How a Hong Kong newspaper is remaking history with NFTs
The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s paper of record for 118 years, is experimenting with NFTs and metaverse technology to bring its storied past into the future.
As news flows on the internet, unchecked, virtually for free and polluted by misinformation, traditional journalism is losing subscribers, income and public trust. Amidst these challenges, the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the 118-year-old English-language newspaper of record in Hong Kong, is seeking answers from blockchain-powered NFTs and metaverses.
“Properly adopting new technologies to tell stories in a factual, transparent way to users around the world is a big first step to regaining the lost trust,” said Gary Liu, the chief executive of SCMP, in a video interview with Forkast.News.
On July 19, SCMP announced the launch of ARTIFACT and its litepaper — a shortened version of a white paper — for a standardized metadata structure for recording snippets of history as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that are tradeable in a marketplace.
Liu sees ARTIFACT as a big step forward in preserving history on the blockchain and providing context to strings of complex stories presented by multiple perspectives.
“We do think that this is a very different world to the NFT world that has exploded over the course of the last six months,” Liu said. “One of the areas where we believe NFT can truly benefit… is in recording history, recording historical accounts and historical assets, which together we are referring to as ARTIFACT.”
“The NFT, and this marketplace that we’re building, is able to create a revenue channel that allows us to properly monetize our archives, express the value of our archives, and find the collectors around the world that are willing to effectively fund a newsroom through owning parts of our archives,” Liu said.
Apart from generating revenue, blockchain technology could also help news media like the SCMP win back the trust of the readers.
“Blockchain allows us to [make] the process of how a story came to be fully transparent,” Liu said. “The NFT project itself is a first step to taking what has already been published in history and being able to make it more transparent to the rest of the world.”
SCMP is also working with a blockchain-based virtual world, the Sandbox — a subsidiary of Animoca Brands, a Hong Kong-based gaming company — to tell the story of Hong Kong through an immersive metaverse.
“At this point, we can’t truly describe what it was like to watch this place go from a fishing village to one of the great financial commercial centers of the world,” Liu said. “You can imagine choosing a neighborhood and being able to see that neighborhood 50 years back into history and then being able to jump from point to point of the past into the present and seeing how this incredible city has developed,” Liu said. “Our hope is that the Sandbox will allow us to actually be able to tell that story properly for the first time.”
Watch Liu’s full interview with Forkast.News Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau to learn more about SCMP’s exploration in NFTs and metaverses, and how a century-old broadsheet newspaper is grappling with challenges in the news industry by leaning into blockchain technology.
- SCMP’s foray into NFTs: “ARTIFACT is our attempt to create a new standard for historical NFTs. For us, anything that is as an account of a historical moment, so new stories, or potentially a historic artifact itself, recreated or sometimes created for the very first time as a digital asset. So we do actually think that this is a very different world to the NFT world that has exploded over the course of really the last six months.”
- Preserving history on the blockchain: “One of the areas where we believe NFT can truly benefit an entire industry, actually, not even industry should across industries, is in recording history, recording historical accounts and historical assets, which together we are referring to as ARTIFACT. So our project is to set a standard, and by standard, I mean a specific smart contract with a specific metadata structure that will allow anyone eventually to be able to mint NFTs that are historical and be able to sell and trade them on a very specific market, that we are going to be building a marketplace platform that serves both the issuer world and the collectors world.”
- Blockchain brings context to history: “Any single story never lives by itself. It lives within a timeline of events. It lives within a historical context of the moment. It lives within contemporaneous analysis and insight. And it’s really, really hard to be able to showcase all of that complexity through a single news story, even in a newspaper, not to mention a single article digitally. But blockchain allows us to create that context and have that context be fully transparent, the process of how a story came to be fully transparent.”
- Time travel through a metaverse: “Sandboxes are really, really exciting new canvas. So much of understanding Hong Kong, understanding greater China requires experience. Like the scale of the Forbidden City. You can describe it in words. But until you walk into the Forbidden City for the very first time, it’s really hard for any human being to truly understand how incredibly, not only massive, but like what that moment in time would have been like when the court was filled. And Hong Kong is the same way for people who have not experienced Hong Kong…. Our hope is that The Sandbox will allow us to actually be able to tell that story properly for the first time.”
