Documentary shows the struggle of Hong Kong online news providers

Film follows media firms having to balance business and editorial decisions

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 11:12pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 August, 2017, 11:53pm

Business considerations are heavily affecting editorial decisions made in the city’s already struggling media industry, which is under pressure to chase profitability for its online news content, according to a new documentary film.

Real Time covers the work of online operations staff at three media companies over the past year.

Co-directed by Dr Kaman Lee, assistant professor in journalism at Shue Yan University, a former TVB News reporter, and Sin Ho-yin, it follows the work of staff on newspapers Apple Daily and HK01, and digital news outlet ­Initium Media.

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The documentary shows how journalism is modified to reflect business considerations, with investigative stories being measured against online hit rates and cost calculations.

“Though it is more at the editor or management level, what we have observed is that there are a lot of business-related considerations when they make decisions about reporting and assigning stories,” Lee said.

“The old days when we used to do news without commercial worries are gone.”

All three companies have come under financial pressure and Next Digital, the holding company for Apple Daily, recently sold its sister publication, Next magazine. The newspaper is also outsourcing and making many full-time staff part-time.

Initium, which reportedly laid off some 70 of its 90 staff, has tried to raise cash by crowdfunding and shifted its main market to Taiwan.

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HK01 has restructured in an attempt to avoid layoffs and executive editor-in-chief Ernest Chi faces the dilemma of balancing cost and exclusive content.

“It costs us HK$400,000 to do one investigative, exclusive story, but it doesn’t get us many hits. On the contrary, if we run sensational stories, the hits go over the roof,” he said.

Another challenge is social media. Edward Li Ka-chung, chief assignment editor for action news at Apple Daily, said putting everything on Facebook was hurting ­providers of original content. “Money comes from online traffic. If you don’t want to consider hit rates, you can write your own blog. Our salary comes from hit rates, this is the reality,” he said.

But Lee also praised some ­innovations, such as instant fact-checking by experts during the chief executive election debates, started by Initium and joined by HK01.

Real Time is initially aimed at audiences from the media industry.