Shanghai group hopes financial news provider will be cure for ailing media

Shanghai United Media Group spearheading 3 billion yuan project but reporters will need a free hand to create compelling content

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 5:22am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 February, 2014, 5:22am

Shanghai is seeking a bigger slice of the financial media pie with a multimillion-dollar investment plan, despite the gloomy outlook for the industry.

The city's media is grappling with declining sales and is facing an uphill battle in bailing out two troubled broadcasting and newspaper giants.

Shanghai United Media Group, a newly created conglomerate, intends to launch a financial information provider, and local and overseas investors will be approached to contribute to the 3 billion yuan (HK$3.8 billion) funding goal.

The project will be led by He Li , a former chief editor of Caijing magazine.

Optimism for the project appears tied to the city's ambitions of becoming a global financial centre with a dynamic free-trade zone and strong links to the online world.

But local officials and executives at United Media also hope a profitable digital product can boost the ailing local media sector.

Late last year, the local propaganda department, under a directive from Shanghai Communist Party boss Han Zheng, merged the city's two largest print media companies - Jiefang Daily Group and Wenhui-Xinmin United Press Group - into United Media.

The tie-up was part of an attempt to push state-owned print media towards a digital future after years of losing ground to internet portals and social networking sites.

United Media has consolidated ties with domestic internet giants such as Baidu and Tencent to produce more value-added online content, but the moves are not enough to offset losses from existing print editions of the group's newspapers. Sources said United Media appeared set to report a loss this year.

Qiu Xin, chief executive of United Media, said he would prefer to buy out the contracts of some existing staff before folding the loss-making newspapers.

Late last year, the group closed the Shanghai Evening Post, a first step in restructuring the group's business.

But if United Media stops publishing several of its largest newspapers, there are fears that massive lay-offs could threaten social stability, as well-connected journalists might publicly raise their concerns about local officials.

United Media's plan followed an ownership change involving the influential Caixin Media, which focuses on financial news, in December.

Shanghai-based China Media Capital (CMC) bought a stake in Beijing-based Caixin from the Zhejiang Daily Press Group to become controlling shareholder.

Caixin's editor-in-chief Hu Shuli, regarded as one of the most powerful journalists on the mainland, served as chief editor of Caijing for more than a decade before establishing Caixin in late 2009.

It was reported that the deal resulted from an arrangement struck up between the Caixin management and the state-owned parent press group after the latter sought to exert more editorial control over Caixin.

CMC's investment in Caixin was backed by Shanghai officials amid the city's determination to give local media more freedom over editorial content.

Shanghai Media Group, which owns the city's major television and radio stations, is also weighing reform amid a slump in revenue last year.

The city's state-owned media have been eclipsed by out-of-town rivals, including the Guangzhou Daily and Chengdu Business Daily, partly because their in-depth reporting is constrained by the local propaganda department.

Meanwhile, the industry believes a profitable and influential media product won't be possible in the mainland's commercial hub unless editorial staff are given a free hand to come up with stories.