Angie Lau: Will blockchain save journalism? How are media organizations incorporating this technology to restore trust? And a look into South China Morning Post’s blockchain experiment to save us all from fake news.
Welcome to Word on the Block, the series that takes a deeper dive into blockchain and all the emerging technologies that shape our world at the intersection of business, politics and economy. It’s what we cover right here on Forkast.News. I’m Forkast Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau.
Well, this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer — the annual trust and credibility survey — sent a wake-up call to the media industry. It revealed that 59% of respondents across 28 countries actually believe that journalists and news organizations intentionally mislead readers to support an agenda.
Now, media organizations are now experimenting with emerging technologies such as blockchain to restore this lost trust. Hong Kong-based news organization South China Morning Post, or SCMP, is one of those leading the blockchain and NFT experiment, recently announcing ARTIFACT, the NFT standard that allows users to own and trade historical moments.
Joining me today is none other than the CEO of SCMP to help us explore the application of blockchain in the media industry, Gary Liu, a great friend. Gary. It is great to be reunited here with you, talking about all things media.
Gary Liu: It’s good to be here. Thank you so much for having me on the show.
Lau: Over the past couple of years, media is just increasingly just getting this reputation. Politically charged, under attack, and journalism, this profession that we love, is under attack. How do you think technology can save it?
Liu: Well, I don’t think technology by itself can save it. In fact, technology has been as much as anything else, a root of many of the issues that the media industry is facing. However, I think that properly adopting new technologies to tell stories in a factual, transparent way to users around the world is a big first step to regaining the lost trust. And we at the SCMP have, over the course of the last four and a half years, five years, been thinking a lot about what it means and how it looks to be fully transparent, because technology allows us to be so with our readers around the world. So that matters to us a lot in matters of our readers. And we hope that this next step will be part of that process.
Lau: Well, for those who don’t know SCMP, this is one of the oldest newspapers on record in the world. 118 years old, that is how long SCMP has been in existence. It has been the newspaper of record for Hong Kong, and now, one could argue all of Asia, but it is not without its challenges.
You really came from the digital media space when you were brought over to SCMP as its CEO a few years ago. How have you seen in your career, how has media changed and how have you brought that experience in the digital world, in the digital realm, into what is very much still a traditional newspaper and bringing it into the 21st century?
Liu: To be honest, I think my career is in context of many of my colleagues here at SCMP, quite short. But even in that relatively short career, media has just fundamentally changed multiple times. We could spend another two hours talking about all the different phases of the changing industry over the course of the last decade, decade and a half. But let me summarize it in this way. The relationship between reader and newspaper, which used to be dictated really by the newspaper, has been disintermediated. And frankly speaking, it’s a good disintermediation that has wreaked havoc on the news industry, because as an industry, we have a bad habit of adopting new technologies, understanding new user behaviors too slowly. But I do think that that disintermediation needed to happen at some point.
And so now our relationship with our readers is oftentimes through many different networks, through multiple channels, a brand kind of fades into the background. Users engage with us, not an edition at a time, but an article at a time, sometimes just a headline or a tweet at a time. And that makes it very difficult for a news organization, especially traditional newspapers, to be able to present a packet of truth.
The way that — as you well know — news organizations used to think about presenting the multiplicity of views, the complexity of truth is that we had many, many pages to do it every single day. Now, it really does sometimes come down to a couple of hundred characters. And it’s really, really tough. We still do wish that our readers not only had one on one relationships with us, but would be willing, and able to read content, consume video, listen to podcasts, sort of holistically so that we can present what we believe to be the full truth. That world is gone now. We have to learn to live with it.
Lau: It’s so true and it’s a concerted effort by all journalists around the world. You’re really contributing to this, to this observation of world events. And now we have blockchain, now we have NFTs. And now SCMP has introduced something it calls ARTIFACT. You’ve said that media organizations or legacy organizations have been slow to adopt technology. I would say that with NFTs this has been a quick embrace. When did you start thinking about ARTIFACT and how quickly were you able to roll this out? First of all, what is ARTIFACT?
Liu: ARTIFACT is our attempt to create a new standard for historical NFTs. For us, anything that is as an account of a historical moment, so new stories, or potentially a historic artifact itself, recreated or sometimes created for the very first time as a digital asset. So we do actually think that this is a very different world to the NFT world that has exploded over the course of really the last six months.
