The Chinese media scene appears to be an increasingly hostile environment for a working journalist. Recent reports document how the Chinese state is slowly squeezing out foreign reporters, banning liberal Hong Kong media outlets from the mainland, and reducing Chinese journalists to party scribes.
This irredeemably bleak picture, however, underestimates the dynamism of Chinese media. Despite the political restraints, a new wave of media entrepreneurship is emerging, surviving, and redefining China. These enterprising initiatives vary in terms of agency and media products. Some are sanctioned and initiated by the state, some are created by groups of media professionals, while others represent “one-man acts” or solo performances on social media.
It would seem that there would be little room for innovation when it comes to state-owned media. But the latest efforts of the Chinese party-state to appeal to a younger crowd by endorsing and funding new digital news outlets across the country has certainly demonstrated a level of entrepreneurialism. The model for this is the Shanghai-based Pengpai, a word that means “surge,” and is known in English as The Paper. It is a sleek online news platform that was founded in 2014 by the state-owned Shanghai United Media Group with an initial funding of 300-400 million yuan ($44.6-$59.5 million). Its founding CEO, Qiu Bing, has worked at other newspapers published by the Shanghai United Media Group since 1990 and was previously the head of the newspaper, the Oriental Morning Post. It is not clear how much funding The Paper receives from the government (some people we spoke with said it was about 80 percent of the total), but the budget can support more than 300 staff members and produce enough quality content to attract 20 million page views per day. Most of the readers are young, educated, and critical of traditional, state-owned papers such as Xinhua or Global Times.
State-owned media in China operate at different levels: central, provincial, and city. Pengpaioperates at the provincial level and receives funding from the Shanghai party committee and municipal government. Xinhua. But what is distinct is that it is online-only and, while resembling commercial media in content and form, remains party-state funded. This gives Pengpai a competitive advantage over traditional party media because it can attract readers from private media, as well as an edge over other commercial, online platforms because it is one of the only Internet-based media platforms to have been granted a license to carry out independent reporting.
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