Concerned by what many see as growing restrictions on press freedom in Hong Kong and the lack of credible English-language news outlets, JMSC master of journalism student Tom Grundy and a local journalist have teamed up to launch a new, independent online newspaper.
Called Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the not-for-profit English-language journal will be launched in June with a team of six journalists and a focus on Hong Kong news.
Grundy said HKFP will cover news and issues that will appeal to English-speaking Hong Kong locals and expatriates, as well as the large population of Hong Kongers who live overseas.
“There are so few options in English media in Hong Kong,” Grundy said. “There are also ownership concerns, self-censorship issues and the regular existential issues (from mainland China) that the major news organisations face, and we are hoping to be an outlet outside of this and have a fresh voice.”
“Our initial focus is to create a platform for local, breaking news and build our independent contributors section that is open to different views,” he continued. “As we get more money we will be expanding into China and investigative and data journalism.”
Grundy and his business partner, Evan Fowler, a journalist who has written for the South China Morning Post, China Daily and Asia Sentinal among others, used a local crowd-funding platform, FringeBacker, to raise the funds to launch their venture. They had hoped to raise HK$150,000 in a one-month period. They exceeded that goal in just 48 hours, and have now raised close to HK$250,000, with a further two weeks of the fundraising campaign left, Grundy said.
He said they aim to stay financially viable beyond the initial crowdfunding campaign by developing online advertising, events and occasional further crowdfunding efforts.
“We’ve had almost 300 backers and we’ve still got over a couple of weeks to go,” Grundy said. “The more (funding) we have, the more we can do, and perhaps we can employ an extra person and keep us really independent…With our small team and online delivery, we are nimble and efficient.“
It was Grundy’s initial vision of building an independent English-language news outlet that led him to quit his job teaching English in 2014 and enroll in the master of journalism course at the JMSC.
He said the mix of experienced JMSC lecturers, as well as the practical experience gained from covering the Occupy Central protests for part of their coursework, helped him and his fellow students to become both “street smart and book smart” and gave him the confidence to see his vision into reality. He also had the opportunity to develop his business plan in the Digital Media Entrepreneurship class, which he said had helped him enormously.
“I think it’s important to have a grounding and understanding in things like media law and ethical issues and the basics of news writing, and these are things I could never have picked up blogging,” Grundy said. “And it’s this training that I think makes the difference between citizen journalism and professional journalism.”
Grundy expects to finish his studies next year, and said his aim is to deliver on what’s been promised for HKFP, “because we got such an overwhelming response.”
“It’s very exciting and mildly terrifying,” he said.