Coverage of recent mass murder cases is no longer solely in the hands of officials With three cases in a month, serial murder has gripped the mainland's attention. Not long ago, however, it would have been almost impossible for details of the arrests to have been known so widely. Ever-increasing competition within the mainland's print media is pushing journalists to cover stories the government would prefer to hush up. And that rift is widening as the internet continues to spread. The arithmetic of the slaying is grisly - 96 victims at the hands of four suspected murderers. Predictably, the official print media has played down - even completely ignored - the killings. The details and interviews are left to the pages of the more commercially driven media. Last week, a small paper in Hebei posted a report on its website on Yang Zhiya, the 'Monster Killer', who was arrested in Cangzhou on November 3 for the murders of 65 people over the past two years. Other websites picked up the story, and in a matter of hours it was making international headlines. But despite being the biggest mass murder in modern Chinese history, police refused to discuss details and the mainstream media ignored the story. The influential official media - Xinhua, CCTV and the People's Daily - did not carry any reports on the killings. It was assumed that officials imposed a media blackout. When Xinhua eventually carried a report on the killings a few days later, it was only a brief one, congratulating the province's police for capturing the suspect. The murder of 25 boys in Henan - the toll was later revised down to 17 - and the killing of 12 girls in Shenzhen were also extensively covered in feisty tabloids. 'Sensational stories like these sell papers,' said Lei Yuejie, dean of journalism at Beijing Broadcasting University. 'And mainland journalists are under much more pressure from the market to find and write the kind of stories that people want to read.' In July, the government issued new regulations and pulled subsidies from thousands of publications that were formerly given funding by provincial authorities. Now those governments are permitted to support just one newspaper and two magazines each. The rest have a choice to either turn a profit or close. With more than 9,000 magazines and 2,000 newspapers now competing in the same market, journalists and editors are becoming aware of the need to attract and hold their readership. 'This kind of negative reporting is an effective way of attracting an audience,' Professor Lei said. 'There is a sense among editors and journalists that if they don't cover a story themselves someone else will. 'Nothing can be really hidden for too long.' But the Ministry of Public Security has yet to comment on the Cangzhou arrest, and editors and journalists who carry reports on these events run the risk of landing in hot water. Families of the victims in recent the Shenzhen case have been warned by police not to talk to the media lest they paint the city in a bad light, and journalists have been discouraged from writing about it. 'The great challenge is how to report these stories responsibly, meet market demands and avoid conflict with the government, ' Professor Lei said.