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New English-language daily for Jakarta

A new 48-page broadsheet hit Jakarta streets on November 12

Photo by:
Michael Hayes

The Jakarta Globe's senior editorial adviser Lin Neumann (right) sorts out one more pre-launch issue with Ben O'Neill, managing editor at the Globe's new offices in Jakarta.

In the 21st-century world of cyber-media, it's becoming an increasingly rare event these days when somebody decides to start a new daily newspaper (except in Cambodia, which has witnessed such an event twice this year).

But this is the case in Indonesia, where a new English-language daily, The Jakarta Globe, was launched on November 12.

Funding for the venture is being provided by James Riady, a 51-year-old ethnic Chinese Indonesian who is deputy chairman and chief executive of the Lippo Group, a multibillion-dollar conglomerate with interests in property, infrastructure, insurance, retail and information technology.

In the 1990s, Riady achieved international notoriety for his and his company's donations to the Democratic Party in the US. He had met President Bill Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas and later met with Clinton at least 20 times while he was in the White House.  Riady eventually pleaded guilty to illegal campaign contributions and was fined $8.6 million, the largest fine ever imposed in a campaign-finance case.

The corporation is comfortably cash-rich to sustain this venture for a few years."

Well-funded

Riady, a born-again Christian, is pumping big money into his newspaper venture.

The Jakarta  Globe initially hit the streets as a 48-page, full color broadsheet with a print run of 50,000.

Riady's only existing competition in Indonesia, The Jakarta Post, is currently publishing 40,000 copies per day, according to its chief editor, Endy Bayuni.  Other sources say that figure may be much less.

Several veteran editors have been brought on as advisers, including David Plott,  former editor-in-chief of the Far Eastern Economic Review, and Lin Neumann, former executive editor of the Hong Kong Standard. Sources say some of the new editors hired at The Jakarta  Globe have dollar-equivalent annual salaries in the low six figures.

"Riady is generally interested in putting up a quality newspaper and giving the world a better view of Indonesia," says Neumann, who as senior editorial adviser has spent the past seven months helping put together a team of about 100 editors, reporters and photographers.

Neumann says the paper will initially have about 50 percent local content with a goal to raise that to about 70 percent.  

The paper will not carry its own editorials, but an opinion page will be open to the ideas of the owners, he says. No bureaus outside of Jakarta will be opened at the outset.

The paper plans to rely on a network of both domestic and regional stringers and contributors for copy from outside the capital.

Competition

Bayuni does not seem worried about the prospect of new competition. "History is on their side and our side as well. The market is there," he says, noting that there were three English-language dailies in Indonesia up until 1997.

However, the media were hit hard by the financial crisis and the Indonesian Observer and the Indonesian Times both closed as a result.

 Jakarta Post was also battered financially.

"1998 hurt us very badly," Bayuni said.  "We barely survived."  He says the paper was in the black by 2003 and managed to save enough profits to build its own headquarters.

Neumann also thinks that increased competition will benefit the English-language press. "Without competition, standards don't rise,"   he said.

As far as the current global economic downturn and what impact this will have on The Jakarta Globe's prospects, Neumann said calmly: "The corporation is comfortably cash-rich to sustain this venture for a few years."

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