Is House News Hong Kong's version of Huffington Post?

Chong Hiu-yeung - General Secretary, HKJA

[中文][Oct 2012 - The Journalist] Active Facebook users will easily find a number of journalists sharing stories produced by House News. What is House News? Can we regard it as a regular part of the media? There seems to be no way we can specifically place this news entity.

To start with...House News website hired two veteran business news reporters. Yu Ka-fai and Chung Pui-kuen are responsible for the website's content. The website does not rely on news. It puts emphasis on bloggers' comments.

Besides reporting news, it broke prevailing media norms by inviting two Legco elections candidates - Pong Yat-ming and Chow Chun-fai- to be its columnists, allowing them to promote their platforms.
If reporters are aware of a US-based Internet news organisation, Huffington Post, they will easily find that House News and Huffington Post share a lot of similarities.

The Journalist interviewed House News founder Tony Tsoi on how this organisation operates. "I was inspired by Huffington Post  It has been running for seven years. It has overcome plenty of difficulties. There are reasons why they are operating this model."

Huffington Post is the world's most successful new media. When traditional media business shrank last year, AOL spent US$315 million to acquire Huffington Post.

Founder of The House News Tony Tsoi (lef) and editor-in-chief Chung
Pui-kuen catching up on the news. (Photo by Chong Hiu-yeung)
It is easy to discern that the page design of House News is similar to that of Huffington Post  Bloggers' analyses play an important role. The four founders hope they can reproduce Huffington Post's success story in Hong Kong.

House News has an editorial team of 10 people. The editorial office is in an industrial building in Kwun Tong. It plans to run on a budget of several million a year. Tsoi doesn't think it is a big budget. "Several million is what is needed to invest in a boutique for a year," he said.

They did not spend money on promotion. They haven't got resources to hire reporters as the Huffington Post does. Famous writers write for free. Bloggers and columnists also don't get paid. House News relies on quoting other media.

This new media does not have a formal structure. Unlike the traditional media, it does not have to decide the headline in a meeting. If the editorial member discovers a new article worthy of sharing, they can put it on the website after receiving green light from the two editors-in-chief.

The staff starts at 9.30 am until 9.30 pm, said Chung. This new media will leave the news that breaks in the evening to the next day if it is not time sensitive. The staff has to monitor bloggers' articles and share the good ones.

House News is an innovation in Hong Kong. It is especially true when newspaper is regarded as a sunset industry. In the US, Canada and Hong Kong, the number of newspaper copies sold has been dropping. New media may be the only way forward.

Tsoi thinks the decline of the newspaper industry does not mean people giving up reading the news. News, in fact, is getting more and more important. Information is becoming more available, even an information overload, readers have less time to read the news. Choosing news for them to read is what House News wants to do.

Curation and curator are the two words Tsoi always mentions. "We don't call ourselves editors in our business cards. We call ourselves curators. Give us museum exhibits and let us show you how to display, how to attract attention," he says.

"Our formula and model are very clear, we have no plans to do reporting. Even if we have resources, we may not put them on reporting. It is because news is everywhere. Look at the 24-hour news, Cable News, CNN, you get news everywhere. In the past, there was breaking news. But now breaking news is nothing."
"What we can do now is to comment on breaking news. Liu Xiang failed in the Olympics, do we wait till the next day to comment? How can we wait for the next day to comment? He dropped, everyone sees this. What does that mean? The world can't wait for the newspaper to be printed," Tsoi said. So in the afternoon, they had experts writing commentary and posting them on the website as soon as they could.

Huffington Post's success made its founding editor Arianna Huffington very rich. But there are even more failed cases. Rupert Murdoch lost more than US$30 million on running dailies on iPad. He had to lay off one third of the staff. There is rumour that it will shut down.

Tsoi said the website managed to achieve what they wanted, implementing what the founders have in mind. He said it was not a simple task. "You want to do it, you may end up having everything out of control. Sometimes, you have. TVB wanted to have universal suffrage on Miss Hong Kong but it failed."

The new media is still looking for ways to translate hit-rate into revenue three months after its operation. No matter what happens, it is always good for Hong Kong to have a new media organisation and more voice, making the media more diverse.