Ex-TVB journalist launches crowdfunding for HK news agency

August 15, 2015 08:03
Ng Hiu-tung, an experienced Hong Kong journalist, recently decided to set up FactWire, an independent news agency, through crowdfunding. Photo: HKEJ

Hong Kong’s ranking on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Sans Frontieres keeps sliding.

This year it has fallen to 70th among the 180 countries listed. 

Ng Hiu-tung, an experienced journalist who has worked at TVB and i-Cable TV, recently decided to set up a news agency even as the freedom and credibility of the city's media decline.

FactWire -- Hong Kong’s first news agency -- is seeking crowdfunding to become an independent organization specializing in investigative journalism.

Though the goal of the funding campaign on FringeBacker is a hefty HK$3 million (US$390,000), more than 1,500 people have backed Ng’s project so far.

It has already secured about 70 percent of its target.

Ng said the project is going “extraordinarily well”, proving that the people of Hong Kong support a publicly funded news agency dedicated to public service.

The funds raised will be used to establish FactWire Press Foundation, which will pay salaries in the FactWire newsroom and provide a budget for investigative assignments.

The budding agency will not be accepting any advertising or money from investors.

To avoid any conflict of interest, Ng said he will work for FactWire on a voluntary basis.

“FactWire is not a company but a public service nonprofit-making news agency," he said.

"There will be no shareholders or dividends. The revenue will go back to the foundation to sustain FactWire.” 

Ng's idea of establishing an independent investigative news agency was first sparked in April, when he heard someone on the MTR saying he had "no idea whom to trust amid a storm of news choices".

“Isn’t credibility the most significant thing for news media?” Ng pondered.

“The mainstream media nowadays quote what people say but do not investigate to find out the truth.

"Truth can resolve controversies, and it also lays the foundation of credibility.”

Ng also pointed out the shortcomings of online media.

“Each outlet has a particular stand and attracts a specific target group of supporters," he said.

"People are now listening to what they want to hear.

"Stirring up instant news is the new fashion.

"But what’s the point of having so many journalists and editors reporting instant news? It’s such a waste of manpower.”

He also disapproves of the online media's strategy of using exaggerated language in packaging the news.

“It’s not about reading news any more but enjoying the sensation of information," Ng said.

"To make the news more appealing, the stories are often fine-tuned with a twist or without giving the full picture.

"It is information tainted with ‘MSG’.”

FactWire sounds old school, but that’s the right way to do it, Ng said.

Ng aspired to be a journalist as early as in Secondary 4.

Graduating in journalism at Hong Kong Shue Yan College in 1992, he joined TVB News.

“Back then it was absolutely independent," Ng said.

"You wouldn’t see the boss, administrative staff or investors stop by.

"We had no concern regarding advertising revenues. 

“Press conferences wouldn’t start until TVB was ready.” 

Ng’s career at TVB was smooth and successful.

In his third year there, he started to have the opportunity to report from abroad.

He was often assigned overseas to report on catastrophes.

In news circles, he was dubbed “Catastrophe Tung”.

The assignment that made the most impact on him was one about the severe fines and forced abortions families who violated the national one-child policy in a remote village in Guangdong had to suffer.

“Hong Kong journalists, you have finally come to visit us,” the villagers exclaimed upon Ng’s arrival.

The experience consolidated his sense of social responsibility as a journalist.

In 2001, TVB News wanted to promote Ng to be assistant assignment editor.

Since the promotion would deprive him of the chance to report from the field, he decided to quit.

Later, when he found that selling photographs to news agencies didn’t quite cover his living expenses, he started a small press photo agency of his own called EyePress.

Surprisingly, it has managed to survive, year after year.

Ng decided to quit his job at i-Cable TV and devote himself to his own business full time.

In 2006, on the eve of the global financial crisis, his business was performing poorly.

He started a digital media network service -- Outdoor News Network -- as part of EyePress.

Ng said Hong Kong media's golden age has long gone.

“For instance, when the dust explosion took place recently in Taiwan, few Hong Kong media groups sent their people there to file reports," he said.

"Most of the media groups picked up the news from other sources.

"The room for the development of the new generation of Hong Kong journalists is very limited.

"I think the owners of the media groups should take the responsibility of cultivating them.

“Hong Kong is not short of good journalists. They simply lack opportunities to strive.” 

Ng is optimistic about his start-up, FactWire, which he believes will provide solutions to the existing problems faced by Hong Kong media.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 12.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Ng made his name doing field reports from abroad. He interviews a US Marine during the 2003 Iraq war (left). A younger Ng (in glasses) interviews troops at the border between Thailand and Myanmar during his second year in college (right). Photos: HKEJ
Ng (second from right) and his teammates pose on a helicopter pad after reporting on Kai Tak Airport's last day of operations in 1998. During the '90s, Ng was a familiar face on TVB news reports. Photos: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal