24 August 2019
Media commentator Simon Lee (right) plans to launch Hong Kong Citizens' Media to fill a vacuum left by House News founded by Tony Tsoi. Photo: HKEJ
Media commentator Simon Lee (right) plans to launch Hong Kong Citizens' Media to fill a vacuum left by House News founded by Tony Tsoi. Photo: HKEJ

Death and birth in Hong Kong’s online media

Just days after House News shut down, another news website will come into being on Friday to keep the flame brightly burning for Hong Kong’s independent online news media.

Founded by media commentator Simon Lee, Hong Kong Citizens’ Media hopes to fill a vacuum left by the brief existence of House News. And Lee appears confident that he has the right business model to nurture his latest project.

Citizens’ Media will mainly rely on blogs as well as selected news articles and think pieces to keep readers updated on what’s going on in the city. Lee will also come out with a free sheet, partly based on the website articles, to be able to secure enough funding for the operation.

House News may have been a victim of “white terror” in the city, but another important lesson from its demise pertains to its failure to lure advertisers even if it had more than 300,000 daily hits.

Citizens’ Media understands the challenges facing an independent operation, which is why he is integrating the website into a weekly or bi-weekly publication to be distributed free of charge in the business district. The combination is intended to build up the brand, expand its reach to offline readers as well as to lure advertisers, Lee said in his blog announcing the birth of Citizens’ Media.

Seeking to match the success of Huffington Post in the United States, House News tried to establish a daring, outspoken image by supporting the pro-democracy struggles in the city, including the controversial Occupy Central movement.

By comparison, Citizens’ Media is adopting a safer approach by focusing its content on business news and analysis, while other topics and issues will be supported by bloggers and contributors.

Lee told a media briefing that about half of the content of Citizens’ Media will focus on business and technology news, as he admitted that he is getting inspiration from Business Insider, a US-based website that provides business and technology news analysis.

His choice of focus is certainly less controversial than a website purely engaged in political commentaries. As such the new website can establish a niche in the market without becoming too involved in the raging political debates.

That could be a safe bet, giving Lee a channel to lure advertisers’ support, but his stance may not convince the House News bloggers to shift their venue to Citizens’ Media as they want a completely independent platform that is deeply committed to the fight for genuine democracy and universal suffrage.

Lee understands that content is the key to success for any website. He is inviting writers and contributors, and hoping that his website will secure higher returns for their effort. Some of their articles will also be published in the print version.

Aside from leveraging on original, high-quality content and an online-to-offline strategy, Citizens’ Media also hopes to organize seminars and conferences, thus diversifying its income sources and reducing its reliance on advertising revenue.

Indeed, one of the lessons in the demise of House News is that an independent media outlet needs solid funding support in order to continue providing public service without fear or favor.

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EJ Insight writer

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