Caijing founding editor quits to launch venture

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2009, 12:00am

The founder and editor of Caijing, the mainland's most influential business magazine, has resigned to launch a new multimedia business venture, after she failed to patch up differences with the publisher over the direction of the magazine, according to staff members.

Hu Shuli resigned yesterday after the first November issue of the biweekly magazine was completed. The resignation marks the end of an era for Caijing, which has carved out a reputation for stinging expos?s about insider trading, corruption and medical blunders, but managed to thrive in a heavily censored media environment.

Hu has accepted an invitation from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou to head its school of communication and design, staff members say. A university employee confirmed that a top university official had visited Hu in Beijing several months ago and the two had reached an agreement.

The employee added that Hu had visited the university on Wednesday and signed a contract on Friday.

Staff members said Hu's departure was likely to trigger resignations by most of Caijing's editorial team of about 180 reporters and editors.

Wang Shuo, the managing editor under Hu, announced his resignation on Twitter yesterday. He is expected to become the editor of a magazine to be launched soon.

In all, more than 30 other Caijing writers and editors - including editorial director Yang Daming and associate editors Zhang Jiwei , Zhang Jin and Wu Peng - had also resigned, staff members said. They estimated that up to 80 per cent of the editorial staff would resign by Friday.

'The majority of the current reporters and editors are expected to follow Shuli and resign in the coming days,' one staff member said.

Another staff member close to Hu said she was in discussions with a number of potential investors about forming a new multimedia platform that could cover the publication of business magazines, provide business news online and be involved with new media ventures.

Tsinghua Tongfang, a business unit owned by Tsinghua University, and the Zhejiang Daily Press Group have reportedly shown interest in investing in Hu's venture. There has also been speculation that Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai and Fang Fenglei - a leading mainland banker who heads Hopu Investment Management, a private capital fund - would provide money. But both Li and Fang represent overseas money and mainland law bans direct overseas investment in the editorial operation of a media outlet.

Hu's team has already leased two floors at the Winterless Centre in Beijing's central business district, and some of the business staff have already moved in, indicating that she has already received some initial investment.

Hu's departure has been a subject of intense speculation for weeks because she has been regarded as the heart and soul of Caijing. Her resignation has also raised the stakes over the future of the publication.

Hu had been in constant contact with the magazine's owner and publisher, the Stock Exchange Executive Council (SEEC), led by former Wall Street banker Wang Boming, in the past two months, trying to avoid a split.

As a back-up plan, SEEC had already lined up top editors of Investor Journal, a weekly financial newspaper, to take over Caijing's editorial team.

Hu, 56, launched the magazine in 1998 and it shot to fame for a series of investigative reports that earned Hu the title of 'the most dangerous woman' to the securities industry.

Caijing published an investigative story in October 2000 exposing a massive falsification of profits by Yinguangxia Holdings, one of the largest Shenzhen-listed firms at the time. It led to the jailing of several company executives.

However, as Hu's team tried to improve the magazine's standards and reputation by strengthening professionalism and corporate governance, friction over editorial policy between her team and management intensified. One of the last examples was over the July 5 ethnic clash in Xinjiang . The publishers wanted the magazine to focus solely on business reporting, staff said.

Others suggested that Hu was able to steer clear of trouble largely because authorities generally give business reporting more freedom than political news reporting.

Renmin University professor Yu Guoming said Hu's connections to the leadership gave her a better insight into the rules of the game and its boundaries. 'She could dare to go out there and do it because she knows where the bottom line is.'

Some media analysts have also credited Wang, the publisher and a son of veteran diplomat Wang Bingnan , for providing Hu's team the security to freely report in a country notorious for its censorship.

The split between Hu's team and Caijing's publisher came to a head when around 70 employees of the business department, including general manager Wu Chuanhui and eight other top business executives, resigned last month.

Caijing executives suggested that Hu had become increasingly frustrated by Wang's decision to take away the majority of the annual advertising revenue, estimated at more than 200 million yuan (HK$227 million), leaving only a small portion for her budget.

Uncertainties over Hu's departure and the future of Caijing have raised questions over a partnership between Caijing and Li to launch an English financial news service.

In a statement, Cai Business Indepth said: 'We have been closely monitoring developments at Caijing, our media partner in mainland China. Regardless of the changes announced at Caijing, we have understandings in place which ensure that we will continue to have exclusive content from China's premier financial news editors and journalists.'

It said it would continue to work towards its launch next year. Previously, its staff members talked about a launch in the middle of last month.

Additional reporting by Ivan Zhai

Turning a page

After founding Caijing magazine, Hu Shuli shaped it into one of the most adventurous and respected publications on the mainland

April 1998 Caijing launches as monthly under initial title, Money

October 2000 A cover story triggers an investigation into funds traded on mainland securities market; magazine adopts present title

2001 Caijing reveals techniques used by insider traders in mainland stock markets; exposes massive falsification of profits by listed firm Yinguangxia Holdings

2003 Caijing's Sars team chosen as finalist in International Consortium of Investigative Journalist Awards

2005 Magazine is published twice a month; launches supplements focusing on banking and finance

January 2007 Cover story on losses of state-owned property in Shandong lands magazine in its most serious trouble in 10 years

April 2008 Caijing launches official website

September 2009 Power struggle between magazine and parent company, Stock Exchange Executive Council, leads to massive resignations