The NFT world, as it stands today, I think, again, I’m totally generalizing, can be cut up into two different camps. There is the art crowd and a lot of incredible digital artists have been releasing exclusive, unique compositions as NFTs. And people have been snapping them out not only because they’re great art, but they’re great things to collect.
And then there is the whole world of effectively avatars. Replacing our identities online with something that can actually be uniquely owned. That is truly one of one. A lot of them are, for whatever reason, primate-themed. But then there’s an entire world of these. And cats, on the CryptoPunks and the CryptoKitties and the Bored Apes and now the Degenerate Apes and all that.
One of the areas where we believe NFT can truly benefit an entire industry, actually, not even industry should across industries, is in recording history, recording historical accounts and historical assets, which together we are referring to as ARTIFACT.
So our project is to set a standard, and by standard, I mean a specific smart contract with a specific metadata structure that will allow anyone eventually to be able to mint NFTs that are historical and be able to sell and trade them on a very specific market, that we are going to be building a marketplace platform that serves both the issuer world and the collectors world. And we think that this will be a big step to being able to preserve history on the blockchain.
Lau: So. To preserve is one thing. Why would somebody want to bid or own this NFT standard of a single moment in history.
Liu: Going back to your observation just a minute or so earlier, that news organizations that traditionally have been relatively slow to adopt new technologies have kind of jumped on the NFT wagon really fast. And I think the reason is because of this revenue opportunity. News organizations are going to be — especially in this day and age — motivated by revenue. And so this new technology that brings in a new stream of revenue, “Okay, let’s give it a shot.”
Obviously, there’s this revenue stream because there are people who are willing to collect these things. What a news organization covers over its history doesn’t really and shouldn’t really belong to just that news organization. This is a lens into a collective history. And I do believe that there are many, many people out there that are willing not just to speculate on these things, but to co-own a piece of that collective history, either because they’re nostalgic about an event, about a date, about a place, about an entity, or they really do believe in participating in the preservation of historical accounts.
So the marketplace is there and it will only grow with time. So our hope is that we’ll be able to help many organizations, not just news organizations, but museums, universities, think tanks. Anyone who has these historical records and historical assets to be prepared for what I hope to be a deluge of people who are willing to come in co-own parts of history.
Lau: You touch on two points that are really, really critical. One is sustainability — revenue generator for media. All of this content does not become free. And for much of the past two decades, we’ve seen the monetization model really erode as newspapers struggled with new technology. Now it’s embracing technology right now in NFTs to kind of resume that model. So that’s one thing. But from the consumer side, if I’m going to buy this historical NFT called ARTIFACT on SCMP, what can I do with it? Do I own it? Do I own its copyright? Can I get license fees out of it? What’s the concept of ownership in terms of value? Does that value get returned back to the owner?
Liu: Well, let me admit at this point that we’re still in the infancy of this project and there are many of these kinds of questions that still need to be answered. The governance questions for the standard that need to be answered, authentication questions that need to be answered. What’s the process of authenticating either an issue or an asset? And then there are definitely rights questions that need to be answered.
The most famous NFT sale to date has been the Beeple $69 million art sale. For that sell, I think what most people don’t understand is that it took 10 months just to figure out the contract. That was as easy as an NFT contract can be. Because at the end of the day, the owner of that NFT does not have the rights to reproduce, cannot print it on a T-shirt or a mug or resell it.
And I think that there has to be an evolution of that. I think at the very beginning, an ARTIFACT’s rights that pass on to an owner, a decentralized owner, is going to be similar to what the basic NFT contract looks like today. They own that very specific asset. Hopefully, we’ll be able to, within the metaverse, create many ways for an owner of a historical asset of an ARTIFACT, to showcase it, to interact with it, to learn from it, to teach with it.
But then down the road, we do know that they’re going to be folks who want to own these things for the sake of reproduction to be able to take advantage of the long tail kind of trading relationships that will exist between collectors.
And I think that those are going to be in the beauty of the NFT standard, because that there is going to be extra attributes that can be embedded into very specific NFTs. If we take a specific front page from the South China Morning Post, that is of a very important date in history. We might, let’s say July 1st, 1997, the handover. That front page, the actual front page itself might be, for us, a rare asset, and we might release it as an NFT mint. Only a small number of those, let’s say 10 of those. Because we do think that is extremely valuable and it can be owned by multiple different owners. However, we might eventually release an ultra-rare version of that, a one page that has licensing rights, reproduction rights embedded in it as an attribute that may be a one of one that comes maybe a year later or something along those lines.
