Hong Kong Free Press on building a sustainable newsroom

What we learned from HKFP.

Takeaways

  • Revamped website with a new design to promote easy payments, donor engagement, news literacy, and legitimacy
  • Promoting legitimacy with a code of ethics, news verification, and transparency reports
  • Allowing for easy distribution

 

Context

As the Hong Kong protests raged on, Hong Kong Free Press made its mark as a digital-only, reader-supported English-language media on the island. In 2019, their page views surged over 300%, their social media reach tripled, and they had 792 donors — over three times the number of donors in the prior year. Now, they’ve switched out gas masks for pandemic face masks to report on Covid-19. In some ways, they already have a leg up on reporting on tight budgets; they’ve been thinking about how to run an independent sustainable newsroom for a long time.

 

Rebuilding the site

Co-founder Tom Grundy spoke to us about the gears HKFP has set into place for 2020 to sustain themselves while reporting on hard-hitting issues. Central to that mission is their website, a new version of which will launch later this year with the help of Newspack, a project of WordPress.com and Google News Initiative.

The site will make it easier and more compelling for donors to contribute money, promote legitimacy and transparency, and educate readers on news literacy. Grundy lists a few examples of how a website can promote these things, including: 

  • Providing a wide range of payment options
  • Color coding to distinguish between opinion and news stories
  • Implementing newsroom tools such as live blogging and joint bylines
  • Sending out notifications to potential donors “especially during breaking news and exclusives, knowing when to ask and also knowing when not to ask”
  • Staying in touch with regular donors to build community

Grundy, who describes the previous iteration on WordPress as bloggy, says the website will also help promote legitimacy — an integral part of “pushing back against the credibility crisis” of news, in which many outlets are being attacked for their credibility. It’s a quality that many donors and readers are looking for. They’ve also:

  • Created a code of ethics that list “safety, security, how they’re funded, their impartiality”
  • Been accredited as a U.S. charity, verified under NewsGuard’s guidelines, joined LexisNexis, and released transparency reports

The last metric that Grundy uses to measure a sustainable newsroom is organic, easy distribution — HKFP’s social media reach tripled in the past year. They ask their staffers to contribute to distributing stories, allow sharing across as many platforms as possible, distribute stories on third-party sites like MSN, and find ways to get cited by other media.

Meghna is a writer in New York. Previously, she helped launch and was the managing editor of New York-based The Juggernaut, worked as a researcher at CB Insights, and reported on tech out of Bangalore for Tech in Asia. Follow Meghna Rao on Twitter.

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