Founder of probing Chinese financial magazine Caijing resigns

Caijing, shown at a Beijing newsstand, has pushed boundaries with China's censors and chased stories that embarrassed the government.
Caijing, shown at a Beijing newsstand, has pushed boundaries with China's censors and chased stories that embarrassed the government. (Ng Han Guan/associated Press)
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By Alexa Olesen
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

BEIJING -- The editor in chief of a hard-driving Chinese magazine that tackled tough subjects such as corruption, pollution and workers' rights resigned Monday, casting doubt over prospects for greater media independence.

Many say founder Hu Shuli's departure could spell the downfall of Caijing, an 11-year-old financial news magazine that under her guidance pushed boundaries with the country's censors and chased stories that embarrassed the government. Its aggressive reporting on the SARS outbreak in 2003 forced the government to acknowledge the scope of the crisis -- which it had tried to keep secret -- and to change the way it handles public-health scares.

Insiders said Hu's team had been trying without success to wrest greater editorial control from its Hong Kong-listed publisher.

China media expert Jeremy Goldkorn called Hu's decision to leave "a step back for professional media in China." Although the magazine is not shutting down, Goldkorn and others said Caijing would be gutted by Hu's resignation. A less aggressive Caijing could set back efforts to build an independent watchdog media.

"No one will take Caijing seriously now," said Goldkorn, editor in chief of Danwei, a Web site that covers China's media industry. "Hu Shuli is almost half the brand, if not more."

Caijing and a few other mainland publications, such as Southern Metropolis Weekly, have led efforts to make Chinese media more probing and independent. But the magazine was hit hard this year by falling advertising revenue linked to the global financial crisis.

Two Caijing employees said Hu left because the publisher, SEEC Media Group, refused her requests to give editorial staff more money and greater authority over content. One source said dozens of the magazine's 180-member editorial staff also resigned Monday in a show of support for Hu.

The two spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to announce the resignations.

Managing editor Wang Shuo said on Twitter that he had resigned, but he did not explain why.

SEEC has other magazines in its portfolio, but Caijing is its flagship publication. A woman who answered the phone at SEEC's Hong Kong office and would give only her surname, Chan, said the company had no comment and referred calls to a Beijing office, where the phone rang unanswered.

Caijing spokeswoman Heidi Zhang said Hu has no immediate plans to start a new magazine or other publication.

Hu will stay at Caijing for about a month to help with the transition and has been offered a job at Sun Yat-sen University in southern China's Guangzhou, which she will probably accept, Zhang said.

-- Associated Press

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