From his temporary home on a friend’s sofa, Yin Yusheng hopes to craft a new kind of journalism in China, where the industry is widely seen as state-controlled and corrupt.
He wants to make his readers the boss — and that includes paying his salary.
Once users pledge 5,000 yuan (US$820) — half his monthly pay when he worked for a business daily — he takes a story up.
He has completed one piece since beginning his experiment in crowdfunding in September, appealing to those who are “tired of the praises sung by the state-run media.”
Journalism in China is held in low esteem by many members of the public, not just because virtually all media is state-controlled and toes the government line, but also because of dirty practices dating back to the 1990s.
Journalists regularly demand money from companies or individuals not to report a negative story about them, and expect a “red envelope” with cash to report a positive development or to turn up at a press conference.
Yin, who lost a reporting job at a magazine earlier this year when it changed from a weekly to a monthly, wants to be beholden only to the news-reading public, and is testing whether crowdfunding from online donations can give him a stable income.
In an online mission statement, he says crowdfunding can make a product successful, save a company and bring donations to the weak and vulnerable.
“In the same way, it can give us the truth,” he writes.
There already are several self-styled citizen journalists in China publishing online reports on their own Web sites.
Yin said he wants to bring a professional standard to this kind of reporting and thinks colleagues in the industry may follow his lead because such reporting “enjoys a little more sliver of freedom” than working in the state-controlled industry.
Yin, 43, has advertised his story ideas on China’s two largest microblogging sites and the online marketplace Taobao.
The crowdfunded investigative piece he has completed was about Chen Baocheng (陳寶成), a Beijing reporter detained during a protest over a land demolition in his hometown.
Yin’s pitch attracted the required funding within 24 hours. A week and a half later, he uploaded the finished piece onto two microblogging sites, Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo.
State media stories on the case tended to focus on police and lawyers’ reactions, but Yin’s vivid report was based on more than 20 interviews with police, lawyers, witnesses, local officials and some of those who had been detained.
Some reports alleged that Chen doused an excavator operator in gasoline, but Yin’s report found that he had arrived only after others had already poured the fuel.
Yin also tweets from the scene.
“I am on the scene, meaning you are on the scene as well,” his promise to readers goes.
His plan came from discussions with friends who, like him, entered print journalism from backgrounds in computer science or online media, and who began to see the Internet’s power to usurp traditional media.
“We began to ask ourselves the question: Why do we have to confine ourselves to one specific media outlet? Many of us had already become quite influential, so publishing an article online might have more public impact,” he said in an interview at a Beijing cafe.
In the US and Europe, journalists and activists have used crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter to find money for one-off creative projects, like a first book or a documentary.
A number of sites also have experimented with such financing for journalists in the past few years, especially in the US, City University London journalism professor George Brock said.
“I don’t think it’s going to be the central plank or pillar of a new business model for journalism, but the experiments that have been done in it have shown that projects that catch people’s imagination, whether they be Web or print or film, really can raise money,” Brock said.
Yin set his limit at 5,000 yuan, which is also slated to cover his expenses, in hopes of discouraging the notion that a big spender could control his agenda.
He uploaded details on the 1,955 yuan he spent covering his first report, including photographs of bus and train tickets and other receipts.
He is saving money by staying in a friend’s apartment, which he says might also make it more difficult for officials to track him down.
He risks becoming a target in the government’s intensified crackdown on online expression. In recent months, China’s leaders have clamped down on what they call online rumors and efforts to erode the rule of the Chinese Communist Party through lies and negative news.
Their targets have included celebrity bloggers that call attention to social injustices.
Even if the government does not detain Yin, it could scrub his reports from the Internet.
“The key point here is the distribution question” and whether Yin’s reports will be censored, Hong Kong University’s China Media Project researcher David Bandurski said.
“All Internet in China is in a recent period of extreme intensification of control and he’s dealing — presumably if he’s doing investigations — with sensitive issues,” he added.
US President Donald Trump on Thursday issued executive orders barring Americans from conducting business with WeChat owner Tencent Holdings and ByteDance, the Beijing-based owner of popular video-sharing app TikTok. The orders are to take effect 45 days after they were signed, which is Sept. 20. The orders accuse WeChat of helping the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) review and remove content that it considers to be politically sensitive, and of using fabricated news to benefit itself. The White House has accused TikTok of collecting users’ information, location data and browsing histories, which could be used by the Chinese government, and pose
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) at a ceremony on July 30 officially commissioned China’s BeiDou-3 satellite navigation system. The constellation of satellites, which is now fully operational, was completed six months ahead of schedule. Its deployment means that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is now in possession of an autonomous, global satellite navigation system to rival the US’ GPS, Russia’s Glonass and the EU’s Galileo. Although Chinese officials have repeatedly sought to reassure the world that BeiDou-3 is primarily a civilian and commercial platform, US and European military experts beg to differ. Teresa Hitchens, a senior research associate at the University of
There are few areas where Beijing, Taipei, and Washington find themselves in agreement these days, but one of them is that the situation in the Taiwan Strait is growing more dangerous. Such a shared assessment quickly breaks down, though, when the question turns to identifying sources of rising tensions. Several Chinese experts and officials I have consulted with recently have argued that Beijing’s increasingly belligerent behavior in the Taiwan Strait is driven mostly by fear. According to this narrative, Beijing is worried that unless it puts a brake on Taiwan’s move away from the mainland, Taiwan could be “lost” forever. They
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) this week came under fire over his speech at a Rotary Club meeting in Taipei on Monday, when he said that Beijing’s military strategy toward Taiwan was “to let the first battle be the last.” If China started a cross-strait war, it would end quickly, without time for other nations to react, he said in his “Cross-Strait Relations and Taiwan Security” address, criticizing President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for saying that she hoped other nations would come to Taiwan’s aid in Beijing’s first wave of attacks. A president should prevent war from happening, not talk about how