So those are the things that we’re trying to figure out right now. We’re going to be testing the market. This is why we launched our litepaper early. And it’s because we believe this should be a community project. We’re starting to have plenty of conversations with folks that are in the collector community, obviously in the crypto and blockchain community, understand NFTs quite well. And we’re trying to solicit as much feedback as we can to make sure that even the first version of this meet the expectations of folks who would buy.
Lau: It’s akin to knowing that this one thing is valuable, but perhaps the marketplace necessarily isn’t fully realized, but the potential is there. Metaverse, it could be something else. It could be another platform. All of these possible or probable monetization points of value has yet to be determined. But you know that right now, at this moment of time, you have access to buy or purchase the right to this one moment in history, this ARTIFACT. And somewhere down the line, you can figure it out. This is where we are in our digital history, in our digital evolution, as it were, that there is this digital ARTIFACT that is of value and maybe not necessarily obvious today. But if we were to apply innovation in technology, advancement, very quickly, the value can be realized.
Liu: That’s the thing about archives. Whether it’s an archive of a newspaper like ours or all of the incredible things that museums own. On average, I think museums can only show single-digit percentages of everything that they own at any given point in time. There’s obviously value to it, not only, again, is it our collective human history, but news organizations, museums, nonprofits spend an enormous amount of dollars every single year to maintain those archives. Yet we’re not able to kind of translate the value that we as the insider experts that maintain this stuff see in those assets, we’re not able to translate that to kind of value out in the open marketplace. This is a very, very unique opportunity for us to do so.
You mentioned SCMP has 118 years of history. But what most people don’t know is that our archives go far, far, far further back than that, because SCMP at one point owned the news organization China Mail, which is the first broadsheet that ever existed in Hong Kong. The China Mail archives, which we own, go all the way back to 1845, four years after the Brits first landed on this rock.
And so that the value of those archives also have been hidden away for far too long. And we are really excited about this project being able to not only fund exploration into those archives, but eventually being able to actually showcase those archives and allow people from all around the world to rediscover that history and co-own that history.
Lau: What is the role you think of technology through ARTIFACTs, through media organizations and the responsibility that we have in media in maintaining these historical points of record with the greatest degree of objectivity as much as we can with that perspective?
Liu: The responsibility sits with organizations that consider ourselves gatekeepers of truth of those moments. So news organizations have that responsibility. Technology today helps us be able to actually be accountable to that responsibility. Now, the reason why blockchain has been of interest SCMP for many years, we have been exploring blockchain technology and its role in media for over four years. This just happens to be the first project of many that we’ve looked at that we actually finally pulled the trigger on, because NFT is such a unique application of blockchain.
But the reason we’ve been looking at it for so long is because from the beginning, we believe that blockchain will help us preserve history, will help us be able to authenticate history will help us at some point be able to validate history and our own reporting. And then, of course, monetize it as well. The beauty of blockchain is that it is fully transparent. Well, actually, I shouldn’t say fully transparent, but in our world, the transparency that’s necessary for journalism that really adds credibility to every piece of news published is who was working on it, how the story came together from raw draft all the way through to the polished final product of the changes that happened after publication, and more most importantly, the context of the story.
Any single story never lives by itself. It lives within a timeline of events. It lives within a historical context of the moment. It lives within contemporaneous analysis and insight. And it’s really, really hard to be able to showcase all of that complexity through a single news story, even in a newspaper, not to mention a single article digitally. But Blockchain allows us to create that context and have that context be fully transparent, the process of how a story came to be fully transparent.
That’s why we’ve been exploring it for so long. We haven’t yet found an application of the technology that gives us confidence that all of that transparency will still lead to a proper validated search or a capture of truth. And so we’re still looking. But the NFT project itself is a first step to taking what has already been published in history and being able to make it more transparent to the rest of the world.
Lau: We work in a part of the world where sometimes press freedoms and censorship are really critical issues across the region. Do you think NFTs and this technology, when you talk about immutability, when you talk about transparency and you talk about recording events of record. What if they conflict? Do you think that NFTs here can still preserve, especially in a part of the world where a lot of people are starting to question the transparency and the exchange of free information?
