by Michael O'Neill
October 3rd, 2012

This month, the Wall Street Journal will make a pretty sizeable statement of intent in Southeast Asia, by launching a dedicated Bahasa edition of its website and a BlackBerry-focused mobile app.

The Journal’s language editions have done well in Asia: the Chinese and Japanese-language online editions attract more than 5 million monthly unique visitors, with local language smartphone and tablet apps that have been downloaded more than a million times in total.

The digital roll-out proper in Indonesia began with the launch of ‘Indonesia Real Time’ in April, which joined a stable of localised daily insight blogs from the region, all published in their respective languages: China, Korea, Japan, and India as well as the Southeast Asia Real Time blog.

Online and mobile content for Indonesia will include coverage of business and finance, in addition to a selection of translated articles from The Journal’s global editions.

The move marks a giant leap into the relatively under-covered Southeast Asian markets by a US daily — markets which tend to be serviced by small (and diminishing) teams of reporters and stringers. Financial journalists in the Southeast Asia region are generally spread across large geographies, sometimes covering three or four markets at once. For example, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand can often serve as one beat.

That, though, is starting to change.

Southeast Asia’s global significance — and it’s relatively recession proof crisis years — has brought it onto the global financial news agenda: editors are less inclined to ‘default to China’. Emerging markets are sexy now — led by the rise of Indonesia and the opening up of Myanmar — and are new hives of activity for financial journalists in Asia. Which can only be a good thing.

There’s another story of course: that of declining print circulations and the need to diversify and invest more in the huge, largely untapped, local online readerships in emerging markets, through tailoring to consumer preferences — the Blackberry is still the smart phone of choice for Indonesians.

But the emerging markets path isn’t necessarily littered with gold. The Financial Times made a much broader play to cover emerging economies early in 2011 with its FT Tilt website, covering “granular news and insight in markets beyond the developed G3 economies”. It didn’t see out the calendar year.

Commenting earlier this year on the new Bahasa edition, Robert Thomson, editor-in-chief of Dow Jones and managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, said “the world should be more informed about Indonesia and Indonesia needs more news and analysis on influential news events.”

Truly global publications realise that covering Asia is a serious investment that, done properly, will pay off richly in new readers, local advertisers and a diversified brand in Asia.

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