No more Lai See for SCMP

March 23, 2015 12:08
South China Morning Post may stop running the highly popular Lai See column when writer Howard Winn retires next month. Photo: HKEJ

Lai See, the longest-running column of Hong Kong’s largest English newspaper, may soon have its last run.  

South China Morning Post's highly popular business gossip column will end when Howard Winn, who has occupied the space since August 2010, retires after his contract expires next month.

It's actually his second time to pen the column since his first one-year stint in the late '80s, and I understand there is no plan to replace him with another writer.

The column, a daily serving of gossips, light-hearted musings, ribbings and insights, has been delighting its readers, including top honchos of Central, for more than 30 years.

"It’s been an absorbing five years. I’ve had the freedom to more or less write about whatever I like,” Winn says.

“I’ve written about a wide range of issues, many of them brought to my attention by readers. That relationship with readers has given me a great deal of satisfaction. It’s been fun doing some of the lighter stuff, and taking jabs at the government and other authority figures."

Last year, the Post also closed down another well-esteemed business column, Monitor, after its long-time columnist Tom Holland left. His predecessor, Jake van der Kamp, is now a freelance columnist who still files a column that appears in the paper three times a week.

Lai See has a special place in Hong Kong journalism because of its unique, behind-the-scene, tongue-in-cheek coverage of business news and trends that perks up the mornings of a lot of readers. I am sure it will be missed.

The column was founded by former business editor John Mulcahy, an Irish-South African, who started off with tips on hot stocks such as HSBC and Jardine. It has become a popular column since day one.

In an interview with EJ Insight last year, Mulcahy recalled why the column was named Lai See.

“I wanted to give people a little free thing every day: lai see. What we tried to do initially was to give some stock tips each day. It didn’t always succeed.

“I phoned around to see what was hot and tried to give stock tips. Some of them were very successful. But you also wanted to be careful, of course. People would try to [influence the column for their own purposes].”

At least a dozen writers who have penned the column, including yours truly, were privileged to be caretakers from 2004 to 2009.

When informed of the column's impending demise, Mulcahy told me he was sad to hear it, “but I suppose it was inevitable at some stage”.

Lai See's brand of gossipy columns is now being replicated in almost all newspapers in this financially-obsessed city.

But going back a bit farther, SCMP is probably not the first paper to come up with the idea of a business gossip column.

Old readers of the Hong Kong Economic Journal would most likely recall the Central Beauty Diary written by Becky in the '70s and another one by Yeung Bai Mui in the '80s.

Both columns were in fact written by macho veterans, and since then I have come across so many other gentlemen who hide under a female nom de plume. So don’t take their bait.

[Chinese version 中文版]

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EJ Insight writer