An online media property in Hong Kong called House News called it quits last weekend.
If you go to www.thehousenews.com, you’ll be greeted with a letter in Chinese from one of the publication’s founders, Tony Tsoi on the “why.”
Before turning attention to the writing in the letter, I must say that it’s disturbing to watch the slow erosion of “freedom” of the press in Hong Kong. I put “freedom” in quotes because technically, Mr. Tsoi made the editorial decisions on what appeared in his publication. And his product resonated with the local market, attracting roughly 300,000 unique monthly visitors to the site and enough passion to trigger 236,742 likes on its Facebook page.
Impressive numbers taken in the context that Hong Kong’s population tips 7 million and numbers that one would think could sustain a bootstrapped online media property.
Yet, there’s something bigger going on as outlined in Mr. Tsoi’s letter that led to the publication’s demise. I’ll leave the deep analysis to the journalism scholars.
Thanks to Coconuts, a local city website network in Asia, a translation of the “We’re shutting down House News” letter appears below (note line breaks are Mr Tsoi’s, not Coconuts’).
From a writing perspective, the letter delivers another proof point that when you write from the heart, even under the umbrella of business, you can’t go wrong.
He doesn’t just state the facts. The letter shares his personal story and feelings, moving from the general to anecdotal.
Raw honesty closes the narrative:
For the readers who have supported House News, at home and abroad, you have finally discovered that I am but a normal man. I have used up all my energy, and I can only walk this far.
A grassroots effort is already underway to resurrect House News. If successful, I suspect the baton will be passed to a new leader.
For those interested in reading the full letter:
To people who care about House News:
Ladies and gentlemen, House News has to close today!
The creation of House News stemmed from a simple belief: “to do something for Hong Kong” and to promote social progress. I also hoped that House News, like the American Huffington Post, would become a successful media outlet and start a new era.
‘To do something for Hong Kong’ doesn’t have some big lofty goal behind it. It only requires that an individual, within his or her own ability, care about society and do what an ordinary citizen should do.”
I was born in 1964 and I’m 50 years old this year; I caught the last baby boomer bus. I benefited from Hong Kong’s economic boom in the 80s and 90s, and I seized the opportunity to climb the social ladder, as a regular Hongkonger. When I was young I was obsessed with my career, but once I had achieved a small degree of success, I wanted to use my business experience, contacts and knowledge to contribute to society.
that Hong Kong has actually already changed. To be an ordinary citizen, to be an ordinary media company, to do something for society, is not easy, so much so that I feel scared. It’s not that I feel off; I feel dread. The current atmosphere caused by the political struggle has caused many people to feel extremely anxious, and many democrats are tracked, slandered and have their past dug up. A feeling of white terror is felt throughout society, and I also feel this stress.
Furthermore, as a businessman who frequently travels back and forth to the mainland, I have to admit that every time I go through immigration I am scared and on the edge, but am I just being overly paranoid? It’s simply impossible to explain that feeling to others clearly.
What disturbed me the most is that my family felt this pressure, and they worried about me all day. As society gets tenser and tenser, the pressure on me has made me feel more and more disturbed. When I’m eating at home, I insist that we do not turn on the TV as I don’t want to discuss social issues with my family. I know that it would only make them worry more. When my family worries about me, I am saddened.
two years ago when a few friends and I started House News. With reason as our foundation, we believed that tolerance was Hong Kong’s most important value. With blogs and news aggregation as our pillars, we created a completely new form of media.
According to the latest statistics, House News had an average of 300,000 unique visitors per day, a performance that can be considered ideal. From the beginning, we had a business plan, but because of a warped society and economic market, our advertising revenue was disproportionate to our influence. House News is a small business with a small budget (as many people who are familiar with our blog can testify), but since its launch it has not broken even a single month. The biggest problem is that in the foreseeable future, Hong Kong’s society will feel more and more tense. From a business point of view, we really don’t see hope for House News. People ask me, does House News attract advertisers? The answer is no, hardly any, how can we attract them? It’s not only Hong Kong’s core values that have been distorted; the market’s been distorted too.
I am guilty,
my fear and my misjudgment come from the fact that I had, at one point, believed that Hong Kong was a normal place. I wholeheartedly believed that I could be a citizen that cared about Hong Kong, and a businessman who had faith in the market. It is very obvious that I was wrong. It turned out that it is a false illusion to think that one can be an ordinary citizen or businessman in an abnormal society.
As for my colleagues who have fought hard for the past two years, I feel very guilty, because they have without rest and without regrets supported the beliefs of House News. To my family, and for their tolerance of my work, I feel even more guilty, as I’ve made you worry for a long time. For the readers who have supported House News, at home and abroad, you have finally discovered that I am but a normal man. I have used up all my energy, and I can only walk this far.
From this day on, House News has officially closed. Goodbye!
July 26 2014