In China’s widening portal wars, a dark horse to watch right now is Hexun ÔºàÂíåËÆØÔºâ. The site acquired a license to carry news at the end of last year, and since then has brought on-board four fallen soldiers who once figured in the rise (and demise) of Southern Metropolis Daily ÔºàÂçóÊñπÈÉΩÂ∏ÇÊä•Ôºâ and The Beijing News (Êñ∞‰∫¨Êä•). They’ve been tasked with morphing the decade-old financial information site, known as Homeway in English, into more of a full-service news portal geared toward Financial Street types. The “portal of the middle class” (‰∏≠‰∫ßÈò∂Á∫ßÈó®Êà∑), Hexun bills itself. The idea, said one of the new editors in a recent chat, is to run a brainier portal with a serious market focus. “This is a good environment for us right now.”
Hexun is a product of SEEC Media, the guanxi-rich publisher of Caijing magazine. SEEC is chaired by Wang Boming (ÁéãÊ≥¢Êòé), president of the Stock Exchange Executive Council (SEEC) and son of rapprochement-era deputy foreign minister Wang Bingnan. On December 30 last year, Hexun officially landed an Internet news provider license (‰∫íËÅîÁΩëÊñ∞Èóª‰ø°ÊÅØÊúçÂä°ËÆ∏ÂèØËØÅ) from the State Council Information Office. Search engine Baidu and foundering Internet TV operator Tiantian Online (Â§©Â§©Âú®Á∫ø) received licenses at the same time.
Tiantian, backed by China Netcom and (its site says) IDG, has yet to make much use of the privilege. Baidu has reportedly been ramping up its staff and, a la Google, developing a visually clean news page. Its prospects certainly aren’t hurt by the fact that the search engine is the most visited site in China.
Meanwhile Hexun, ranked just 35th in traffic on Alexa, has overhauled its editorial management.
In December, Hexun hired former Beijing News chief editor Yang Bin (Êù®Êñå, pictured) – who after his dismissal at the end of 2005 had taken a Caijing course – to run the show (as was reported first in English by Global Voices’ John Kennedy). In recent weeks, Yang has recruited three of his ex-section chiefs at The Beijing News as his new deputies. Former metro editor Chen Feng ÔºàÈôàÂ≥∞Ôºâ, best known for breaking the story of Sun Zhigang (Â≠ôÂøóÂàö) at Southern Metropolis, has come over from Sohu to run the financial and market news. Meng Bo(Â≠üÊ≥¢), former editor of the BJ News editorial page, also has hopped over from Sohu; he has taken charge of culture, lifestyle and financial commentary at Hexun. And Sun Cunzhao(Â≠ôÂ≠òÁÖß), former deputy chief of the business section, has left Sina to head up the money and investment content.
The four join other exiles of the pogroms at BJ News and Southern Metropolis who’ve found a haven under Wang’s guardianship. They include the cofounder of the papers, Cheng Yizhong (Á®ãÁõä‰∏≠), who now quietly helps captain Sports Illustrated; and one-time Inside Reports editor at The News, Luo Changping (ÁΩóÊòåÂπ≥), who has proven his investigative chops on the political economy beat at Caijing. Together with Hu Shuli and her crew, that’s a whole lot of cajones on a couple floors of one high-rise.
Let’s hope they make something real of it. No matter how you size it, SEEC is not the most synergistic media house. From its high-brow econ base it has sprawled out in the foreign magazine market, for one. Titles span from SI to CIO Insight to Better Homes and Gardens, and as recently as March, sources say, SEEC was still looking to swing a deal for the Chinese version of People magazine. Imagine Cheng Yizhong running that.
Hexun’s new license allows it to pick up news content freely, but not to generate its own. Which is something Caijing magazine has begun doing on a daily basis, even though technically it probably isn’t supposed to. “Web exclusive” content is a growing “grey area” for traditional print media in China – meaning it’s not sanctioned but often not closely supervised, either. Would a legal Hexun link legitimize a not-so-legal Cajing Web exclusive? Says the new editor we spoke with: “No.”
Additional sources: On his blog, Southern Metropolis entertainment editor Dou Jiangming Èí≠Ê±üÊòé has own insights into the changes at Hexun.