In our continued focus on travel in Asia, AsianTalks turned to Hong Kong-based Andrew LaVallee, The Wall Street Journal‘s Weekend editor in Asia. For this interview, LaVallee shares his journalistic insights into the culture of leisure in contemporary Asia. “There’s so much going on — so many interesting people doing work in these places. I think the challenge for a Westerner or an expat is that not all of it is going to be easy to find,” LaVallee explained. Read more about how The Wall Street Journal is trying to highlight those hard to find events, people, and places – making it easier to visitors to discern what to see and do around the region.
It’s a fairly new role for me. I’ve been in this position almost a year now. I started around October 2011. I’ve lived in Hong Kong for over two years, and before that I was a staff writer at the Journal’s New York bureau. I worked there for about four years. So as far as how it’s changed, it’s changed partly because I’ve changed some things, coming into the role. At the Journal, where we have Asia, Europe, and US editions of the paper, in the past Asia was picking up a lot of the US content. So I guess one thing that’s changed is that there is such a greater interest in Asia worldwide, we’re now covering topics that we think are of interest to Asia, but they’re being consumed by people in the US, in Europe, everywhere else.
AsianTalks: And how would you describe your readership?
I think one of the interesting things that we’re always trying to figure out is how to appeal to the broadest possible mix. One thing we’re seeing right now is — we have this audience of global readers who are interested in what is happening in Asia. But we also have an audience that is growing that’s in Asia. These are people in Asia — some of them are recently part of the middle class, or increasingly affluent. They want to know about the rest of the world, or what’s going on in the big cities in Asia. So we try to play to them also.
AsianTalks: Can you name some examples of a popular article in recent times?
One story I think that was interesting — and to which readers responded to — was one that was on the rise of secret supper clubs across Asia. And these are basically events, they’ve been around for a while in London, New York and other big Western cities: you get in contact with a group of people or organization that hosts these events. You may not know a whole lot about what’s on the menu — or where it will be until the day of. But that’s part of the appeal. It’s a little bit off the beaten path. Some of these places specialize in doing foods that are native to the region. Sometimes it’s chefs riffing on traditional foods of the places. We basically spotlighted a handful of supper clubs around greater China, Southeast Asia — and other parts of the region.
AsianTalks: Tell us about Scene Asia. Did WSJ Asia launch this blog to attract global travelers headed to Asia?
It wasn’t as much a response to inbound travel but more a response to what we thought readers would be interested in. And part of this goes back to what I was saying — we see readers being interested in everything that’s going on in Asia. We have launched several sites that we call our Real Time networks — so China Real Time, Japan Real Time, etc. And those are places that are sort of hyper-local. Reporters and editors in the bureaus are writing for them all the time.
And we thought something that was Pan-Asia, and focused on some of the big lifestyle topics we cover a lot — like culture, travel, food, and entertainment. So that was kind of the idea behind Scene Asia — to give readers one place to go to find all of this stuff.
One of the things most interesting to me was seeing the responses of social media. So many readers and consumers in general — the conversations happen away from your site. It’s always interesting for me to see which stories catch on — on Twitter, which ones people are talking about on Facebook. We also have a good number of these stories that are translated into other languages: Chinese, Japanese and Korean. We’ve also started operating a site that’s in Bahasa Indonesian. Those are readers who are interested in culture, food, and travel.
AsianTalks: Lastly, do you use translators in your work?
I don’t speak Chinese but a lot of our reporters and writers speak multiple languages, which I would say is critical in Asia. As far as translation, the bureaus where we have local language sites — those are staffed by journalists who are bilingual. Some of them are focused on translation.
We also use translators to interview Chinese artists, like Zhang Xiaogang. But being able to speak to language is critical. There are lots of people we want to be talking to, who we want to be writing about, who may not speak English, or not comfortable doing the interview in English.