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Washington Post follows NYT in picking Seoul for Asia hub

South Korean capital, not Tokyo, to play major role in 24-hour digital news cycle

NEW YORK -- The Washington Post has picked Seoul as the home to one of its two new breaking-news hubs as part of an effort to build a global 24-hour newsroom, months after The New York Times tapped the South Korean capital for its next Asia headquarters.

The Post's new bureaus, to be established next year with the other hub in London, "will be staffed by reporters and editors whose primary focus will be covering live news as it unfolds in the United States and around the globe during nighttime hours in Washington," the Jeff Bezos-owned news organization said in a statement Monday.

The Post said it will be able to "operate energetically and rapidly 24 hours a day and seven days a week, with a particular emphasis on the live coverage of major stories that has become a growing part of our storytelling arsenal through a year dominated by pandemic, protests and politics."

Each hub will consist of four breaking-news reporters, two breaking-news editors, a visuals editor, an audience editor and at least one multiplatform editor, it said.

The company will also open new bureaus in Sydney and Bogota, Colombia, growing the international footprint to 26 locations around the world.

The investment in Asia and elsewhere comes amid a period of strength for the Post and The Times in what some have dubbed the "Trump bump," and as those companies look for their next nexus of growth when the domestic political turmoil dominating the current news cycle nears an end with Joe Biden's election as president.

The newsroom of the Washington Post in Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Washington Post/ Ricky Carioti)

The move, bypassing other such Asian metropolises as Tokyo, follows a New York Times announcement in July that it was moving a significant part of its Hong Kong operations to Seoul, after China passed a sweeping national security law curtailing press freedoms in Hong Kong, a global finance and media hub.

Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, international president of the Times, in October told the Korea JoongAng Daily that "Seoul will become our Asian headquarters" and that "you can't be a global news organization and not cover Asia with great rigor."

The Post's aim at a seamless 24-hour news cycle with the help of the Seoul hub echoes that of the role the Times' Asia operations play in its operations.

"The New York Times is really very much a digital-first operation," Dunbar-Johnson said in the same interview. "For part of the day as the sun rises in the east, our whole internet, our whole website, is run out of Hong Kong, and then it is handed over to London and then to New York." Now the role falls on Seoul.

In an earnings release in November, the Times said its digital-only subscription revenue exceeded print subscription revenue for the first time in the third quarter of 2020, while total subscriptions hit the 7 million mark in October. Operating profit rose to $39.6 million in that same quarter from $25.1 million in the same period of 2019.

Asked why South Korea was chosen over Japan, Dunbar-Johnson said, "Again, freedom of speech, freedom of expression. We look at rankings, and Seoul does very well, it ranks very highly."

A man using his mobile phone walks on a zebra crossing at a business district in Seoul.   © Reuters

South Korea is ranked 42 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, ahead of Japan's 66 and Singapore's 158. Japan "in general, respects the principles of media pluralism," writes Reporters Without Borders, publisher of the index, while criticizing the country's system of reporters' clubs, which it says discriminates against freelancers and foreign reporters.

But the choice for a regional editorial hub was as much a business decision.

"We want to look at education, how much living space you get for your money, communications; you look at from the business perspective connectively, digital connectively," Dunbar-Johnson added. "And you look at all of those things together and that informs your decision. And in that decision, Seoul was better for us than Tokyo."

While Tokyo is ranked sixth against Seoul's 15th by the United Nations in global urban economic competitiveness, according to a 2019 report by real estate services firm CBRE, prime office occupancy cost in Seoul was just $96.07 per square foot per annum versus $167.82 in Tokyo in pre-pandemic times.

In the wake of global COVID-19 transmission, Japan has also imposed far stricter travel restrictions for foreigners wishing to enter the country, which would also have complicated the companies' relocation.

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