Staff Reporters
Jun 3, 2024

Media Chinese to layoff 44% employees in Malaysia and replace them with AI

The decision follows substantial financial losses in 2024.

Media Chinese to layoff 44% employees in Malaysia and replace them with AI

Media Chinese International (MCI), a Chinese-language media conglomerate based in Malaysia, is set to undergo a significant workforce reduction. According to news reports, MCI plans to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) into its operations leading to a workforce reduction of up to 44% within the next five years.

CEO Francis Tiong has announced gradually shut down printing facilities and reduce the employee headcount from 1,800 to 1,000 over the next five years. This restructuring effort spans MCI’s publications, including China Press, Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang Siang Pau, Ming Pao, and Guang Ming Daily

The workforce reduction is in line with digital adoption. Once AI is fully integrated in automation, video content creation and employing AI news readers, the media group anticipates a third of reduction in its workforce in as early as two years.

According to local news media, manpower currently constitutes the most significant cost driver for MCI, accounting for approximately 50% of its costs, followed by newsprint at around 20%. The move comes in the wake of substantial financial losses recorded in the fiscal year 2024 due to a drop in advertising due to Facebook's news feed algorithm. MCI reported a net loss of RM61 million ($13 million) in 2024, compared to a smaller loss of RM1.16 million ($246,455) the previous year. 

“With internal structural and reorganisation, the merger or consolidation of Sinchew and Nanyang group, closure of Johor and Penang plants (provided the cost-saving measures are justified but not at the moment) and the application of AI across all units of operations, we can reduce our staff to 1,000 throughout two, three or even five years," said CEO Francis Tiong to Business Times.  

Serm Teck Choon, a former head of digital products at Malaysia's The Star, tells Campaign that as AI and generative AI technologies have been developing rapidly, they will help revive how publishers operate, and MCI should also benefit from it.

For example, generative AI technologies can help journalists draft articles and increase efficiency, allowing them to focus on non-repetitive tasks such as content planning, interviewing, fact-checking, content finalisation, and quality control. 

Another example is how a digital human can be a news anchor for an online news programme, which can cut down tremendous production time and cost. With all these new opportunities, news organisations like MCI must restructure their operations and retrain their employees to embrace the new era of news reporting.

“While leveraging AI for future development is essential, another critical task is positioning its products, namely Sin Chew Daily, Nanyang SianPau, and China Press, more clearly. Sin Chew Daily, being the flagship product, should be positioned as the most trustworthy news brand in the Chinese community in Malaysia (think New York Times). In contrast, Nanyang should position itself as the daily business news for the Chinese community (think Wall Street Journal or The Edge), China Press as just a tabloid reporting,” explains Serm, who is now the CEO and co-founder of Antsomi.

“MCI should no longer position itself as a newspaper company. Instead, it should evolve into a news company focusing on omnichannel—starting with newspapers and moving on to digital, video, podcasts, short videos, and other new forms of communication, using digital technology, AI, and data.”

On whether more publishers will turn to AI, Serm believes it is an inevitable trend as globally, more and more publishers have already been experimenting with using AI to increase their efficiency and effectiveness. 

"However, one thing for sure is that with technology, the audience still needs quality content that is produced, curated, and edited with heart, passion, empathy, and feeling. AI is just a means, not a purpose, for us to get where we want to be," Serm says.

In a similar move in April 2023, one of China’s best-known media and public relations outfits, Bluefocus Intelligent Communications Group Co. made headlines when it decided to replace external copywriters and graphic designers with ChatGPT-like generative AI models. The $3 billion company was in talks with Alibaba Group and Baidu to explore licensing options at the time. 

Other news publishers like News Corp have also struck deals with ChatGPT's parent OpenAI to access and learn information from publications like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Times, the Sunday Times, Barron’s, MarketWatch, and others.  

While not driven by AI integration, Yahoo also announced a similar workforce reduction in April 2024. The company is pivoting towards content curation rather than production, with an emphasis on efficiency and alignment with consumer engagement metrics. 

Campaign Asia

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