Liu: The first thing I would say, Angie, is that this is not just a problem for Asia. It is a problem for the entire world at this point. And you are right. There are going to be records of history that conflict with one another. That is inevitable. That has always been the case, and it will continue to be the case. But the beauty of NFT, and this is why our project is not about just releasing SCMP’s archives as NFTs, but it’s about building a standard that everyone eventually uses, is that that standard metadata structure means that everyone’s account of the same event is linked.
And so you ask whether a collector or just somebody who wants to discover history, somebody who is learning about history can go in, can access a single point of view and very, very easily natively be able to connect it to the other points of view from either other news organizations of the parts of the world, other analysis. And so that full picture, if you want to discover it, is there. That is the kind of transparency, the kind of connectivity that will not only hold news organizations long term accountable, but more importantly, it will show that the complex fabric of human experience. And it’s really, really important for future education.
Lau: That is really the promise of decentralization, what you’re talking about is beyond a single source media organization, which of course, is by definition a centralized institution. But in concert with other voices, with other organizations, with other, independent entities, with all of the stakeholders at play. In fact, we now, because of that metadata and because of that connectivity, have a fabric of the story rather than like that one thread. This is the technology that we’re talking about here. The decentralization actually protects that event. You can enter it at any point of perspective. And hopefully, as a student of history, as I hope that everyone is that you would care to hear more than one source.
Liu: And I really do hope that is a realization that grows with time. I mean, you’ve been reporting in Asia for many years. You know how big just the story of China’s rises. And so oftentimes when people ask me about the South China Morning Post and ask whether or not the South China Morning Post is the one and only go-to source for China, I always say no, it shouldn’t be. It should be one of many sources that you seek out to understand China, because no single news organization, even with all the resources that we pour as SCMP into that story, no single news organization can comprehensively cover, can fully, accurately cover. We try our very darn best. But we do understand the need of having many, many peers cover this incredible story. And we’re only talking about one story, the story of the rise of China. All of the rest of human history should be viewed in this sense. The more sources you have, the more comprehensive your understanding of the world is going to be. And we do hope that ARTIFACT actually plays a big part in connecting all of those sources in the future.
Lau: That really is the beauty, the other side is the commercialization side. And I think that is equally as important. And just to pick up on an earlier point that we were both talking about, which is for a very long time in a lot of media organizations, I’m a very young one at Forkast. I hope that we have the tenure and the longevity that SCMP has. But we both exist in a world right now as media organizations. How do we communicate with our audience and how do we create a sustainable environment that actually supports the work of journalists? Newsrooms are expensive. Journalists, we often call ourselves starving artists because many times we are. How do we get that sustainability back in terms of revenue? Does this return value to history? Is this a way for the readers and the audience to help us find value in something that they also value.
Liu: Yeah, absolutely. This is not the primary reason that we are working on an NFT standard, but this is definitely one of the adjacent reasons why this project, I think, matters. (It) is because as a business leader, the best-case scenario is to take a latent asset that does not require too much additional production cost. Things that have already been created. And finding new ways to monetize that content.
The NFT, and this marketplace that we’re building, is able to create a revenue channel that allows us to properly monetize our archives, express the value of our archives, and find the collectors around the world that are willing to effectively fund a newsroom through owning parts of our archives. That is a great result. And that would be a great result not only for SCMP, but for many, many newsrooms and museums and academic institutions around the world that do the hard job of not only capturing history, but also preserving history as well.
So we see that as a pretty big opportunity. And the potential is large because the beauty of the NFT smart contract is also that there is sort of perpetual revenue that comes from the sale of a single NFT. And as it trades, because the world finds value in it, every single trade will net some kind of revenue for the issuer, the original IP and rights holder. So I think that’s exciting. I don’t know how the economics of this will play out long term, but it is certainly worth exploring.
Lau: And not just for publishers, but also for single content creators. Let’s say the photographer who is just in the right place at the right time and captures that one iconic moment of a future news event and possibly turns that into an NFT, and suddenly can, instead of the third party selling it to SCMP or Associated Press or Reuters or whomever for top dollar, suddenly can create an NFT in which they create a marketplace for that one iconic shot.
