Hong Kong Free Press aims to crowdfund US$258,000 in a month to invest in original reporting

HKFPHong Kong Free Press, an independent English-language news site that emerged this summer, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to resource itself for 2016.

HKFP broke a record for the most amount ever raised in the shortest period of time on, smashing an initial 30-day target of HK$150,000 (US$19,000) in two days, and eventually raising four times that amount to fund its launch. Now the site is re-using the platform to support the next phase of growth, with a target of US$258,000 by 16 November. HKFP is running ads on Facebook and others site to promote the campaign.

The site set up by Tom Grundy, an independent journalist notable for his coverage of the Occupy Central protests a year ago, is looking to use the money to invest in more original reporting, staff salaries, hiring more freelancers to ease a reliance on volunteers and recruit a sales executive to monetise traffic.

Since launching on 29 June, the site has almost reached 1.5 million unique visitors and served five million web pages with a mixture of pick-ups, original stories and viral pieces, according to an HKFP press briefing.

Grundy told Mumbrella that while banner advertisements were already paying for front and backend website costs, a salesperson was needed to scale up areas such as direct sales, advertorials and sponsorship.

“Independent media outfits similar to ours ran for about eight months before hiring anyone in sales – likewise, our initial focus has been on building the brand and traffic. However, with 2.5 million page views last month, we’re nearing the level where we can become more self-sustaining,” he said.

The role would be remunerated with a monthly base rate and a “decent commission”, Grundy said. “We’d be looking for someone quite experienced with good contacts in the local advertising world. This person will help us to monetise and bring some of our other revenue streams online, such as display ads, native content and sponsorship.”

The site has published around 1,300 pieces of content since launch, with reporters producing around three-to-five stories a day. Exclusive stories have included pieces on government misspending, security issues at the airport and leaked tapes involving the president of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

HKFP's most popular story

HKFP’s most popular story

HKFP’s most-read pieces have been “lighter, viral stories,” according to Grundy. The most popular post was about Chinese netizens’ reactions to the clarity of Japanese floodwaters, followed by a story about the death of a Chinese mother who fell down an escalator shaft.

Grundy said he was proud of HKFP’s live blog of the Tianjin blasts, which is among the top 10 best-read articles, and coverage of the HKU academic freedom debacle and the lawyer crackdown in the mainland.

“We’re proudly free of charge, not for profit and completely independent – and we want to keep in this way. With no shareholders, our donors are our owners. So, to take things to the next level we’re fundraising to a new target as we take Hong Kong FP into 2016,” Grundy said in a video briefing on the fundraiser.

The site is positioned as Hong Kong’s only independent local news source in English with a global reach, and launched amid rising concerns over press freedom. HKFP describes itself as a “secure, multimedia website … well-placed to unite critical voices at a vital time in the city’s political development.”

The team is now smaller than the launch team, with two summer interns and two reporters departing. There are now four staff reporters. “We didn’t replace everyone but our level of production is about the same,” Grundy said.

The Hong Kong Free Press team

The Hong Kong Free Press team

Asked what he’d do differently if he could start again, Grundy said: “Yes, in the early days, we had little in the way of a plan for editorial oversight – my ideas about being self-policing were naive. Similarly, we started out with a flat structure, but the whole team agreed we needed leadership. We have a loose hierarchy now but are still very cooperative and inclusive in how we run things with our small team.”

Mumbrella interviewed Grundy in June, just after the site launched, and some weeks before it was hit by a denial-of-service attack. Grundy said: “Those cyber attackers – I invite them to come and write for us. It’s tougher for us to find pro-Beijing voices than it is those who support democracy. We welcome them all.”


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