly moved on to the next story.

Apple Daily has continued to grow and is now also published in Taiwan. The newspaper is also readily available on newsstands in New York City. In the past two weeks, Apple Daily has gained international attention for their recreations of the Tiger Woods story. These 'action comics' (my words) are amusing - and they are also typical of Apple Daily where the scandalous and salacious are often front and center. This is Apple Daily's bread and butter but while the US media seems to be 'taken' with these 'action comics', there is a little more behind the headlines. These action comics are a fairly recent feature of the Apple Daily empire and one of the earliest was a recreation of the Seattle cop killings of a few weeks ago. In total bad taste, but well within the boundaries (or lack thereof) set in the very early days of Apple Daily.

In the biggest story featured while I was in Hong Kong, the newspaper had developed a story around a laborer - no one 'important' - who got mixed up with drugs, girls and gambling. On the face of it nothing too extraordinary: But this blue collar guy had a wife and small child and Apple Daily pursued and tormented him and his family so much he threw himself out a window. This was over the course of four or five days. With a suicide on their hands, the newspaper printed a front-page apology but the 'damage' was done: Higher circulation.

Jimmy Lai and his media company Next Media are a powerful force for good in the pursuit of wider democracy for all Chinese and the elimination of political corruption and cronyism; but, the scandal-mongering is an important aspect of Apple Daily's appeal. The negative implications of the indiscriminate salaciousness have been conveniently ignored because the Woods 'action comics are funny and cute.

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