Last Saturday afternoon, I was so shocked when I heard that you had shut down The House News with immediate effect. I knew I was not alone in feeling that shock, sadness and sorrow. Over the last two years, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people have been addicted to checking The House News every day, or many times a day, on their computers or smartphones, for the latest news and commentaries on matters from politics to lifestyle and the arts. But now, there is no more.
Many of us knew this will be a long, hot and difficult summer of 2014, with our hope for true democracy in this round of constitutional reform fading, endless smears trying to divert citizens’ attention for achieving true universal suffrage, and the Occupy Central ultimatum looming near. But we thought The House News would be with us on this fateful journey. None of us could have imagined that we had to go the hard way, without The House News and you.
Tony, I still remember how excited you were when you told me more than two years ago of this interesting new idea, that you believed there could be a Huffington Post of Hong Kong, an online media with its own independent voice and sustainable in its own right. We both knew then it would not be any easy task, but it would be a wonderful thing for Hong Kong, especially in the prevailing environment of self-censorship by the mainstream media.
The Chinese name of The House News means “Home Court News”. And indeed, to the hundreds of thousands of daily online readers, and the hundreds of regular bloggers contributing to The House News, this is our home court, where we enjoy our home court advantage. What was this home court advantage? We knew we could say what we wanted, anyway we wanted to, in our own ways, when we wanted to, with the support of a terrific and professional team of editors, artists and programmers.
The House News was also a pioneer. Like in this past January, I worked with editors from The House News and other friends from IT on an open data project to turn some pretty dull numbers from the government’s annual budget into lively and insightful infographics, a trend for many media in the world but one that local traditional media outlets couldn’t care less about. But more importantly, we know you have made many people who weren’t interested in the social and political issues around them finally realize that these things actually mattered to them. So, naturally, our home court and our House became the manifestation of Hong Kong’s collective core values.
If you may not have been able to prove the Huffington Post business model here, Tony, you have more than fully demonstrated the power of the new media in influencing politics and society. Yes, so successful that many must have wanted The House to be no more.
In your last words on The House News, you said you had misjudged this business, one reaching over 300,000 unique visitors a day but failing to get even close to its fair share of commercial advertisements. And worse, you had to face fear. Your family also had to face this fear. I know how important The House News was to you. So I know how hard it must have been that you had to end it.
You said in your statement you were filled with remorse. I know how you must have felt about it, facing your dedicated team, and telling them of the end. But indeed, I think you gave everyone much more than you took away. You showed us how far this online media could go, and I am sure you, just like me, would love it when someone else eventually come around and take us farther, on this same road, with or without you and me.
Every change brings with it new challenges as well as new opportunities. The House News showed us what could be done, and despite its end, people will only feel our hunger more for an open and free space for expression. As long as we have the Internet, anything will still be possible.
Tony, do you remember that, before my last legislative council campaign in 2012, you did an interview with me for Apple Daily, that you later had it nicely framed and gave me as a souvenir? I now have it hung on the wall of my office. At the end of the interview, you asked me, what if I lost in the election? I said, “I don’t want to think about it now, but I am sure it would not be the end of my political path.”
And today, I say the same to you, Tony. We know it must be hard, and you must have your own reasons. But you really gave us a lot in these two years, and we thank you. But, I am sure, this is not the end of your passion for Hong Kong, our politics and our core values.
See you around soon, Tony.