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The Nikkei Asian Review scoops three SOPA prizes

Feature on overworking, coverage of Brexit and reports on Foxconn impress judges

HONG KONG The Nikkei Asian Review won three prizes at the Society of Publishers in Asia Awards for Editorial Excellence, regarded as a benchmark for world-class journalism from the region.

The cover package "Overworked" won the award for excellence in lifestyle reporting. Sparked by the suicide of an employee at Japanese advertising titan Dentsu, the package explored the widespread phenomenon in Asia of long working hours and demanding corporate cultures.

"[T]his series on overwork is superb in all journalistic ways," commented the judges at the June 15 event. They praised the reporting as "timely, pertinent and unexpected."

Snagging the award for breaking news was the cover package "Bye Bye Britain," which focused on the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union from an Asian perspective.

The judges described the series of articles and graphics as "comprehensive, multifaceted and thought-provoking."

Taipei-based staff writers Debby Wu and Cheng Ting-Fang won honorable mention for excellence in business reporting for their series of reports on Taiwanese contractor Hon Hai Precision Industry, also known as Foxconn. Their stories elucidated the company's high-profile courtship and acquisition of Japanese electronics conglomerate Sharp.

SOPA was established in 1982 to represent international and regional publishing companies in Asia and encourage best practices. The awards are administered by the Journalism and Media Studies Center under the University of Hong Kong and judged by panels of veteran journalists and scholars.

The high price of long hours

The cover of "Overworked," published on Dec. 19, 2016

The cover package "Overworked," published in the Dec. 19, 2016, issue, explores the Asian corporate epidemic of long, and often inefficient, working hours. The coverage zooms in on individuals across the region to bring real-world perspectives to the issue, all backed by a wide range of statistics and views from experts on the regionwide social phenomenon.

The package was conceived following the high-profile suicide of a young female employee at Japanese advertising behemoth Dentsu. The package places the case in a broader context, describing how the issue is common in many Asian countries where employee well-being often takes a back seat to growth.

The first story, "The dark side of growth," describes the Dentsu case in detail and explains how it shed new light on what the Japanese call karoshi, or death from overwork. It highlights the emergence of similar pressures at fast-growing Chinese corporate giants such as Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding. With contributions from reporters in Beijing and Hong Kong, the report provides a balanced mix of statistics, analyses and personal perspectives on the problem.

The next three reports expand on the subject by exploring it through the eyes of individuals in those countries. Men in Hong Kong still work longer hours in general than women, but the female workforce is more polarized, split largely between professionals and low-skill service providers. A large percentage of the career-oriented women are putting in long hours at the office and relegating domestic matters to foreign helpers.

In the Philippines, women are working more hours than ever, bucking the general trend in the region. A majority of those women are employed in the service sector and many of those jobs are in small shops or in homes as domestic help.

In South Korea, where long days at the office are often seen as a sign of dedication, companies are slowly starting to embrace the idea of raising efficiency instead of working hours.

The closing article, "Clocking out," looks at alternative lifestyles as solutions to the issue. While offering Europe as an example of how shorter working hours are possible, the article also points to the French backlash against extremely generous worker benefits, which some see as a barrier to competitiveness. It also cites the rise of "digital nomads," such as drivers for ride-hailing services, and how such professions can create a more flexible work environment -- although perhaps at the cost of job security.

Understanding Brexit from afar

The cover of "Bye bye Britain?," published on July 4, 2016

It was Friday morning, June 24, 2016, in Asia. Voting in Britain's referendum on whether to leave or remain in the European Union had been going on all night. When the result came in, everyone knew it was a watershed moment.

The Nikkei Asian Review had less than five days before our next magazine would come out. While publishing the latest developments online, we mobilized reporters across Asia to gather reactions from the region's political leaders, corporate managers, economists and anyone who could provide insight.

We contacted sources to get the best voices, analyses and interviews. We compiled data on companies, trade and everything connected to Britain and the EU. Designers worked on tailoring graphics and photos to convey information in the most impactful visual way. The team -- about a dozen journalists, editors and designers -- worked long hours putting together our July 4 cover package, which tells the Brexit story from Asia's perspective.

We focused on three points.

First, Britain is a springboard for Asian companies to enter Europe. It is an attractive financial hub and production base from which to access the EU. If the U.K. leaves the EU, Asian companies will be dealt a heavy blow.

Second, Asia sees Europe as a model for trade liberalization and regional integration. If free trade is disrupted, Asia will be hit. Economic activity involving the flow of goods, people and money will be shaken, and Asia's growth -- a global driver -- could lose momentum. Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a scholar involved in ASEAN integration efforts, warned of the need for Southeast Asian leaders to heed the factors fracturing the EU in relation to their own regional projects.

Finally, Brexit pointed to the power of populism -- in Europe, Asia and the U.S., which was undergoing a presidential election -- and highlighted the darker sides of globalization. In this issue, we proclaimed Donald Trump likely to emerge as the biggest winner from Brexit.

Many workers in the West believe that moving production overseas has made their lives more difficult. Fingers inevitably will point at Asia, which has benefited immensely from globalization.

The "Bye Bye Britain?" issue provided unique insight on Brexit's impact on Asia.

The inside scoop on Foxconn

Nikkei staff writer Debby Wu, left, receives an honorable mention prize for excellence in business reporting at the SOPA awards ceremony at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center on June 15. (Photo by Nozomu Ogawa)

Big takeovers tend to symbolize the fortunes of the companies involved. That is certainly the case with the April 2016 acquisition of ailing Japanese electronics group Sharp by Taiwan's Foxconn.

Debby Wu and Cheng Ting-Fang, staff writers at Nikkei's Taipei Bureau, have kept a close watch on Foxconn founder and Chairman Terry Gou, following him to public events and gathering information through an array of sources.

One of the early results of those efforts is the Feb. 7, 2016, web feature "Terry Gou: Mercurial warlord of business," which captures Gou's character and passion for Sharp.

By then, Wu was working closely with the electronics team in Tokyo and Osaka, constantly exchanging notes in a mix of Chinese, Japanese and English. A shining example of this collaboration is the story "Hon Hai's Terry Gou wants Sharp, no matter what," which was written by Wu and Shunsuke Tabeta, then-lead reporter of the electronics team in Tokyo, and appeared in the March 7, 2016, issue of the magazine.

After the deal was sealed, Wu laid out Foxconn's challenges in the April 11, 2016, magazine piece "Terry Gou finally has Sharp; now for the hard part."

If the first half of the Foxconn story centers on Sharp, the latter half focuses on Apple. As the main assembler of the iPhone, Foxconn is feeling the pinch from the U.S. company's recent lackluster performance. When its smartphone sales slumped in 2016, industry watchers and consumers were keen to know how Apple could regain its competitiveness.

Collaborating with Cheng, Wu broke a series of stories on what Apple had up its sleeve for its upcoming iPhones.

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