INDONESIA: New Year, New Look for Newspapers
Posted By AMF | Friday, February 06, 2009 08:28:32 PM

JAKARTA (Asia Media Forum / Feb. 06, 2009) - “Change” seems to be the buzzword of Indonesian newspapers for 2009, amid growing competition in the South-east Asian country’s media industry.

In the new year, readers have witnessed the new looks of ‘Kompas’, ‘The Jakarta Post’, ‘Jakarta Globe’, ‘Investor Daily’, ‘Suara Pembaruan’ and other newspapers in this country of more than 220 million people.

The Indonesian-language daily ‘Kompas’ first introduced change on Jan. 2, followed by ‘The Jakarta Post’ on Jan. 12. Then, a week later, ‘Jakarta Globe’, ‘Investor Daily’, and Suara Pembaruan adopted new formats.

“If the old saying is true that everything is in a state of flux, then it is natural that we too must adapt to the constantly changing environment,” read the ‘Post’ editorial about its new look. The newspaper reduced the number of its columns from seven to six per page, increased the number of pages, more sections, and uses Mercury as its new font type.

Unlike the ‘Post’,’Kompas’, ‘Jakarta Globe’, ‘Investor Daily’, and ‘Suara Pembaruan’ were silent about their makeover and did not explain these to their readers.

Very upfront in announcing its new look, the ‘Post’ in fact started publicising its new format on Dec. 31, 2008, with the following blurb: “The world is waiting for change because you demand it, so does The Jakarta Post.” This then kicked off a series of quotes about change on its front page beginning Jan. 2.

A good number of readers thought that the ‘Post, which will celebrate its 26th anniversary in April, was redesigning because of the entry of its new rival, the 48-page, full-colour ‘Jakarta Globe’ that hit the newsstands on Nov. 12, 2008.

The ‘Post’, however, said otherwise. “We felt that the design we had since 2002 was outdated,” Endy Bayuni, 'Post' chief editor, told the Asia Media Forum.

In truth, plans to redesign the ‘Post’ started in June 2007 but were put on hold when redesign team head and then managing editor Meidyatama Suryodiningrat took up a research fellowship at Harvard University in the United States.

In July 2008, he continued with the conceptualisation of the redesigning of the ‘Post’, which is acknowledged to be a serious and conservative paper. In September 2008, the redesign team, which included the newspaper’s managing editors Ati Nurbaiti and Riyadi Suparno, started working on the paper’s new design. Also involved were ‘Kompas’ arts and graphic designers, particularly Lim Bun Chai.

“We want to give the young readers what they want,” said Bayuni, one of the ‘Post’ pioneers. “That’s why our new design is more hip, more attractive and is pleasant to the eye.” The Post’s main readers are over 40 years old.

To reach a global audience, the ‘Post’ is developing its online edition into a news portal and aims to be a primary source of information on Indonesia.

“We’re proud of our product. It’s completely Indonesian,” said Suryodiningrat, who has been promoted to deputy chief editor. “We’re grateful to our friends at 'Kompas' for helping us in developing the new layout.”

'Kompas', the largest daily in Indonesia with a circulation of 500,000, is one of the shareholders of the ‘Post’. Other shareholders include ‘Tempo’, ‘Suara Pembaruan’, businessman Sofyan Wanandi and his brother Jusuf Wanandi, co-founder and vice chair of the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies Foundation.

So far, the only criticism the ‘Post’ got about its new look came from avid followers of the popular numbers puzzle Sudoku, who complained about finding it difficult to fill in the boxes because of their smaller size.


Following the global trend in the newspaper industry, the 43-year-old ‘Kompas’, known as a Catholic newspaper, reduced its size and added more colour to its pages. “Now, Kompas has become more handy and easy to read,” Rikard Bagun, deputy chief editor of ‘Kompas’, said.

But ‘Kompas’ made no announcement of its changes, apparently out of concern that it would generate a negative backlash from its readers of the sort it got after its complete redesign in June 2005.

