BEIJING (AdAgeChina.com) -- Hu Shuli, 56, has made a career out of standing up to China's most formidable business leaders and powerful censors.
So it's no surprise that the founder and editor of Caijing, a magazine that has pushed the boundaries of reporting in China, was willing to take on her own magazine's owner, Hong Kong-listed Stock Exchange Executive Council (SEEC).
After weeks of tense negotiations between Ms. Hu and SEEC, she resigned this week, leaving the future of Caijing, China's most influential and profitable magazine in doubt. Founded in 1998, the twice-monthly business and finance title has a circulation of 225,000, and generated $6.9 million in the first half of 2009.
The friction between SEEC and Ms. Hu, considered one of the most powerful women in China, was caused by disagreements over the substantial ad revenue generated by Caijing, which Ms. Hu wanted to invest in expansion plans for the magazine.
They also wrangled over the magazine's editorial independence, particularly regarding sensitive topics such as the outbreak of violence in China's Xinjiang province last summer.
Ms. Hu is believed to be setting up another magazine, called Caixin, based on the same formula that made Caijing a success -- daring, outspoken and independent investigative journalism in a country where that approach could easily have landed her in prison, or at least in an unemployment line.
Hundreds of editorial and sales staff tendered their resignations from Caijing during the past two months of warring between Ms. Hu and SEER, including General Manager, Daphne Wu Chuanhui, two deputy editors-in-chief, Dai Xiaojing and Yang Daming, and managing editor Wang Shuo.
Many of them are expected to join Ms. Hu at Caixin, but it's unclear whether the veteran reporter can replicate her earlier success, or where the financial backing for her new venture will come from.
"We may have only seen the tip of the iceberg on the Caijing and Hu Shuli story. What is clear is that the Caijing brand has been wounded. And the wound could be mortal not only by the loss of its founder and key members of the staff, but indications that Hu Shuli will start up a new business journalism venture in Beijing," said Peter Herford, a professor at the Cheung Kong School of Journalism and Communications at Shantou University in southern China, and a veteran of CBS News in the U.S.
Another China media observer, who asked not to be identified, is not optimistic about Caixin's future, despite the funding, editorial skill and management savvy of Ms. Hu and her colleagues.
China's political environment today is "very different" from the time when Caijing was launched, with much less tolerance for the style of investigative reporting "which is her passion and which, in large measure, has made Caijing the great success that it is," he said.
"The very high-profile and protracted dynamics of her and her team's departure from Caijing have exacerbated the [political] challenges. It has certainly dealt a body blow to Caijing in the process as well, but I suspect they will reinvent themselves and survive nonetheless," he added.
In addition to plans to launch a new magazine, Ms. Hu has accepted a position as head of the School of Communication and Design at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
A native of Beijing, and a Red Guard during China's Cultural Revolution period, Ms. Hu is a veteran reporter who comes from a family of journalists. She worked as an assistant editor, reporter and international editor at the Worker's Daily, China's second largest newspaper, during the 1980s. She joined China Business Times in 1992 as international editor and became chief reporter in 1995.
Ms. Hu's passion for journalistic autonomy has gained fans overseas. In 2007, Harvard University's Nieman Foundation for Journalism gave her a Louis Lyons award. She has also been recognized by international business titles such as Foreign Policy, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Business Week.
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