It could also actually encourage content creators to participate in recording history. As journalists we shouldn’t be the only ones doing it. The party is better when there are more people there.
Liu: You are 100% right. And the start of that, I think where the tide turns, where more and more people with their smartphones just walking around the streets decide that it is their accountability to record history and to record it as accurately as possible. I think that tide turns when we figure out rights management for that content. And we’re barely, barely scratching the surface of rights management on blockchain, because it is a transparent ledger, is the right technology to be able to manage rights management and all of its complexity all over the world.
Lau: So who did you partner to create the NFT platform here. And what’s the functionality?
Liu: I’m actually not ready to talk about either the partners or the exact functionality yet, but I will talk about it. At least I am not ready to talk about it in detail, but I’ll paint with broad strokes.
We are speaking to a number of potential partners for this project. Like I said earlier, this is meant to be a community project. We want to make sure that even the first version of the standard and I do expect there will be multiple versions that will iterate over time. Even the first version of the standard will take into account the needs of not only news publishers, but single content creators, individual content creators, the needs of academics, the needs of museum curators, the needs of artists, and the list can go on.
So we’re speaking to many experts from many fields to make sure that the metadata structure represents the way that they catalog their own assets and the way that they think about preserving history. We also want people from all over the world. This is not meant to be just a Hong Kong or Asia project, even though it is starting here in SCMP’s hometown, where I actually do think is a perfect place for it to start, because this city is a marriage of Eastern and Western culture and Eastern and Western history, and the city really is a store of the coming together of those historical lines.
But we want this to be global, so we are talking to folks from all over the world. So I do hope that within the next month or so, we will be able to announce our first council effectively, board of advisors for governing the standard.
And then the second question on how this is all going to work, the marketplace platform itself is probably still, I would guess, about six months away. We’ve just started building it. It will be familiar to people who today already buy and trade NFTs. It’s going to be a platform like a lot of the other marketplace that are out there. But it’s going to specifically serve a community of historical collectors, which means that the product itself in the marketplace is going to focus on providing context.
Just as art collectors care about provenance, everyone who collects things that are historical assets really care about context. And so there’s going to be a lot of focus on how you take all that metadata structure and be able to present it in story form to somebody who is buying, somebody who’s trading, somebody who is looking to collect. How do you learn from this asset? So there’s going to be a lot of educational material as well. So that’s the way that we’re thinking about building a unique marketplace for historical assets. So hopefully within the next few months, I’ll come back and join you again in whatever format to talk more about the details.
Lau: It might be on the metaverse like right now, but as we both know, there’s a lot of journalism talent and a lot of archival talent in Hong Kong, in a lot of history right there. But I do want to ask you about the media metaverse. You’ve partnered with the decentralized gaming virtual world, The Sandbox. It’s a subsidiary of a Hong Kong unicorn Animoca Brands, bringing a new series of cultural experiences to The Sandbox’s open gaming metaverse.
Tell me about SCMP’s foray into metaverse. Is there a Gary Liu avatar roaming around The Sandbox metaverse? What does SCMP look like here? What are you thinking, what is this new expression of SCMP that you think needs to happen in metaverse?
Liu: There is not yet a Gary Liu avatar, but I imagine that at some point there will be.
So the metaverse is super interesting to us and The Sandbox as a canvas, is really interesting to us. We’re storytellers here at the South China Morning Post, just like pretty much every publisher out there. And we’re always looking for new canvases on which to paint, to express both the history that we have in our archives and the present that we record every single day through our newspaper.
And boy, Sandboxes are really, really exciting new canvas. So much of understanding Hong Kong, understanding greater China requires experience. Like the scale of the Forbidden City. You can describe it in words. But until you walk into the Forbidden City for the very first time, it’s really hard for any human being to truly understand how incredibly, not only massive, but like what that moment in time would have been like when the court was filled.
And Hong Kong is the same way for people who have not experienced Hong Kong. It’s really hard to truly describe what it feels like to walk through Central, to be a little tiny ant in this towering skyline, to walk up and down these extremely steep hills of Mid-Levels. And more importantly, at this point, we can’t even really, truly describe what it was like to watch this place go from fishing village to one of the great financial commercial centers of the world.