Readers used to Kompas’ nine-column-per-page design were surprised to see a seven-column, more colourful paper with a lot of news geared toward younger readers. It had a separate classified ads section, a first for Indonesian papers. But some readers also accused ‘Kompas’, considered the market leader in Indonesia’s print media, of reducing content and sacrificing quality for quantity.

In any case, competitors in the newspaper industry, including the ‘Jakarta Globe’, soon followed suit with their own makeovers. “Since 'Kompas' reduced its size, we also had to resize,” Lin Neumann, chief editor of ‘Jakarta Globe’, said in an interview. The newspaper undertook this change barely two months after its launch.


Beyond design makeovers though, readers have their own perceptions of the different newspapers in the market today.

For instance, newcomer ‘Jakarta Globe’ is seen by some quarters as a tool for businessman-owner James Riady’s personal agenda. The Indonesian billionaire, one of Indonesia’s wealthiest people, is deputy chairman of the Lippo Group that has stakes in real estate, schools, and retail.

“He is expanding his portfolio, but he does not interfere in the running of the paper,” Neumann said of Riady, who also owns the Indonesian business magazine ‘Globe’ and First News television station. ‘Globe’ editors said they made it clear early on that they want editorial independence and would leave if the paper received any interference of any kind from the top.

The ‘Jakarta Globe’, which sells at almost twice the price of ‘The Jakarta Post’, is run by veteran journalists, including Neumann, former executive editor and editor-in-chief of Hong Kong’s ‘The Standard’ and South Korea’s ‘JoongAng Daily’. One of its deputy editors is Bhimanto Suwastoyo, who worked for Agence France Presse for 23 years.

Some critics say the ‘Globe’ is run by foreigners who are not proficient in Bahasa Indonesia and thus have a limited understanding of Indonesian affairs. But Neumann emphasised that the foreigners hired by the paper are top-notch and work hand in hand with veteran Indonesian journalists. “There is nothing wrong in bringing a pair of fresh eyes to tell the stories,” Neumann said. “Indonesia can benefit from foreign expertise.”

On the day that ‘Jakarta Globe’ resized, ‘Investor Daily’ and ‘Suara Pembaruan’ also reduced their newspaper sizes. Both ‘Investor Daily’ and ‘Suara Pembaruan’ belong to the Lippo-related group.

Other Indonesian newspapers that resized include ‘Warta Kota’, which belongs to the Kompas Group, and ‘Media Indonesia’, owned by Surya Paloh of the Golkar political party. Paloh also owns Indonesia’s first 24-hour news-only Metro TV station.

Primus Dorimulu, chief editor of ‘Investor Daily’ and ‘Suara Pembaruan’, said that the change in size was a reaction to Kompas’ makeover, increasing production costs, and a reflection of their desire to protect the environment.

Resizing is also aimed at generating precious advertising revenues. “It would be difficult for us to get and put up ads if we don’t follow the trend in the newspaper industry,” added Dorimulu, also listed as one of the editorial advisors of ‘Jakarta Globe’.

Since the fall of Indonesian dictator Suharto in May 1998, the number of newspapers in the country has increased dramatically. Throughout the country, there are more than 800 newspapers in circulation, according to a 2007 report on the Indonesian media by Indonesian journalist Toeti Kakiailatu.

This reflects a major shift in Indonesia’s media environment after the Suharto dictatorship. Among others, one no longer needs to get licences when putting up a newspaper. However, newspapers also face a tougher environment these days, having to compete against other forms of media that provide news in real time such as the Internet, radio, and 24-hour TV news channels.

“If we don’t make some changes and improve our newspaper, we won’t be popular to readers,” explained James Luhulima, ‘Kompas’ deputy managing editor who has witnessed the birth and demise of several publications so far, including ‘The Indonesian Observer’, ‘Surabaya Post’, ‘Indonesia Times’, and ‘The Point’. (Richel Langit Dursin -

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