Can a large publication operate successfully with one person acting as publisher, editor and a writer? Asia Times is finding out.

Uwe Parpart wears many hats — even moonlighting as a strategist at a financial advisory firm — but says his unusual combination of jobs isn’t problematic.

Uwe Parpart became an editor at Asia Times when it launched as a Bangkok-based newspaper in 1995, but when the print edition folded two years later he returned to his job as an economist, often appearing on the likes of Bloomberg Television and CNBC as an analyst.

In 2013, he discovered that Sondhi Limthongkul, a Thai media mogul and leader of the right-wing People’s Alliance for Democracy, was looking to sell Asia Times, which had continued publishing online. Parpart jumped at the chance to take the site off his former employer’s hands.

“The opportunities for English language media in Asia was actually, in our view, rising because some of the major publications that had been covering Asia were in retreat,” Parpart says.

The demise of regional publications including the Far Eastern Economic Review, and a rollback of operations in Asia by major mastheads including the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal made space in the market for the pan-continental news site to thrive, Parpart says.

Asia Times editor and publisher Uwe Parpart regularly appears on television news programs.
Asia Times editor and publisher Uwe Parpart regularly appears on television news programs.

Parpart became editor-in-chief in 2016, overseeing a relaunch of Asia Times that presented a cleaner, updated site with a continued focus on geopolitical and business news. Despite being a part-owner while also sitting at the helm of the editorial team and regularly penning articles, Parpart insists that his combination of job titles doesn’t affect the independence of his regional editors. He says he never pressures them to take particular angles on stories.

“There is no restrictions of any kind. I’m not such an uncommon figure in this regard. There are many publications where the chief editor and publisher are the same person,” he says, though plenty of journalists argue against combining the roles. Managing editor Patrick Dunne echoes his boss’s comments, saying that Parpart sits in on editorial meetings most days but “never demands things be a certain way.”

 

Asia Times has about 80 full-time staff located across the continent, with a scattering of regional editors also based in the US and Europe sourcing Asia-related stories. Their main source of content comes from a pool of between 150 and 200 freelancers, some of whom are not the biggest fans of one another, Dunne says.

“We’ve got some writers who are farther to the right and some who are farther to the left. They hate each other,” he laughs. “I do know that there’s this polarization between the extremes in some ways and we’re quite proud of that. It’s an opportunity for voices from both sides,” he says, adding that the editorial line is nevertheless “smack down the middle in many ways”.

Self-censorship or bust

Parpart — who also works as chief strategist for financial advisory firm Capital Link International says political neutrality “is an editorial precept which editors and the Asia Times board have”. But in a regional media landscape that can be hostile both from a business and political point of view, he admits that the site self-censors Chinese-language pieces published in China in order to keep a foothold there.

“We have issues with censorship. There’s certain things we know on the Chinese mainland we’re not going to be able to publish. If we do, we will be shut down,” he says.

The site, which Parpart says receives about 12 million pageviews per month, is yet to break even. But he is optimistic that it will enter the black in the next couple of years as that figure is growing by between 12 to 15 percent each month. Along with advertising and advertorials, Asia Times also creates revenue by holding seminars and conferences on a range of issues relating to business and finance, he says.

“At the moment we are not at break even because we only relaunched the publication in October 2016, so we are, in effect, only about a year and a half old,” Parpart says. “We are beginning to get good advertising revenue in at this point but we’ve also been spending money to expand our coverage.”

And Parpart says he sees a positive future for English-language publications, particularly in East Asia. “You have several hundred million people who are going to be English-language readers a few years from now,” he says. “I think it’s a very bright future.”

George Wright is a freelance journalist based in Phnom Penh. He was an associate editor at The Cambodia Daily before it was shuttered amid government pressure in September and covers a range of topics including politics, human rights and sport. Follow George Wright on Twitter.

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