So our hope is that The Sandbox will allow us to actually be able to tell that story properly for the first time. So the first experiences that we will be building in The Sandbox are going to be ones that explore parts of Hong Kong from different points of view, from different time frames. So you can imagine choosing a neighborhood and being able to see that neighborhood 50 years back in history and then being able to jump from point to point of the past into the present and seeing how this incredible city has developed.
So it is very much experimental. The Sandbox team has been wonderful to work with. I’ really, really excited about revealing these experiences and building more of these educational, really, cultural and experiential products in the future.
Lau: You’re truly building a time machine. But that can actually exist in metaverse, jumping back into history and experiencing the best we can. There are so many storytelling tools. From augmented reality to virtual reality, to metaverse, to blockchain to NFTs. There are so many different expressions, as you said, across this new canvas that technology is providing.
I feel like, the printing press, the pen, we are now in the infancy of a new age of storytelling. And now we have a lot of new journalists and a lot of new storytellers, young budding journalists who are entering this industry at the same time when suspicion about our industry has never been greater. You are the leader of one of those publications absolutely under attack.
And how do you address these new challenges that we face as journalists both in our moment in history, but also with the promise of technology. What would your advice be to the next generation of storytellers who are coming into our story right now as media? And what are the challenges what are the promises?
Liu: I’m actually not sure that I should be the one giving them advice, because most of the time, as I meet our new journalists, especially those that have just graduated from journalism school and have joined us over the course of the last few years, frankly speaking, they’re the ones that have been giving me great advice. They’re the ones that are inspiring the reignition of love for media. And I think the passion of this news organization is largely driven at this point by many of our young colleagues.
I would say that as an organization, it’s really, really important to acknowledge this moment in history and its difficulties. If we were ostriches with our heads buried in the sand, we would once again completely miss the boat. We would miss the change. We would miss the opportunity that is in crisis. There are news organizations out there and media companies that I meet with on a regular basis that are not yet at the acknowledgment stage. And I would highly recommend that they sit down as a leadership team and then eventually as a company and address these issues.
Because once you address them, once they’re out in the light, then you will be able to find plenty of opportunities to overcome those obstacles and actually build out of those obstacles. The fact that we have landed on blockchain technology as a new experiment, something that we’re putting a lot of effort and resources into. The fact that our actual — it’s weird to say — ‘traditional’ web platform, has evolved over the course of the last few years so dramatically and therefore kind of more than 10x to our global reach. That’s because we acknowledge the crisis. That’s because we said, “Okay, whatever we’ve been doing it, it’s not good enough anymore. What are the opportunities out there? Where are the audiences that need us, that want to be able to reach us but cannot today?” And we built to address those needs.
So I think that, yes, the media industry is in many ways under threat from a lot of different parties for a lot of different reasons. But the first step to being able to overcome all of it is to acknowledge it.
Lau: What’s the one piece of advice that you’ve gotten this past year from one of those young journalists that you’ve taken to heart?
Liu: This is such a good question. The key thing is that their voice really, really matters. It’s almost innate to this news industry at this point, its DNA level believes that tenure matters above all else. And the reality is that to get the story right, yes, you need pattern recognition. You need the years and years of experience on a beat to be able to oftentimes differentiate the very thin line between truth and untruth.
But at the same time, our young journalists, our young colleagues have a very unique voice, have a different way of seeing the world that has been largely dismissed by traditional or dare I say, mainstream media. And that voice needs to be able to cut through. I think that the marriage of the discipline of journalism, that somebody who has been in the news industry for 20, 30 years, the marriage of that discipline with the voice of our younger colleagues, that marriage together can create something really, really beautiful. And I think that that’s where news organizations can once again find relevance.
Lau: We often talk about diversity, but I think the greatest diversity is when we marry different perspectives and even technology. Legacy and innovation collide in this incredible experiment that we’re covering right now.
Gary, thank you so much for sharing a little glimpse into what the future holds for media, for future history and for storytellers around the world. It was a pleasure speaking with you, Gary, thanks for joining us in the show.
Liu: Thanks for having me. It’s so great to see you, Angie. And thanks for letting us tell our story.
Lau: Absolutely. And thank you, everyone, for sharing in our story and coming along for the ride, we really appreciate it. Thanks for joining us for this latest episode of Word on the Block. I’m Forkast.News Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau. Until the next time.