What Can We Learn From China’s New Media Village?

Perhaps they made money with their viral yet meaningless content, but did they really contribute anything to the content market in China?

How would you picture those who work for the media agencies in China? Many would say that they work in larger cities, nice and tidy offices, and need to be constantly going to the field for new stories, interviews, and ideas to attract more views. However, a ‘new media’ village in Shandong has toppled such beliefs completely.

“new media” village in Shandong

What surprised the public is the high-income that these new media workers can make from their content. There are workers who earn more than 10,000 yuan per month for writing viral articles. And on average these employees receive 7,594 yuan, about 462 yuan higher than the average income for those working in Shanghai.

Chinese businessman Li Chuanshuai made a fortune in starting his media projects in Shandong’s rural areas. By hiring a team of approximately 20 people, Li started to produce content related to Chinese rural areas and rural life. His content went viral on different Chinese media outlets. Li hopes to develop his business into a one-billion-market for the Chinese rural areas and help more people increase their incomes.

Li’s team have demonstrated more advanced technologies than most people think. According to an interview, Li developed his own detection system to ensure that the content is aligned with the country’s policies and guidelines, and that they could be favored by the algorithm-based recommendation strategies that most Chinese media platforms utilize. According to Li, the team is very careful in publishing content and will obey the corresponding laws at all time.

Li’s office

With the rise of WeChat and other Chinese content applications, Chinese smartphone users are starting to invest more of their time into the high-tech products that they have in hand. The prosperous and booming smartphone market provided great opportunities not only for those who live in Chinese cities, but also for those residing in the countryside. There is no surprise that the Chinese countryside could become a market with huge potential for new media content such as WeChat articles, videos, and other forms of new media products.

However, a closer look at Li’s content show more controversies. While Li’s content did receive attentions from the public, they are far from meeting the standards of ‘good articles’: A poem with a picture received close to 240,000 clicks and several pictures of houses in rural areas received 264,000 clicks. These results were only achieved through using attractive and somehow misleading titles to seduce readers into clicking on them.

In the very beginning of Li’s business adventure, he had his staff copy attractive titles that larger new media accounts use. Despite that most of Li’s employees are not highly educated, the team still managed to beat many established new media and media accounts in terms of view count and profitability. Li’s secret of success does not seem that covert: Good titles are the keys to attract readers at all time.

It is true that content on Chinese rural areas certainly has its market. As many Chinese migrant workers and village dwellers are getting access to smartphone devices, they are hit with an intense interest to view articles and pictures of rural areas because the whole idea was refreshingly new to them. Content that are related to their daily lives would be welcomed and could receive more attention.

However, the rise of Li’s team bred doubt in people’s minds regarding the effects of clickbaits and low-quality content that are spreading among these people. Arguably, Li’s business perhaps entertained the vast Chinese rural population, but did not really keep the readers informed, unlike what the traditional media were doing.

Critics argue that these new media contributed to the abuse of people’s attention and the widespread of fake news. And it is the issue that the content market need to address. New media teams, such as Li’s production studio, are ultimately damaging the reputation of content market with their sub-standard content and occasionally fake news. It turned out to be negative-sum game: While Li’s team may benefit from attracting clicks and views financially, the reputation and credibility of the Chinese content are nevertheless undermined by the repeated fake content that are jeopardizing the core value of information.

Traditional media is falling behind in the world of algorithm and user-sharing: Unlike those whose primary goal is to attract views and clicks, traditional media content has a protocol to follow, a bottom line to be met, and a mandatory need for fact-checking and authenticity. Yet traditional media has no way to give up their long-established journalism standards, as reliability and trust are the key qualities that they rely on to survive in the business.

Perhaps the majority of the readers are getting more and more uninformed and careless of how they perceive information. They take everything they read as true, or they started to simply ignore the need to read authentic and real articles to get the truth.

For media that are insisting on pursuing excellent journalism and content productions, their challenges are not only their original competitors, but also the algorithms that drive readers into content that are not so authentic and delicate. Traditional media outlets will need to adapt some changes while not sacrificing originality, authenticity, and reliability. It takes time to make Chinese readers aware of the importance of fact-checking, biased opinions, and journalism standards, yet it is the essential steps to inform readers the proper way to understand the content they read from time to time.

Perhaps those who are sitting on the editor desks should learn something from the new media companies. In this rapidly changing world of information, traditional media and new media will soon be stepping into a battle of titles. The art of title, will be the dominant factor in the near future of Chinese content market.