Running dog eat dog
Nationalists, united against Western media bias, aredivided over money
Oct 19th 2013 | BEIJING |From the print edition
NATIONALIST displays attacking Western media bias have generated plenty of attention andfame on the Chinese internet for “patriotic youths” and made a media darling of one website inparticular: Anti-CNN.com. But turning online patriotism into a business has proved trickierand, for some of the young idealists involved, rather disillusioning.
In recent weeks a bitter row at Anti-CNN.com (now known formally as April Media) hasexposed a rift between the site’s founder, Rao Jin, and others who joined his cause. Formerstaff describe a business in trouble, with disappointing web traffic and little revenue. Theyclaim that a big investor has pulled his support and that the site has run out of cash (thoughit remains online). Ten employees settled pay disputes in September. A company that onceboasted more than two dozen workers and thousands of square feet of office space in Beijingis, they say, down to one office worker: the accountant. Mr Rao disputes this.
It is quite a comedown. Mr Rao’s first prominent scalp was CNN, an American news network,in March 2008 after ethnic riots erupted in Tibet. His website seized on what he considered biasin the coverage by CNN and other outlets. In February 2011 April Media posted footage of JonHuntsman, then the American ambassador to China, at the site of a planned anti-governmentprotest. The demonstration did not materialise, but Mr Huntsman was attacked online forappearing to support it. He said he was there by coincidence.
The popularity of such videos has not translated into profits. Former staff say the mostadvertising revenue that April Media collected in one month was 17,000 yuan ($2,800) inAugust. Mr Rao declined to discuss April Media’s finances in any detail but says the business isoperating normally and is financially sound. He says the former employees are just disgruntled,adding: “As any start-up company, we have our share of challenges.”
Indeed, April Media sounds like any start-up with money to burn (reportedly an initialinvestment of $1.6m) and a doubtful business model. But some of the company’s early zealotsquestion the direction their experience has taken them. Tang Jie, who posted the Huntsmanvideo, left to start his own site. Some say he regarded Mr Rao, who had accepted invitations toevents at the American embassy in Beijing, as having gone too soft on Mr Huntsman. Mr Tangdid not respond to an e-mail seeking comment.
Hu Yinan, a former editor-in-chief of April Media, says he now questions both “patriotic” and“liberal” voices on the Chinese web. “Genuine beliefs and cries for attention are radicallydifferent,” he says. In any case, he adds, there is no proven business model for ideologicallyguided websites, and he doubts there ever will be. “Most, if not all, traditional media outletswill at some point rely on donors.”