Today is the final day that readers of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post will be receiving their copy of 48 Hours – a magazine that since 2013 has accompanied the Thursday edition of the city’s daily, English-language newspaper. The magazine’s coverage of dining, entertainment, culture and lifestyle news in the city is being folded into the newspaper’s website.
While it’s always sad to see another print publication bite the dust, can readers of 48 Hours (or even the SCMP for that matter) really be shocked? Once a stronghold of print publishing and free press, Hong Kong’s English-language print media scene is no longer buoyant. While the South China Morning Post offers the best daily option, it frequently comes under criticism for its rather safe coverage of contentious issues regarding Hong Kong’s politics and future. The supplements it prints are rarely inspiring and there’s none of the weekend excitement that opening the stuffed Sunday edition of The New York Times offers.
Many of the city’s monthly English-language magazines are stuck in a rut of covering social event after social event, with the odd pay-for-play article on a luxury brand stuck somewhere in between. While interesting and local publications such as Obscura and Design Anthology exist, they’re run independently and nowhere near as widely distributed as those more concerned with who was wearing what to whichever recent party.
Spurred on by the quality gap between Chinese and English-language journalism in the city, the Hong Kong Free Press was launched earlier this year. Set up through crowdfunding and as a not-for-profit business, the online news site aims to offer unbiased and breaking news from Hong Kong and eventually China as a whole. It won’t be covering lifestyle but it looks set to give the SCMP and its controversial paywall a run for its money. Founded by Tom Grundy, a journalist and activist who made his name not only in his campaign for the rights of domestic workers but also in his coverage of last year’s Umbrella Movement, the Hong Kong Free Press comes at a crucial time for press freedom in the city. Organisations such as Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists have voiced concern over threats and regulation concerning Hong Kong’s media.
As the city fights to define its identity within an increasingly outward-looking China, let’s hope that the Hong Kong Free Press provides a destination for English-language speakers around the world to see things from the Chinese perspective.
Aisha Speirs is Monocle’s Hong Kong bureau chief.