The South China Morning Post is set to spend up to HK$445,000 in referral fees to recruit staff before its new owner, Jack Ma Yun, takes over.
Hong Kong-based Kerry Group’s sale of the English-language newspaper to Ma’s mainland e-commerce giant, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., is pending shareholders’ approval Monday.
In a memo to employees titled “Staff referral program” last week, the company is offering its staff a referral fee between HK$8,000 and HK$15,000 for each successful applicant for 46 listed jobs.
The jobs include 29 in editorial, ranging from designer, copy writer and beat reporter to business editor (a position in which the Post seems to have had difficulty retaining people in the past decade).
Some SCMP reporters were told the paper needs to hire at least 70 staff, about half of them in editorial.
That is believed to be more than the number of employees who left last year.
An exodus of talent from SCMP has occurred recently amid the uncertainty of the change in ownership and the poor outlook for print media.
Some of those who left were frustrated with the paper’s increasingly pro-China stance, which caused the paper to be ridiculed as the “Red China Morning Post”, among less-savory nicknames.
The departures left the editorial department with numerous holes to fill.
For instance, the Business Desk used to have more than two dozen reporters at its peak, and now there are nine.
SCMP Group had 1,069 employees, most of whom worked in editorial, at the end of June last year.
Other English-language media have much slimmer operations.
The Standard has about 30 editorial staff, and online news sites such as the Hong Kong Free Press and EJ Insight each have fewer than a dozen on-site staff.
The hiring spree comes at an interesting time for SCMP.
Its social media accounts – on Sina Weibo, Tencent Weibo and WeChat – were shut down by state censors this month, and its Chinese-language website, SCMPChinese.com (nanzao.com) remains blocked in the mainland.
In December, Alibaba paid HK$2.06 billion to acquire SCMP Group’s publishing assets.
Since then, Alibaba executives have wasted no time holding meetings with various department heads at SCMP, pinpointing what they have not been doing right and asking them to prepare a five-year business plan.
SCMP Group hopes to complete the deal, which will be put forward to shareholders Monday, by the end of this month.
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